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Editor's Note

Averages can conceal how people and science learn

By
11:06am, November 16, 2016

Picture a learning curve. Most of us imagine a smooth upward slope that rises with steady mastery. It is the ultimate image of progress.

But that image, as behavioral sciences writer Bruce Bower reports in "Kids learning curve not so smooth" (SN: 11/26/16, p. 6), may well be an illusion of statistics, created when people look at averages of a group instead of how individuals actually learn. That’s what scientists at the University of Cambridge found when quizzing preschoolers’ developing ability to understand that other people can have false beliefs, an important milestone in the development of a theory of mind.

For many learners, the study suggests, mastery comes in fits and starts, a graphical zigzagging

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