Barriers to Learning

Learning requires considerable mental effort. We need to select and focus on specific information and then process it in ways so that we can recall and use it at a later time. Much learning is successful everyday. However, many factors can interfere with learning, sidetrack it and prevent it from taking place. In academic settings, where acquisition of knowledge and skills is the primary goal, teachers and students need to be aware of obstacles that can derail learning. To support student learning, teachers need to take these into account when they plan and teach their courses. Moreover, to learn effectively and efficiently, students need to take these into account as they study, participate in class, do assignments and work to develop knowledge and skills.

Research in the cognitive sciences has identified cognitive barriers to learning, challenges related to what students know and how they interact mentally with the subject matter. These include:

  1. Constraints on selective attention
  2. Constraints on mental effort and working memory
  3. Prior knowledge
  4. Misconceptions
  5. Ineffective learning strategies
  6. Transfer of learning
  7. Metacognition and self-regulation
  8. Student mental mindset
  9. Student fear and mistrust
  10. Cognitive biases