‘Desirably Difficult’ Learning


Date of Publication: 28 January 2019

Catch the first instalment of Emily Spicer's EdTech blog series- asking us the question 'Should technology make learning easier' and if so, is this a good thing?

At last week’s BETT show in London – the world’s biggest annual education technology event – educators, techies and thinkers from around the world showcased their wares and debated on issues pertinent to the sector. As a company dedicated to the best in learning experiences, we were there, soaking up all the show had to offer.

Amidst the whoops of delight at virtual reality headsets and roving robots, the message of an experienced educator and Director of Teach for All, Alex Beard, rang particularly true: ‘learning should be desirably difficult’.

Surely in the digital age, technology should be making learning easier for us? Well, perhaps not. While technology is a powerful and wonderful tool, if it makes education so ‘easy’ that it stops us from learning how to learn, it is actually a hindrance.

Beard provided a framework for this: speaking on the topic of ‘growing humans in the digital age’, he spoke about Bloom’s well-known paper on education . Bloom’s thesis is this:  an average learner (sitting at the 50th centile) can become an exceptional learner (in the second centile), when they are given personalised, one on one teaching, and when they are given targeted ‘mastery’ teaching in the areas where they most need help.

At Oxford Summer Courses, we know that there’s something in Bloom’s thesis. The best, life-changing learning pushes students to the best of themselves: that’s why we’re dedicated to personalised, small group educational experiences, which help students to grow through constructive criticism. Our model is built around giving students personalised feedback, which they can take away at the end of our courses.

And as we look to the future, we’re also aware of the power of technology to help us to do this even better as we develop a series of online courses (watch this space!). But we also agree with Alex; we want to produce students who know how to learn, who can grapple with difficult debates and issues, and who will be lifelong learners following their experience on our courses.


So, whether online or at one of our many fantastic locations, we are committed to helping you on your educational journey, but we will challenge you; our exceptional educational experiences will make you think, make you question and leave you equipped to keep learning long after you leave.

Article References:

Bloom, Benjamin S. “The 2 sigma problem: The search for methods of group instruction as effective as one-to-one tutoring.” Educational researcher 13.6 (1984): 4-16

Images courtesy of the BETT Show 2019.

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