Monthly Archives: January 2014

Should We Mind the ‘Reality Gap’?

It’s generally accepted that making education ‘relevant’ is a good thing for the classroom.  Usually, this means finding practical applications for theory.  But how much of a problem is it when our ‘real world’ examples aren’t as ‘real’ as they might appear?  How important is the ‘Reality Gap’?

A universal complaint of students, whether at school, college or university, is that they often don’t see the relevance of some of the material they study.  “When am I going to be doing this in a real job?” is a typical question.  There are three broad categories of response from the teacher; bluntly and clumsily characterised as follows:

  1. “You’re getting an education that shows your capability at this level.  The content doesn’t matter.  You’ll be trained to do a particular job when you’ve got one.”
  2. “You might only use about 10% of what you’re learning now in the real world but you don’t know which 10% it’s going to be and your 10% will be different to everyone else’s 10% so we have to do all this stuff.”
  3. “Well, here’s an example of how this might be used in the real world.”

(A good teacher would add a considerable degree of finesse to these answers, of course.)  Ignoring the merits and demerits of 1 and 2 entirely, how best to achieve 3 presents some interesting challenges because, much as we might like to pretend otherwise, the real world is a terribly complicated place, in which the textbook usually only gets us so far … Continue reading