Thursday, 20 January 2011

Confusion - A Catalyst for Learning?

Earlier today I listened to the first seminar in the CCK11 (#CCK11) course I have just started. Apart from general information on how the course works and the very basics of what Connectivism is all about there was some talking about Confusion. I think at least all the participants who are new to this kind of course (and probably some of the experienced ones as well) feel a bit confused right now. New things are happening that we am not in total control of and don't know enough about. We are asked to share our thoughts and ideas and reflections, something some of us might not have done before.

But what is confusion really? and can it be a positive thing?

To me, the base for confusion is a sense of not being in control. If I am left all by myself in a city I have never been to I will feel confused at first. Simply because I can't control what is going on around me. But then maybe I ask someone for help or find a map of the city. And all of a sudden the confusion disappears (at least partly). Because now I can navigate in the environment and I know a little bit more of what is going on around me.

The feeling of being confused is quite similar to feeling scared. One reason for this is what I have already described above, lack of control. When I asked my 6 year old son why he was afraid to go up in our attic, his answer was that it was dark up there and he didn't know what was going on in there since he couldn't see. So again the lack of control kicks in. He was not in control of the environment and therefore he felt scared. 
But there is a huge difference between confusion and fear. Because when you are confused you at least know that there is nothing dangerous going on, when you are scared you believe that there is something dangerous going on.

Confusion can also be based on a feeling of knowing less than everyone else. Think of the last time you started at a new job. The first days are just a big bubble of confusion. You don't understand what the people around you are talking about, you don't know when it's time for a coffee break, you don't even know where the toilets are. This of course causes some confusion. But as you are aware that it is impossible for you to know all this from the very beginning, this confusion is somewhat easier to bare, you know that things will be clearer in a couple of days. This got me thinking of one of my favorite books "The Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy". On the cover of the Guide it says in big letters "Don't panic" and that is probably a good advice for the readers of that book as they are most often in a state of confusion travelling in outer space.

So can confusion be of any good. As I see it, YES! Because when you are confused you at least have identified that there are certain you just don't know. Said in another way, you have identified a knowledge gap. This is the first step to gain new knowledge. When you have realized that there is a certain thing you don't know, you try to find a way to learn this thing. And here your network is often of great use. , connecting with the right nodes will assist you. Once you have found the solution you have learned something and then the confusion is gone.
Is it?
Well maybe not. Because often when you learn something you also realize that there are a number of things you don't know, so you might end up being confused again. The more we know, the more we realize what we don't know.

I would like to finish off with a quote from my favorite punk rock band Bad Religion. In their song "Sanity" (appearing on the album with the suiting name "No Control"), the punk rock professor himself Gregg Graffin, states that:
"Confusion is a fundamental state of mind. 
It doesn't really matter what I'm figuring out. 
I'm guaranteed to wind up in a state of doubt"

I think that sums it up quite nicely. So don't be afraid of confusion. It's there to make you realize that you are facing a learning opportunity. Go with it and you will learn new amazing things.


  1. Hey Matthias, twitter & #lrnchat buddy!

    Understanding "confusion" properly is for sure an important part of being able to thrive and grow in a network. There are neurological reasons for confusion leading to fear, and your post is a good example of "re-framing" confusion itself so the brain stops freaking out! The more we understand and appreciate networked learning the more confusion will become normalized.

    That said, I think confusion on any one topic or scenario or context must always be transitory - not seen as a satisfactory (or 'normal') state of affairs in itself. As we make sense of previously confusing patterns we stop being confused, at that level. But so long as we are curious and connected we'll be asking more questions, discovering weirdness & anomaly, so the confusion appears again, but at another level.

    So in one sense we may always be confused, but I think we need to be encouraged that the confusion rests on at least some level of coherence.


  2. I feel confusion is always there, people never are in rest like some animals sometimes seem to be. Always a nagging question waiting to be solved. I feel confusion is the very reason why we learn and keep on learning. I agree: a lot of confusion and uncertainty will "kill" you, but some uncertainty is just human condition.

  3. Thanks for both your comments. I think you have both come to the same conclusion as I have, that confusion is a good starting point for learning new things.

    I will in my next post talk about what happens when I'm confused and don't find the answers I need.

    Thanks again,

  4. Hi, Mattias, your blogpost re-used, thanks.

  5. Hi Gerald,

    Thanks for re-using my post to create something new. I'm honored.


  6. Hi, very good. Think about :


  7. Thanks for all the comments!

    I just realised that there were more comments on the MOOC page. Check them out here: