Dr. Sarah Wong’s research on the counterintuitive learning benefits of deliberate erring—the derring effect—was recently featured in Psychology Today (“To learn better, make mistakes”, March 26, 2022) and New Scientist (“To err is fruitful”, March 12, 2022).
In her research, Dr. Wong showed that deliberately committing and correcting errors enhances not only knowledge retention, but also higher-order knowledge application, relative to traditional errorless learning methods. This work has been published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General and Journal of Educational Psychology.
How can we strategically and systematically learn from our errors? Over their long history, errors have traditionally been prevented entirely or, at best, permitted to occur spontaneously. Across three experiments, we tested and found evidence for a counterintuitive phenomenon that we termed the derring effect—deliberately committing errors even when one already knows the correct answers produces superior learning than avoiding them, particularly when one’s errors are corrected. Learners engaged in an educationally relevant task of learning scientific term-definition concepts via open-book study by deliberately generating conceptually incorrect definitions with or without correction, or copying and underlining them (Experiment 1). On a cued recall test, deliberate erring outperformed errorless copying, with error correction yielding an additional benefit. This advantage of deliberate erring persisted over actively generating alternative conceptually correct answers (Experiment 2), which in turn surpassed copying. Even when errorless generation was given a further boost to involve a higher degree of elaboration by prompting learners to generate a specific real-world example that illustrated or applied each concept, deliberately committing and correcting errors still produced better learning (Experiment 3). Altogether, the derring effect is neither fully attributable to a generation nor an elaboration benefit, but stems at least in part from enhanced target processing specific to having first deliberately produced incorrect responses. Notwithstanding deliberate erring’s prowess, learners were largely oblivious to its benefits, misjudging the strategy as less effective. Both theoretical and educational implications of positioning errors as active, systematic, and intentional events in learning are discussed.
Wong, S. S. H., & Lim, S. W. H. (2022). The derring effect: Deliberate errors enhance learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 151(1), 25–40. https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0001072
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.
Wong, S. S. H., & Lim, S. W. H. (2021). Deliberate errors promote meaningful learning. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000720