Productive Responses to Failure for Future Learning

Alison Yuen Lee

Productive Responses to Failure for Future Learning
Lee, Alison Yuen
Thesis Advisor(s):
Black, John B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Cognitive Studies in Education
Persistent URL:
For failure experiences to be productive for future performance or learning, students must be both willing to persist in the face of failure, and effective in gleaning information from their errors. While there have been extensive advances in understanding the motivational dispositions that drive resilience and persistence in the face of failure, less has been done to investigate what strategies and learning behaviors students can undertake to make those failure experiences productive. This dissertation investigates what kinds of behaviors expert learners (in the form of graduate students) employ when encountering failure that predict future performance (Study 1), and whether such effective behaviors can be provoked in less sophisticated learners (in the form of high school students) that would subsequently lead to deeper learning (Study 2). Study 1 showed that experiencing and responding to failures in an educational electrical circuit puzzle game prior to formal instruction led to deeper learning, and that one particular strategy, “information-seeking and fixing”, was predictive of higher performance. This strategy was decomposed into three metacognitive components: error specification, where the subject made the realization that a knowledge gap or misunderstanding led to the failure; knowledge gap resolution, where the subject sought information to resolve the knowledge gap; and application, where subjects took their newly acquired information to fix their prior error. In Study 2, two types of prompts were added to the educational game: one that provoked students through these metacognitive steps of error specification, information seeking, and fixing, labelled the “Metacognitive Failure Response” (MFR) condition; and a second prompt that provoked students to make a global judgment of knowing, labelled the “Global Awareness” (GA) condition. The results indicated that although there were no significant condition differences between the three groups (MFR, GA, and control condition where participants received no prompt at all), more time spent on the MFR prompt predicted deeper and more robust learning. In contrast, more time spent on the “Global Awareness” prompt did not predict deeper learning, suggesting that individual factors (such as conscientiousness) did not alone account for the benefits of time spent on the MFR prompt on learning. These results suggest that while MFR participants who carefully attended to the metacognitive prompts to specify the source of their errors and seek information experienced learning benefits, not all MFR participants sufficiently attended to the prompts enough to experience learning gains. Altogether, this body of research suggests that using this “error specification, info-seeking, fixing” strategy can be effective for making failure productive, but other instructional techniques beyond system-delivered prompts must be employed for full adoption of this metacognitive response to failure. Implications for teaching students to respond effectively to failure, for games in the classroom, and for design and engineering processes are discussed.
Cognitive psychology
Resilience (Personality trait)
Learning, Psychology of
Achievement motivation
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Suggested Citation:
Alison Yuen Lee, , Productive Responses to Failure for Future Learning, Columbia University Academic Commons, .

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