Desirable difficulty

I wrote the below at the end of 2016 following setting the CISA exam however never saw fit to post it.   Having came across it I thought now might be appropriate to post it as I once again prepare for a December exam, this time the CISSP exam.


It was a hard few months leading up to the end of term.   Not only did I have the work associated with the end of the first term but I also had my blogging, my social media and in particular twitter contributions, my reading, family life and a few other tasks and responsibilities to deal with.   To add to this I had decided to undertake the ISACA CISA qualification and therefore throughout October, November and the start of December I was deep in study and preparation for the exam.

The exam itself happened on December 10th in London so involved a long drive down and a hotel stay prior to the exam on the Saturday morning.   I cant say the drive helped any however I have no-one to blame for this other than myself as I had previously vowed never to drive to London following a previous bad experience.

It was around 11:30am, 2 and a half hours after the exam began that I found myself walking away from London Metropolitan university with the exam completed and behind me.   It was with a little less weight on my shoulders that myself, my wife and youngest son ventured into Hamleys and a number of other shops in London prior to the drive home to Somerset.

Upon arriving home I was knackered to say the least so I decided a few beers was a very good idea and much deserved.    And so the Saturday evening passed.    Awaking on Sunday I remained tired and drained so aside from a little light shopping I took it easy.   As the week progressed I still remained tired and struggled to get into tasks.   Clearly the preparation for the exam had drained me more than I had being willing to admit, and possibly more than I was even aware.    Thankfully though I only had one more week of work to complete before my Christmas holiday began and I could recharge.

I am now glad of the time to recharge however as I reflect I ask myself would I repeat my actions or would I engage in preparation for another exam or qualification?   The answer is yes, although I will need to wait to see how I have done on the CISA exam first.    So for the next 5 weeks, until the results are available, I will maybe relax a little.    Then I will decide to make the time to engage in something else which challenges me or pushes me.   Why you may ask?   If i don’t the time will disappear absorbed into other tasks and I will look back and ask myself what I did with my time.   Instead I choose to make time, even if it means I deplete my energy levels, as I see the process of continual learning and of challenge to be important in my life, even if at times I wonder to myself, as I did entering the exam hall on the 10th:  “why the hell do I do this to myself?”


Looking back the phrase which immediately jumps to mind is “desirable difficulty”.    The challenge of preparing for the exam, the studying all while undertaking my usual job and also engaging online all made me have to expend effort, to work smarter, however it was worthwhile effort.    Had I not chosen to undertake these challenges I would be looking back having not achieved in the way I have done.    Although I would have had an easier time of it I would not be able to appreciate this as it would be normal; I wouldn’t have the effort full experience of studying and preparing for the exam to compare with having not chosen to take this route.   And so it is I have once again to decided to take the more challenging route; my next exam has now been booked and paid for.

Is this a discussion we need to have with students?    How we may perceive the easier route when we look back from the future is unlikely to match how we think of it now.    The more challenging route, the desirable difficulty, may yield the best results when we look back.

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Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the Middle East. In addition Gary is a Google and Microsoft Certified Educator.

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