I’m currently working on the People component of the Ps Framework as part of my thesis. One of the sections of the People component will be “People and cognition”. It will seek to illustrate that people are not rational decision-makers, that we have all sorts of significant flaws in how we make decisions and that these flaws significant impact upon the implementation and practice of e-learning (the topic of the thesis).

In writing another blog post I visited the Wikipedia article on conformation bias and found out about “Tolstoy syndrome” from which the following two quotes come.

I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabrics of their life.


The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.

Other connections

If you want some idea of how important this particular cognitive bias is, then let me show you some other ideas I’ve seen which build on this. At least for me, the sheer prevalence of ideas which encapsulate this idea give some indication of its impact.

Other connections include:

Implications for e-learning

When it comes to learning and teaching at universities the folk most likely to be accused of suffering from “Tolstoy’s syndrome” are the teaching staff. If only those recalcitrant academics would accept new and more modern (i.e. effective) ideas around learning and teaching everything would be okay. This often results in prescriptive approaches to improving learning and teaching (e.g. all courses shall use PBL) which I think are destined to fail and be effected by technology gravity.

In the People section I’m working on I’m looking at the following groups of people: students, teaching staff, instructional designers, managers and leaders, and technical staff. As these are all (generally) people they all suffer from Tolstoy’s syndrome and consequently it’s a major issue in e-learning implementation and use.

Management’s entrainment prevents or limits the institution’s ability to accept different approaches like PLEs. Technology folk’s entrainment around the scarcity and expensive nature of technology and the limited technical knowledge of end-users limits how they perceive information technology can be harnessed effectively to improve learning and teaching. Lastly, students have expectations of university education meaning face-to-face lectures and tutorials which heavily online, group based forms of education break.

Tolstoy’s syndrome needs to be considered.


McDonald, J. and A. Gibbons (nd). “Technology I, II, and III: criteria for understanding and improving the practice of instructional technology ” Educational Technology Research and Development.