Desirable difficulties in the development of active inquiry skills


This study explores developmental changes in the ability to ask informative questions. We hypothesized an intrinsic link between the ability to update beliefs in light of evidence and the ability to ask informative questions. Four- to ten-year-old children played an iPad game asking them to identify a hidden bug. Learners could either ask about individual bugs, or make a series of feature queries (e.g., "Does the bug have antennae?") that could more efficiently narrow the hypothesis space. The task display either helped children integrate evidence with the hypothesis space or required them to do so. Although we found that helping children update their beliefs improved some aspects of their active inquiry behavior, those that updated their own beliefs asked questions that were more context-sensitive and thus informative. The results show how making a task more difficult may actually improve children’s active inquiry skills, thus illustrating a type of desirable difficulty.

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