Wong, S. S. H., & Lim, S. W. H. (2022). Deliberate errors promote meaningful learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 114(8), 1817–1831. https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000720
Our civilization recognizes that errors can be valuable learning opportunities, but for decades, they have widely been avoided or, at best, allowed to occur as serendipitous accidents. The present research tested whether greater learning success could paradoxically be achieved through making errors by intentional design, relative to traditional errorless learning methods. We show that deliberately committing and correcting errors even when one knows the correct answers enhances learning—a counterintuitive phenomenon that we termed the derring effect. Across two experiments (N = 160), learners engaged in open-book study of scientific expository texts and were then tested on their retention and higher-order application of the material to analyze a novel news event. Deliberate error commission and correction during study produced not only better recall performance, but also superior knowledge application compared to two errorless study techniques that are popular among students and educational researchers: copying with underlining, and elaborative studying with concept mapping (Experiment 1). These learning benefits persisted even over generating alternative conceptually correct answers, revealing that the derring effect is not merely attributable to generation or elaboration alone, but is unique to producing incorrect responses (Experiment 2). Yet, learners were largely unaware of these advantages even after experiencing them. Our results suggest that avoiding errors in learning may not always be most optimal. Rather, deliberate erring is a powerful strategy to enhance meaningful learning. We discuss implications for educational practice in redesigning conventional approaches to errors: To err is human; to deliberately err is divine.
Impact Statement Errors are ripe with learning opportunity, but have traditionally been avoided or simply allowed to occur spontaneously. Here, we provide evidence for the derring effect—deliberately committing and correcting errors even when we know the correct answers enhances learning. Relative to popular errorless techniques such as copying with underlining, concept mapping, and even generating alternative correct answers, deliberate erring improved not only knowledge retention, but also higher-order application of learning. Yet, students were largely unaware of these benefits. Deliberate erring is a powerful way of learning from failure for greater success.