I had been researching about what students dislike about studying, and found out two contradictory piece of reasons:

  1. students cannot understand the concepts taught to them by the teachers;
  2. they hate spoon feeding.

Most articles on the internet (I think almost all of them) talk about how spoon feeding is harmful in education. But if 1 were the reason why students dislike learning, isn't it an imperative to make acquiring knowledge easier? I know lots of sites on the internet which simplify and explain topics carefully. Is that a form of spoon feeding? Or is that of simplification? Are there differences between them?

Should spoon feeding be stopped? Or should sources be more simplified?

  • 5
    Keep in mind that the collection of students who don't understand the concepts and the collection of students who don't like spoon feeding might have a very small intersection. Complaints, especially on the internet, usually arise from those at the extremes, not the middle. Apr 14, 2021 at 9:42
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    What is your definition of "spoon feeding"?
    – Buffy
    Apr 14, 2021 at 12:47
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    And, what level of education are you speaking/researching about?
    – Buffy
    Apr 14, 2021 at 13:00
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    "[I]sn't it an imperative to make acquiring knowledge easier?" Brain-chip implants? I suspect it's simply that some people who can't swim find themselves unexpectedly in the deep end of the pool. Apr 14, 2021 at 19:24

4 Answers 4


I think that these concepts don't really overlap that much:

Simplification is about how you explain something. When you explain a concept, you might leave out some details which make the concept more complicated to grasp. By focusing on the most essential parts (and possibly adding the details later), you don't overwhelm the students with information and allow them to understand a concept in a "step by step" way.

Spoon-feeding is about how you let students solve tasks, in classroom or homework assignments. The goal of such assignments is to let students practice the learned concepts by applying them in an independent way. Spoon-feeding means that the students don't need to think because you have already done the thinking for them and just let them execute some clearly defined, straightforward tasks.

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    +1. But I would like to add that while "simplification" can be beneficial to some students, but other students may think that simplification hampers their understanding because "things do not make sense" if too many details are left out.
    – Louic
    Apr 14, 2021 at 9:30
  • @Louic Indeed! It never hurts to say something like "That's the basic idea. But there are actually more aspects to it, which we will touch on later / you can read about in ..." Apr 14, 2021 at 9:37
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    re: @Louic's point, a specific case where I've seen this happen a lot is in omitting math. There are some things, like in basic physics, that are really straightforward if you use math, and really complicated otherwise. Sometimes people try to make physics "simple" by leaving out math since some people struggle with math. The result is a curriculum of memorizing nonsense rules because if you don't allow yourself to touch an equation then memorization is all you can really do.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 14, 2021 at 16:28

There are important differences between simplifying and spoon feeding:

  • simplifying: leaving details out that are not important for the moment. For example: not mentioning exceptions to certain rules.

  • spoon feeding: sharing knowledge slowly, small bits at a time, and not teaching students to think for themselves or understand the underlying concepts. A typical example of spoon-feeding is telling students what they need to memorize to pass the exam, but not teaching the (useful) underlying concepts that allow them to judge new situations (even though these new situations may not be part of the exam).

Of course we cannot tell if these interpretations are exactly what the students in your question mean. It would be best to ask them to clarify and provide examples.


Simplifying is not all or nothing, but you can simplify to some degree. If the students don't get what you want to teach them, then you haven't simplified enough. If it is too easy, then you have simplified too much. So it is all about finding the right balance for your students. Keep in mind that there is quite a bit of variation within students, so that complicates that equation even more.


It really depends on the topic. I guess with every class you need to find the balance, and it's ok to ask your students in the beginning (or throughout) what they need explained and what is clear. If you cannot do that, e.g. online teaching makes it a bit harder to read their expressions and often also means that fewer people respond, make sure to explain all concepts that are needed for the basic understanding of the central topics. To not sound like you think they know nothing, you can try and say something along the lines of "as you probably know/may have learned in high school ... " I real-life classes I find that engaging with the students is the best way of gauging how much they get and where their insecurities may lie. You can do that in conversation much better than by talking down to them. It feels like you're guiding them through a new topic using their knowledge and building new knowledge. This may also lead to better results because their knowledge is expanding in a network.

I feel like spoon feeding is different and students hatred of it revolves around something else. Based on my own undergrad experience, there were a few lecturers who would just give us factoid after factoid and explanation after explanation but I never felt like I got an understanding of the topic as a whole. Better lecturers, on the other hand, would give you a feel for the whole topic and individual classes would call back to each other. We would build upon previously discussed topics and they would link up in complex ways. So, as we progressed, our way of thinking about the topic also had to become more complex and less straight-forward.

This is hard to explain and a very large topic. I hope, some of theses thoughts help.

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