Productive Failure

June 20, 2021

Productive Failure

Productive Failure

It may seem counterintuitive to make training more difficult for trainees. It’s a safety professional’s job to get trainees to learn and remember important safety information so they can use it when needed back on the job.  Including ways for trainees to safely fail can not only increase a trainees’ comfort level with vulnerability and failure but can help trainees to learn better too. This can be done by integrating challenging opportunities specifically designed to let participants struggle, and sometimes outright fail into training classes. Interactive safety training games and activities are one way to add in opportunities for productive failure. 

Trainers can start classes with a question that can be part of an activity, or not, that will result in an answer that trainees are likely to get wrong. This will not only get the attention of trainees but they will be alert and ready to hear the correct answer.

Testing of trainees’ knowledge or skills can also benefit from the idea of productive failure. Testing is generally thought of as simply a way to measure how much was learned but it is also a way to increase retention of training material. The importance of making retrieval practice, including testing, more difficult has been studied and found to be an effective way to increase retention. To use the benefits of productive failure with trainee testing, there are several easy ways a safety trainer can add this to existing training programs.

  • When administering exams, do not allow trainees to look back into their notes or copies of the slides for the answers. 
  • Create test questions with fill-in-the-blank answers instead of providing questions with multiple choice answers. Fill-in-the-blank tests are more difficult because the trainee will need to pull the answer out of their head instead of simply picking it out of several choices that are presented to them.

By making learning activities more difficult, a safety trainer is making the training more closely apply to the real world. The phrase “practice like you play, and you’ll play like you practice,” is often applied to athletes and musicians but it also applies closely to the world of training transfer. Presenting challenges and difficulties in the training environment will help trainees be more likely to use the skills later. The training classroom or online virtual setting is much different from what a normal workday environment is like. By making safety training more challenging, a trainer is also making training more closely reflect reality. 

Another interesting twist on the use of failure in learning has to do with someone's perception of whether or not they are right. Trainees can be asked to place a confidence rating next to their answers on a quiz and this will provide an additional way that trainees can benefit from their mistakes. Studies have shown that the more confident someone is in a wrong answer, the more likely they will be to remember the right answer once learned. When learners are highly confident in their answer, and the answer turns out to be wrong, not only is the brain quick to overwrite and correct the information but the individual is also more likely to remember and learn from that mistake. 

Ready to test your knowledge? (and maybe learn from productive failure?)] Try these 3 questions about using productive failure in training classes.

1 - _____________ _________ & _____________ are one way to add in opportunities for productive failure. (How confident (what %) are you that your answer is correct?)

2 - Start a training class with a question that trainees are likely __ ___ ______. (How confident (what %) are you that your answer is correct?)

3 - Why can asking trainees to predict how confident are in their answer help with retention? _______________________________________________________________

How did you do? It’s easy to add opportunities for productive failure into your safety training classes with a little pre-planning. Try these simple suggestions in your next training class and see the benefits of productive failure.

 





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