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Let Them Make Mistakes… And Learn!

Consider this! You have completed a training course and now you need to take a test. You give it a shot and unfortunately you fail in the test and are denied of the course completion certificate. You end up feeling bad!

You are playing a game. It has a lot of levels and it’s pretty difficult to cross each level. You are trying your best to cross them but keep failing. You don’t lose heart and keep trying until you cross the level. And you don’t stop there… Bring on the next level!

Found some difference in these situations?  One is a training course, where the learner is made to feel like a loser on making mistakes and the other is a game, where even on losing, he is motivated enough to cross the levels.

Don’t you think we should follow the gaming spirit for our trainings as well, where the learners are allowed to make mistakes… And keep making them until they succeed?

I think there’s nothing wrong in making mistakes, unless it’s a fatal mistake! The initial stage of learning anything new involves a lot of setbacks. We actually learn better if we make more errors because we get a first-hand experience of moving into an incorrect direction and then we walk that extra mile to correct our wrong move.

So, why not use trainings as a simulated environment, where the learners are allowed to make mistakes. And more the number of mistakes they make, more training experiences they receive, as a bonus.

We need to allow the learners to make mistakes and NEVER make them feel that they have done some blunder. This can be a brilliant instructional design opportunity for us to train our learners and clarify the concepts by taking them through some remedial content. We can make them feel that here’s an opportunity to learn more about the topic and they just got this opportunity because they were fortunate enough to make a mistake. 🙂

I honestly feel that we need to concentrate more on creating engaging learning experience for them to be self-motivated to learn and take it as a challenge to master it; instead of worrying about scoring well in the test.

Something to ponder over…

  • Why do we need to threaten our learners with the post-tests?
  • Why do we set high percentage scores to mark the course complete?
  • Are these scores going to make any difference in how they perform on their job?
  • Most importantly, are the post-tests really comprehensive enough to test everything they’ve learned?
  • Isn’t concept clarity more important for a course to be termed as successful?

What do you say? Do leave a comment here to let me know about your thoughts.

My mantra for the day: “Making mistakes is cool!” 🙂

10 Responses

  1. It depends on the desired outcome… if they are learning skills that require precision in life threatening situations, they need to get zapped when they fail. The learning event can also weed out those who would jeopardize the lives of others with an incomplete skillset.

    In the majority of cases, you are right, though. I’m a fan of the soft touch… but not for a bomb technician.

  2. 1. Use of “threaten” for post-tests is not appropriate as there has to be some measure and validation of learning. Not only for those delivering but for those learning to understand what has been accomplished.
    2. High percentage scores are set in online assessments to meet with 2 considerations – a. Contamination of scores with guesswork. b. Ensure high reliability and validity of the assessment. Research shows that if someone scores 80% on an MCQ test, it is contaminated with about 26% of guesswork.
    3. If knowledge demonstrated by the assessment is critical to performance, it will make a difference for sure. However, there are other factors that influence actual performance that must be kept in mind by learning and assessment designers.
    4. Post-tests need to be designed in a manner to be “valid” which means they are comprehensive to test all that is required to be learned. Just having a set of questions does not qualify to be a good assessment.
    5. To ascertain if there is concept clarity too, a test will be necessary.

    Questions is a wonderful tool in the hands of an instructional designer. Limiting their use to summative assessments alone is not good. And making mistakes is not good in that context. However, if formative assessments are used to deliver learning, we are actually using the mistakes to help each learner in dealing with his/her knowledge gaps and deficiencies.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Venudhar. Tests are indeed a great tool to assess the learners understanding of the concepts and I’m definitely not against using them. 🙂

      My take on it was to make the content engaging enough so that the person is actually able to learn from it… and enjoys this journey. And post that happily takes the test. Major part of eLearning courses available now are page turners with heaps and heaps of non-engaging content followed by a post-test. That’s what makes the post-test threatening for the learners.

  3. As Insee it, there are two different aspects here…..

    1. The educational part (like going to school a whole semester)
    2. The test part (like the exam in the end of the semester)

    The more fun and engaging no. 1 is – as you say, Pooja – the bigger motivation for learning. – and the better you do at the exam. And the exam is only scary when you’r not properly prepared 🙂

    Remember the days back in school…. Endless pages in the history book was a killer.

    If we manage to make no. 1 really, really fun – we might aswell get our co-workers to do the “nice-to-learn” courses and not only the “need-to-learn”.

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