Desirable Difficulties: When Harder is Better for Learning - Scott H Young - Deepstash
How to Become a Quick Learner

Learn more about education with this collection

Cultivating a growth mindset and embracing challenges

Developing adaptive thinking and problem-solving skills

Effective learning frameworks and approaches

How to Become a Quick Learner

Discover 65 similar ideas in

It takes just

14 mins to read



A key strategy for getting better at things is hill-climbing: Try different things, keep doing the things that work, stop doing those that don’t.

The strategy is named because you can envision it as finding the highest spot in a landscape filled with fog. You can’t necessarily see the highest point, but you can always walk uphill.

Most of the time, this approach works fairly well. It likely explains how we get better at many things simply by doing them repeatedly. Where this strategy runs into trouble, however, is when you need to do something worse before you can do it better.


150 reads

Getting Worse Before Getting Better

Getting Worse Before Getting Better

Interestingly, learning itself seems to be one of these situations where we need to do worse before we can do better.

The actions that improve your short-term performance on a task don’t always create much long-term improvement. Since short-term effects are easier to notice, this can create a trap.

Students choose strategies that make them feel like they’re learning the material but fail miserably when the exam comes.


125 reads

Desirable Difficulties

Desirable Difficulties

Desirable difficulties are actions that appear to work worse in the short-term but work better in the long run.

These include:

Spacing. Practising something ten times in a row vs. ten times spaced out (over hours or days). The latter feels harder but results in more permanent memory.

Variability.  Intuition argues for mastering one thing before moving on to the next, but research suggests otherwise. Variable practice tends to result in better retention and transfer than blocked practice.


109 reads

Testing Yourself

Testing Yourself

Should you re-read or do practice questions? Students overwhelmingly favour re-reading as a learning strategy. However, practice testing is one of the most effective learning methods that has been systematically studied, while re-reading is one of the worst.


117 reads

We Remember Everything

We Remember Everything

What we learn is never erased from our minds. Instead, we forget things as our ability to retrieve them becomes weaker through competition with other memories.

Successful access to hard-to-recall memory boosts retrieval strength more than if the memory was easier to access. It’s as if your brain is saying, “Whoa! That was important and I barely remembered it! Better strengthen that connection.” Easy memory access (say because you just immediately learned it or had the answer in front of you) sends the opposite signal, with correspondingly less benefit.


108 reads

Mixing Concepts And Ideas

Mixing Concepts And Ideas

When you mix practice between two similar ideas or concepts, you’re better able to notice the difference between the two.

This discriminative account in favour of variable practice holds true for many problem-solving skills. Math problems are often taught in a blocked fashion. You learn some problem type and do it repeatedly until you’re good at it. Then, you move on to a different type of problem and repeat the same process. The issue with this blocked approach is that it doesn’t let you practice telling apart the different types of problems because, in each case, it’s obvious.


91 reads

Not All Difficulties Are Desirable

Cognitive load theory points out that many activities which increase the effort involved in learning tend to result in worse outcomes for typical students. These activities include solving problems you haven’t been taught how to solve, having to split your attention between different sources of information to understand an idea, or having redundant information you need to ignore to get at the answer.


112 reads



Music geek. Coffeeaholic. Travel advocate. Social media maven. Certified tv guru.


A Little Difficulty Is A Good Thing

Ready for the next level?

Read Like a Pro


Explore the World’s

Best Ideas

200,000+ ideas on pretty much any topic. Created by the smartest people around & well-organized so you can explore at will.

An Idea for Everything

Explore the biggest library of insights. And we've infused it with powerful filtering tools so you can easily find what you need.

Knowledge Library

Powerful Saving & Organizational Tools

Save ideas for later reading, for personalized stashes, or for remembering it later.

# Personal Growth

Take Your Ideas


Organize your ideas & listen on the go. And with Pro, there are no limits.

Listen on the go

Just press play and we take care of the words.

Never worry about spotty connections

No Internet access? No problem. Within the mobile app, all your ideas are available, even when offline.

Get Organized with Stashes

Ideas for your next work project? Quotes that inspire you? Put them in the right place so you never lose them.


2 Million Stashers


5,740 Reviews

App Store


72,690 Reviews

Google Play

Sean Green

Great interesting short snippets of informative articles. Highly recommended to anyone who loves information and lacks patience.

Ashley Anthony

This app is LOADED with RELEVANT, HELPFUL, AND EDUCATIONAL material. It is creatively intellectual, yet minimal enough to not overstimulate and create a learning block. I am exceptionally impressed with this app!

Shankul Varada

Best app ever! You heard it right. This app has helped me get back on my quest to get things done while equipping myself with knowledge everyday.


Don’t look further if you love learning new things. A refreshing concept that provides quick ideas for busy thought leaders.

Giovanna Scalzone

Brilliant. It feels fresh and encouraging. So many interesting pieces of information that are just enough to absorb and apply. So happy I found this.

Jamyson Haug

Great for quick bits of information and interesting ideas around whatever topics you are interested in. Visually, it looks great as well.

Ghazala Begum

Even five minutes a day will improve your thinking. I've come across new ideas and learnt to improve existing ways to become more motivated, confident and happier.

Laetitia Berton

I have only been using it for a few days now, but I have found answers to questions I had never consciously formulated, or to problems I face everyday at work or at home. I wish I had found this earlier, highly recommended!

Read & Learn

20x Faster





Access to 200,000+ ideas

Access to the mobile app

Unlimited idea saving & library

Unlimited history

Unlimited listening to ideas

Downloading & offline access

Personalized recommendations


Claim Your Limited Offer

Get Deepstash Pro

Supercharge your mind with one idea per day

Enter your email and spend 1 minute every day to learn something new.


I agree to receive email updates