Teaching the facts

By Gordon Rugg & Sue Gerrard

There’s a lot of debate in education about “teaching the facts”.

There’s also a lot of debate about the definition of “facts” and about the nature of teaching.

However, a couple of things tend to be conspicuous by their absence in these debates.

  • There’s a significant absence of numbers relating to facts, such as how many facts a student should know about a particular topic.
  • There’s also a significant absence of categorisation systems that use more than three categories.

These absences are usually indications that a debate is focused on questions that aren’t going to produce useful answers.

So what happens when you plug in some numbers, and some richer categorisation?

In brief, you get this:

  • students need to learn between one thousand and ten thousand facts
  • there’s an upper limit of learning of about ten facts per hour, and
  • you need to distinguish between about ten to twenty different types of “fact”.

These results have far reaching implications for education. They’re the topic of this article.

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