Failure as a Tool

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

In my FYE course I’ve been insisting that students make games that challenge people to fail. This is a core element of games: if there’s no real challenge, there’s no real reason to play and no fun. Via FB, Beau Anderson links to this article in Scientific American titled Getting it Wrong: Surprising Tips on How to Learn. I don;t know why it’s such a surprise. Here’s a quote:

People remember things better, longer, if they are given very challenging tests on the material, tests at which they are bound to fail. In a series of experiments, they showed that if students make an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve information before receiving an answer, they remember the information better than in a control condition in which they simply study the information. Trying and failing to retrieve the answer is actually helpful to learning. It’s an idea that has obvious applications for education, but could be useful for anyone who is trying to learn new material of any kind.

I’m a little skeptical about the applicability or relevance of the studies’ conclusions across disciplines. When did we forget that challenge is a good thing?


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