Is Failure Ever Productive?

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The recent issue of the Brilliant Report discussed the concept of productive failure. “Allowing learners to struggle will actually help them learn better.” This concept tends to go against the natural instincts of teachers. Typically, we want to give our students a strong sense of structure and guidance, build their knowledge base, and then set them free to master their learning.

Yet, research seems to be telling us something different. The idea of productive failure emphasizes the idea that learners need to struggle with material in the beginning, with limited assistance from teachers for a while. As students work through the learning process, without the scaffolding provided by instructors, learners dissect the problems (test questions) and can often develop a greater understanding of the structure of the problem. Once learners can recognize the structure of problems, they are able to transfer this knowledge to new problems. We are not teaching to the test, but providing students with the opportunity for real learning.

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