"The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for" (Wittgenstein). When learning something completely new, we connect the unknown term to an already existing part of our knowledge. We can only build new ideas and insights upon an existing conceptual foundation. In the field of statistics, we educators frequently find ourselves met with great confusion when teaching novices. These students, entirely unfamiliar with even basic statistics, must connect the introduced statistical terms within their personal existing networks of largely non-statistical knowledge. Lecturers, on the other hand, who are well versed in statistics, have deeply internalized the content to be taught and its relevant context. The juxtaposition of the two roles may produce amusement in a lecturer upon gaining insight into the word associations made by the statistical novices. For example, a ‘logistic regression’ does not involve the ‘shipping of goods in economically difficult times,’ though this might seem entirely reasonable and intuitive to the statistics learner. Other times, these different perspectives can lead to headaches and frustration for both learners and their lecturers. In this article, we illustrate how simple statistical terms are initially connected to a student’s pre-exiting knowledge and how these associations change after completing an introductory course in applied statistics. Furthermore, we emphasize the important difference between “term”, “approach”, and “context”. Understanding this fundamental distinction may help improve the communication between the lecturer and the learner. We offer a collection of practical tools for instructors to help promote students’ conceptual understanding in a supportive, mutually-beneficial learning environment.
Recommended CitationKruppa, Jochen; Rohmann, Jessica; Herrmann, Carolin; Sieg, Miriam; Rubarth, Kerstin; and Piper, Sophie, What statistics instructors need to know about concept acquisition to make statistics stick, Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 18(2), 2021.