Perception vs Facts | Does it matter for teaching and learning in HEIs?

Perception plays a vital role in determining our life-satisfaction and the way we tend to live in real time. Our decisions are strongly influenced by our perception irrespective of the facts of life. Does this also happen in teaching and learning in higher educational institutions (HEI)? The evidences tend to suggest that perception of teaching by faculty do influence their teaching style and decision on pedagogy, while the perception of learning by students tend to affect the learning outcomes. Read more to know how and why…

Image by: Clay Jones | CARTOON: “Alternative Facts”

Try answering this question without taking much of your time: Here is a ball and a bat. The combined price of ball and bat together is Rs.110. If the price of the bat is Rs.100 more than the ball, what is the price of the ball?

Did you get Rs.10 as your answer? Sorry, you may be disappointed but it is a wrong answer. However, do not worry too much about it. You are not an exception; neither is it a reflection of your low cognition. In a repeated trial with my audience, ranging from CEOs, MDs and VPs from the corporate world to the group of highly accomplished faculty, HoDs and Principals and to students from various streams, I found Rs. 10 as the answer provided by almost all. Exceptions were very few who could quickly calculated it to be Rs.5. Most of those who got it right were either working in accounts department or had background related to day-today calculations. Is this surprising? At least not to the science of human behavior, which would account it to ‘perceptional bias’. We live by ‘reaction’ rather than ‘response’ and most of our reactions are perception based. When we tend to take a back seat and do some facts checking, reality tends to take over our perception.

Behavioral science is becoming unescapable

Behavioral science is making inroads into almost every field of studies and all lifestyles. Way back in 1996 when I submitted my Ph.D. dissertation on consumption patterns in urban India, I was overwhelmed by the array of models and theories. I was more interested in finding out household specific factors affecting consumption. The macroeconomic data on household consumption obtained in family survey by national sample survey organization was not allowing me to get to the micro specific behaviour. Finally, I was exposed to Angus Deaton’s almost ideal demand system (AIDS) and his idea of understanding macro behaviour using micro observed data. I changed my approach and resorted to primary information collection and was finally able to achieve the objectives of looking at socioeconomic factors affecting consumption. It also allowed me to bring out the difference in impact of rise in income on consumption across different income and socioeconomic groups. Indeed the similar amount of rise in income is not going to bring similar enhancement in consumption across all types of income groups, neither its impact on family health and education would be similar. 

The short term and long term perspective of consumption as advocated in macroeconomic models specify consumption smoothening as something determined primarily by long term perspective on consumption. The various phases of business cycle is likely to bring focus more on income volatility rather than consumption volatility. Deaton advocated and showed consumption is more volatile than income over cyclical periods. In long-term perspective, therefore, income is smoother than consumption.

Micro behaviour can be captured by digging in data at individual level rather than aggregate or average level. Average may not be a true representative of reality. By doing so, Deaton has opened a new vista in understanding linkages with welfare, poverty, and living standards. Too many assumptions in model building might conceal reality, evidence based theorisation definitely serves better.

Perception affects life-satisfaction

Quality of life is comprised of getting right on both perception as well as facts. If the fact of life is poor and the perception of life is good, it might be a case of ‘false consciousness’ or at best it might also lead to adaptive strategy. On the other side, if the fact of life is good and the perception of life is bad, it will create great dissonance. People evaluating their life as poor and miserable in spite of being rich is a typical case of dissonance. This situation sometime is dangerous as it might as well lead to fatal consequences. Such a situation indicates that life’s perception is critical irrespective of whether fact of life is good or bad.

Learning perception of students

Though students join HEIs for learning, yet there is an overwhelming demand for degree as the end-result. This is, perhaps, the reason that the students’ perception of learning inside the classroom and outside the classroom differ considerably. Learning gets better when students are engaged in collaborative lessons in self-learning mode. Lecture is a passive mode of learning and it does not enhance the learning beyond certain limit unless students are made to engage in post-class exercises. Tools of active learning are mostly self-directed in nature where students have to drive it themselves. Expectantly, students’ perception of learning in self-learning mode should be stronger than in lecture mode. However, it has been found that students hold a contrary view. Based on our observation and interactions with students, scheduled lecture-based classes are the place where they supposedly ‘learn’. Self-learning exercises outside the scheduled classes fall outside the purview of their perception of learning. Such observations have also found empirical support. In a recent study by Deslauriersa, McCartya, Millerc, Callaghana, and Kestin (PNG, vol. 116, no. 69, September 24, 2019); available as open access, authors conducted controlled experiments and compared  students’ self-reported perception of learning with their actual learning under controlled conditions and compared– active instruction and passive instruction. The study found that students in active classrooms learned more, but their perception of learning, while positive, was lower than that of their peers in passive environments. This also means that if a super professor who is also a master of language and knows the art of communication delivers the lecture, students will tend to perceive it as ‘subject learnt.’ Invariably, the feedback students give for their faculty is largely based on such perception of learning. If we overlook such perceptional imbalance, it will undermine the effort towards active learning.

To quote the study, as cited earlier:

“As the success of active learning crucially depends on student motivation and engagement, it is of paramount importance that students appreciate, early in the semester, the benefits of struggling with the material during active learning. If students are misled by their inherent response into thinking that they are not learning, they will not be able to self-regulate, and they will not learn as successfully.”

Learning perception of faculty

The narrative “I had a wonderful class today”, may inherently be guided by the faculty’s perception of students learning. A wonderful class is faculty’s own perspective and it does not necessarily mean students have learnt. One possible way to count it as a ‘wonderful class’ is that the faculty is able to deliver well, able to make an impression on the class, and able to finish the content well within the time. All these are self-gratifying and represents ‘teacher-centric’ mindset rather ‘student-centric’ teaching. In these circumstances, it will be difficulty for the faculty to drive students towards self-learning mode; rather it will promote ‘oratory excellence’ as the yardstick of learning success. It can so happen that a faculty gets the best feedback from students; however, the students did not learn much.

Where shall thou meet?

For the success of the student-centric teaching-learning process, it is important that the perception of learning and actual learning shall meet. It shall match both for the students and for faculty. The mismatch is likely to give rise to several challenging situations.

What are the lessons?

  • The pick of pedagogy and teaching style by faculty tend to match their own perception of learning rather than the actual learning by students.
  • Students are likely to value lecture more over any self-driven active learning method, if their perception of learning is higher for the former than later.
  • The inferior (passive) pedagogical methods are easily promoted in case the decision is based on perception of learning by faculty as well as students.
  • How we start the teaching and how we take it forward with the students is likely to make a difference. Students tend to value active learning once they are acclimatized to it.

To quote from the study (Deslauriers et al, 2019; as cited earlier in this write up):

…when students experience the increased cognitive effort associated with active learning, they initially take that effort to signify poorer learning. That disconnect may have a detrimental effect on students’ motivation, engagement, and ability to self-regulate their own learning. (p.19251)

We recommend that instructors intervene early on by explicitly presenting the value of increased cognitive efforts associated with active learning. Instructors should also give an examination (or other assessment) as early as possible so students can gauge their actual learning. (p.19256)

The success of active learning will be greatly enhanced if students accept that it leads to deeper learning—and acknowledge that it may sometimes feel like exactly the opposite is true. (p.19256)

Author: Dr Prabhat Pankaj

Dr. Prabhat Pankaj is a postgraduate in Economics and a Ph.D. in applied economics. He is a teacher by choice and started his career 30 years ago in 1991 from Arunachal University. He has been teaching Economics at postgraduate and undergraduate levels for about 30 years, in Universities and B-Schools in India and abroad, including 7 years in Bhutan. Dr. Pankaj has also obtained his Executive Education in "Management and Leadership in Higher Education" at Harvard University, Boston, USA. Furthermore, He has written for the Times of India and other popular publications. Currently, he is serving as the Director of Jaipuria Institute of Management, Jaipur.

17 thoughts

  1. Many congratulations Prof Prabhat Pankaj for writing on such a innovative thought. I enjoyed and learnt from the article. It is indeed very helpful for retrospecting the aspects of perception towards making the teaching learning process more effective. Best wishes for your future endeavours

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dr Prabhat, I must compliment for such a lovely blog which addresses a perpetual issue of teaching pedagogy… while “teacher centric” methodology is still liked both by teachers and the students, but I feel your blog will help students understand importance of learning through out-of-class lessons… However, one thing is sure that unless somebody is interested in learning himself/ herself, nobody can teach him/her… How to generate interest for learning, remains the question!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very nice blog with innovative ideas, my dear friend. I read carefully and learn many new things. I do share your blog with my colleagues and students and engage them to discuss the same. Hoping furthermore blog. congratuletion and thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Sunil bhai. Your appreciation means a lot for me. Please do subscribe the blog for receiving the new write ups regularly. I would appreciate if you can also suggest other colleagues and students to subscribe the blog. Look forward to your continuous support and comments.


  4. Congratulations Sir. This is a very relevant article because the perception can change the way students and faculty respond to the learning process and this work will be inspiring for students to change their perception towards learning and receiving knowledge.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. …yet another insightful treatment of a vital issue that is often ignored or glossed over.
    Dr. Pankaj has probed the dichotomy between perception and fact from his wide reading and wider experience as a scholar and practitioner…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dear Dr. Prabhat:

    Thank you for the article.
    Perception and reality of Rs 110 for cricket 🏏 ball bat is surely a googly one as it ends up ball at Rs 5, bat stays put at Rs 100..😂 and pair still remains price tagged Rs 110.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “Though students join HEIs for learning, yet there is an overwhelming demand for degree as the end-result.”—- very apt analysis. Very apt and useful article as an academician, I think it is time to introspect that how to bring students back to reality

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dr Prabhat, a very well written and researched article, as always! While I agree with all your points but perception is largely based on past experiences and surroundings. Given our primary and secondary education system which focuses on rote learning, it might be difficult for a student in HEI to ‘acclimatize’ to the new and modern system of learning. For HEIs and the students therein to derive maximum value from ‘outside the class’ and ‘outside of textbooks’ learning it’s a prerequisite that primary, secondary and tertiary education should align themselves in terms of curriculum and pedagogy so that there is continuity and uniformity in the learning process. This itself is a very tall order given India’s diversity of education and teaching systems! A very thought provoking article nevertheless which should provide guidance to future educationalists.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Very nice and clear post – a pleasure to read!

    The very root of this pedagogical problem lies in the fact that teaching and learning are considered to be just one process. However, lecture is not a learning method, it is an instructional strategy designed for providing information. To make a lecture support students’ learning process, we need to teach about metacognition (our knowledge of our own learning and cognitive processes) [1] and also how to use learning strategies to support those processes that help us learn better.

    What needs to happen, is the VERY clear, explicit communication about the two separate processes happening in the class at the same time: instructional process and learning process. The third necessary competency for anyone who wishes to teach, is knowing how to use assessments to support students’ learning processes.


    [1] Ormrod, J. E. (1999). Human learning: Principles, theories, and educational applications. 3rd. ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Merrill Publishing Co.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dear Sir,
    It was a great reading. Liked the example pn the price of the bat and the ball and made easy to understand on the perception and the fact. It is indeed a thought provoking article. Loved to run through the blog.

    Your student

    Gopal Giri
    Royal Thimphu College

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Dear Sir,
    It was a great reading. Liked the example on the price of the bat and the ball and made easy to understand on the perception and the fact. It is indeed a thought provoking article. Loved to run through the blog.

    Your student

    Gopal Giri
    Royal Thimphu College

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Prof Gopal: Thank you so much for your comment. I am happy that you liked this piece of write up. Please continue reading and commenting. Pls also subscribe the blog with your email to keep receiving new posts. Look forward to the pleasure of meeting you.


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