Welcome back to Progressively Incorrect, a podcast about artificial intelligence, emotional intelligence, and just plain regular intelligence. I am your host, Dr. Zach Groshell, and in this week’s episode I have the pleasure of interviewing Saskia Giebl about the benefits and perils of using Google for learning.

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I’m often told that education today needs to change to meet the needs of tomorrow. One of the reasons given is that students don’t need to go to a teacher or a library whenever they would like to learn something; They can simply Google everything on their smartphones. But before we start replacing human teachers with Google or AI software like ChatGPT, let’s consider some facts. The first problem with a “Google-based” education is well-known: Much of what is found on the internet is unhelpful, harmful, or factually incorrect. In order to sort through all of the nonsense that is on the internet, students need to know how to ask Google the right questions. And therein lies the next problem: In order to ask the right questions, students need to have a lot of knowledge already. We can’t expect a student to spontaneously Google “What materials were used to make sarcophagi” if they don’t have the faintest clue what a sarcophagus is or why they even should care!

Another problem with replacing “old-fashioned teaching” with Google is something I learned very recently from reading a series of articles by this week’s guest. In Saskia Giebl’s research at the Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab at UCLA, she asked students to either a) Google questions to find answers or b) Think about the answers to questions and then use Google to check their answers. As you probably predicted, the students who thought about the questions first learned more from using Google than the students who Googled without thinking. While Google is a useful tool for finding information, it’s also the case that relying on Google can create passive learning experiences that do not engage the mind. 

I think you’re really going to get a kick out of this episode, which is filled with all sorts of areas to explore, including the difference between learning and performance and a bit of a deep dive into the pre-testing effect. So, without further ado, I give you episode 17 of season 2 of the Progressively Incorrect podcast, featuring Saskia Giebl.

UCLA Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab

4 thoughts on “S2E17: Saskia Giebl on the Bjork Lab and Googling for Learning

  1. One thing that confused me. If I’ve understood correctly, Saskia suggested that people learnt more if they thought about what an answer might be, even if they are a novice, before googling – than they would if they just googled. This seems to suggest we should be asking students questions even when we know they don’t know the answers (which I thought was a sin of discovery learning). Can anyone see where I’m going wrong on this?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought the same, which is why I kept pressing about the pre-testing effect. I don’t think there is a good enough comparison group in the experiments to suggest that asking questions and then telling is better than telling and then asking questions. I think instead it shows that having students go off and search for answers is worse than having them think of the answer to the questions first before searching.


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