Impact of Explicit Failure and Success-driven Preparatory Activities on Learning

AbstractUnscaffolded problem-solving before receiving instruction can give students opportunities to entertain their exploratory hypotheses at the expense of experiencing initial failures. Prior literature has argued for the efficacy of such Productive Failure (PF) activities in preparing students to "see" like an expert. Despite growing understanding of the socio-cognitive mechanisms that affect learning from PF, the necessity of success or failure in initial problem-solving attempts is still unclear. Consequently, we do not know yet whether some ways of succeeding or failing are more efficacious than others. Here, we report empirical evidence from a recently concluded classroom PF intervention (N=221), where we designed scaffolds to explicitly push student problem-solving towards success via structuring, but also radically, towards failure via problematizing. Our rationale for explicit failure scaffolding was rooted in facilitating problem-space exploration. We subsequently compared the differential preparatory effects of success-driven and failure-driven problem-solving on learning from subsequent instruction. Results suggested explicit failure scaffolding during initial problem-solving to have a higher impact on conceptual understanding, compared to explicit success scaffolding. This trend was more salient for the task topic with greater difficulty.

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