A Simple Model of Learning

Recently, Gene Roche remarked that one thing he admired about my blog was my willingness to document the mistakes I make in my teaching. But isn’t making mistakes the best way to learn? After all, if one is unwilling to risk making mistakes, one’s learning must be inhibited. Think of the students that have something to contribute to a class discussion, but are unwilling to speak it, fearing they could be wrong. As a consequence, the class doesn’t reach the correct conclusion, or at a minimum takes longer to get there. (By contrast, if they are wrong, there is no harm, no foul to the process of learning.) Potential social gain, but little potential social cost.

But does “school” as it currently exists promote risk taking? I suspect not. I know that mistakes are not encouraged. Mistakes are looked at as failures, rather than potential stepping stones towards the truth. (Is this outcome a result of the industrial model of school?) When a student makes a mistake, their grade is reduced. And grades are the currency of the realm.

Of course, professional practice, however imperfectly, understands the need to make mistakes. Certainly, that’s the way that knowledge progresses. Could it be that school doesn’t provide a good model for real world practice?

I guess that’s all I’m trying to accomplish when I blog about my mistakes: to provide a model of good learning practice, one that corresponds to the real world.

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