get="_self"> Serra, 2016a, 2016b for further criticisms). Research examining the effects of instructor fluency rather than perceptual fluency has utilized more realistic variations in students’ experience of fluency, but the setting has remained artificial (i.e., very short instructional videos with no extrinsic investment on the part of the participants; e.g., Carpenter et al., 2013; Carpenter et al., 2016; Sanchez & Khan, 2016; but see Williams & Ceci, 1997 ). To this end, the purpose of the present study was to determine whether instructor fluency is related to students’ evaluations of their learning in an actual course, much as occurs in more contrived laboratory experiments that have examined this question (e.g., Carpenter et al., 2013; Carpenter et al., 2016; Sanchez & Khan, 2016 ).

We found that students’ ratings of instructor fluency were correlated with their judgments of learning, various ratings of their instructor, and various ratings of the course and its topics. Importantly, these relationships maintained when we controlled for student’s actual performance in the course and occurred even though students had a semester’s worth of experience with the course and instructor (i.e., assignments; grades; within-instructor variations in fluency) that they could consider when making their judgments. These results suggest that instructor fluency is a major source of information that students factor into such judgments in both the laboratory and in the classroom. The present study therefore provides an important link between highly-contrived laboratory examinations of fluency effects and more genuine examinations of the relationship between fluency and students’ judgments of their learning, their instructors, and their courses.

The present findings are perhaps even more surprising when we consider that, in most concordant laboratory studies, participants made their judgments immediately after being exposed to either fluent or disfluent presenters or study materials. When the making of the judgment is delayed from the exposure to the materials in the laboratory, however, judgments of learning do not seem to show fluency effects (e.g., Hu, Liu, Li, & Luo, 2016 ). In contrast, participants in the present study made their judgments outside of the classroom and at a long temporal delay from most of their experience with the fluency of their instructors. Nevertheless, participants’ judgments in the present study were related to instructor fluency despite how much time had elapsed between their exposure to their instructors and their making of the present ratings. This suggests that instructor fluency in the classroom might exert a stronger or longer-lasting influence on students’ judgments of learning than might other forms of fluency (i.e., perceptual fluency).

Implications and Future Directions

Problematically, the relationship between instructor fluency and students’ judgments of their learning in actual courses seems very strong; the relationship occurs even though students likely have numerous other sources of information they can consult to judge their learning (or to rate the quality of their instructors and courses) and maintain when we control for actual grades earned in the course. If further research demonstrates that the experience of instructor fluency can impair the efficacy of students’ study behaviors in their courses, then applied researchers may have difficulty identifying methods to reduce students’ use of this heuristic. As we previously note, the general heuristic that the experience of fluency is associated with positive performance is pervasive (e.g., Fernandez-Duque et al., 2000; Jacoby et al., 1989; Ramachandran & Hirstein, 1999; Reber et al., 2004; Vallacher & Nowak, 1999; Winkielman et al., 2003 ), so applied researchers may have to work particularly hard to eliminate its use by students in the context of learning.

In actual courses, the experience of high instructor fluency can lead students to overestimate their level of learning and under-prepare for exams (but see Carpenter et al., 2013 , Experiment 2), make poor restudy decisions (cf. Shanks & Serra, 2014 ), or even change their academic major (Stinebrickner & Stinebrickner, 2014) . Related, research indicates that students’ likelihood of communicating with instructors outside of the classroom (e.g., emailing an instructor with a question; attending office hours) is negatively correlated with their perception of instructor clarity (Sidelinger, Bolen, McMullen, & Nyeste, 2015) . Given such findings, researchers should identify relationships between instructor fluency and students’ study behaviors. Researchers should also consider whether instructor fluency biases students’ actual evaluations of their instructors and courses.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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