Teachability: It's harder to teach a young dog new tricks

David J. Low, Kate F. Wilson


Previous studies have found that taking a ‘gap year’ has a positive effect on students’ achievement at university. The positive effects of the gap year have been ascribed to improved life skills and higher motivation. However the effects of taking longer between leaving high school and beginning tertiary studies are unclear. In contrast, we find that students straight out of senior secondary studies of physics, and those who have taken only a single gap year away, have no significant difference in gain in conceptual understanding of Newtonian physics, measured using the normalised learning gain on the Force Concept Inventory. However, we find that those who have been away from study for two or more years, and those who have never studied physics before, have a 50% higher normalised learning gain than those fresh from school or with a one year gap. This may be because students without a significant gap period have lower motivation, and are less receptive to having their ideas challenged.

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