Human beings are psychologically predisposed to do the easiest thing because thinking is hard and energy intensive. We are geared through evolution to take short cuts in our decision making and there is little that we can do to overcome this natural predisposition to take the path of least resistance (see System 1 and System 2 thinking patterns in Kahneman, 2011). The problem with learning is that the easy choice is often the least effective. In order to get students to do the hard work – overcome the resistance – we should encourage them to strive towards a higher purpose in their learning, as opposed to simply aiming for a pass. Students – and lecturers for that matter – almost always default to the path of least resistance unless they have a higher purpose that they are working towards. If we want students to achieve at high levels, then the path of least resistance must lead to failure to complete the task. Making the easy choice must lead to poorer outcomes than doing the hard work, but so often students can pass without doing the hard work. We must therefore create tasks that are very difficult to pass without doing hard cognitive work.
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking Fast and Slow.