As an educational discipline, science is considered one of the most challenging subjects to learn. The intimidation factor for science courses — especially at the higher education level — turns many students away from taking them. Those who do enroll tend to have high dropout rates, struggle academically, or decide to change majors early on in their academic journey.
But why is science hard to learn? This article discusses the basics of why science is such a difficult subject for many students and what you can do as a science educator to improve the situation.
Why Do Students Find Science Subjects Difficult?
There are many reasons why science students find their courses difficult, leading to low engagement in the science classroom and few science graduates. One problem is that science education places a high cognitive and psychological demand on learners. This makes the effort involved in learning science much more significant than other academic subjects.
Here are four reasons why science is an intellectually and psychologically challenging subject to study:
1. Science Presupposes Mastery of Other Subjects and Skills
To learn science, students must have a strong foundation in other subject areas, such as:
- Reading comprehension
- Analytical writing
This is a difficult task for learners, many of whom often come into science courses without the necessary skills. As a result, these students struggle to understand the concepts and principles being taught.
This problem is compounded by the fact that science is constantly evolving. New discoveries and theories are being made, requiring students to update their background knowledge continually. This can be a daunting task for even the most dedicated learner.
2. Science Relies Heavily on Memorization
Another reason science is so difficult to learn is that it relies heavily on memorization. To understand scientific concepts, students need to be able to remember a large amount of information. This can be a challenge for people who find it difficult to retain information for long periods of time.
In addition, poor note-taking skills aggravate this problem. Students who are unable to take clear and concise notes during lectures, for example, will have a hard time reviewing and remembering scientific material later on. Consequently, they often struggle in exams and other assessment activities that require them to memorize information.
3. Science Presupposes Abstract, Non-Linear Thinking
Learning science also requires the use of abstract thinking skills. Students have to understand complex scientific concepts and apply them to real-world situations. This can be difficult for practice-oriented people who are more accustomed to concrete thinking.
Moreover, scientific reasoning is often non-linear, making it hard for students to identify causal links. An example of non-linear thinking in health science is the cause-and-effect relationship between diseases and symptoms. This complex way of thinking is sometimes difficult for students to grasp.
4. Science Requires Motivational Drive and Resilience
Science students need to be highly motivated and resilient to be successful. The learning and training process of medical students, for instance, is often long and arduous, with few immediate rewards. For many students, the lack of tangible benefits makes it hard to persevere through challenging science courses.
Due to this lack of resilience, some science students give up after a single project failure. This means that students sometimes quit after encountering their first difficulty, whether it’s a failed experiment, a low test score, or simply not understanding a topic.
What Can Educators Do To Make Science More Palatable for Students?
As a science educator, you’re probably aware of the factors that make science difficult for your students. Your main concern is to help struggling students and make this exciting subject more palatable for them.
Teaching science classes and developing a science curriculum that is interesting, interactive, and relevant to students’ lives is a good start. But there is much more that you can do to help your students succeed. The following are some practical suggestions:
Use Active Learning Methods
One of the best ways to engage students in science is to use active learning methods. Active learning is a teaching approach that emphasizes student involvement and participation. In contrast to traditional lecturing, active learning involves hands-on activities, group work, and discussions.
Using active learning methods in the classroom has several advantages. For example, active learning encourages your students to think practically about scientific concepts. It also promotes problem-solving skills and collaboration. And last but not least, active learning techniques make science more fun and engaging for students.
So, to make your science classes more exciting and interactive, incorporate active learning opportunities in them.
Provide Differentiated Instruction
Differentiated instruction is another excellent way to make science more palatable for your students. Differentiation is an approach that tailors teaching methods to the needs of individual learners and takes into account the different learning styles, abilities, and interests of students.
There are many benefits of using differentiated instruction in the science classroom. Differentiation allows you to meet the needs of all your students, regardless of their abilities. It also furthers active engagement and motivation in students. And finally, differentiated instruction can help struggling students catch up with their peers, which boosts their confidence.
So, to make science more accessible and inclusive for your students, consider using differentiated instruction in your classroom.
Decrease Reliance on Memorization and Reading
If you want to make science easier for your students, consider decreasing your reliance on memorization and reading. Of course, there are some concepts that students will need to memorize. But where possible, try to emphasize understanding over memorization.
To move away from rote learning and memorization, you can utilize active learning methods to promote creative problem-solving skills. Additionally, you can use technology in the classroom to provide visual and interactive resources for your students that make it easier for them to remember information.
So, to make learning scientific concepts easier for your students, explore practical learning techniques that focus on understanding rather than memorization.
Lower the Language Barrier
One of the biggest barriers to learning science is the language barrier. Health science, for instance, is a subject that is loaded with technical terms and jargon, requiring strong language skills. This can make it hard for some students, especially English Language Learners, to understand the subject content and follow along in class.
Fortunately, there are effective ways to help students understand medical terminology, such as:
- Teaching medical terms by physiological system
- Linking medical terms to everyday vocabulary
- Deepening understanding through activity
To make science more comprehensible for your students, lower the language barrier by simplifying technical terms and offering language support.
Making Science Accessible To All Students
There are many reasons why science is a challenging subject. Due to its high cognitive and psychological demand, science requires students to understand other subjects, memorize complex and often abstract concepts, and develop high levels of motivation and resilience throughout their studies.
However, as a science educator, you can make the subject more accessible and engaging for your students. To help them overcome some of the challenges of learning science, you can:
- Use active learning techniques
- Provide differentiated instruction
- Prioritize understanding over memorization, and
- Offer language support.
By using these strategies in your classroom, you can make science more palatable for your students and help them succeed in this vital subject.
CIP classes can accommodate various teaching and learning styles, making it easier for health science students to excel academically. There are no hard and fast rules about how the materials should be learned or taught. The result is more effective education, better learning outcomes, and improved career prospects.