Traditionally, learning and training is taught through setting clear guidelines and correcting mistakes.
Conventional thinking suggests that errors are expensive and have to be avoided at all costs.
However, more people now advocate that there is much to learn from errors. Not making errors is an error in itself.
Error management training regards errors as fulfilling an informative function for the learner as errors pinpoint where knowledge and skills need improvement.
Under error management training, people are strongly encouraged to use errors during training as a basis to think ahead and try out alternatives.
Error management training can lead to better training outcomes than traditional training methods that do not utilise errors at all or emphasise error avoidance.
There are two characteristics of error management training that distinguish it from alternative training methods:
Active exploration: People are given only minimal guidance and are encouraged to actively explore and experiment on their own.
Error management instructions: These are instructions that tell people to expect errors while they work on the training tasks. Positive feedback on errors is also emphasised for learning purposes.
Error management instructions help to foster a tolerant and open mindset towards errors, which is essential for learning to occur.
If errors are not tolerated but are viewed negatively, people will likely be frustrated by errors and will refrain from further exploration, which results in a decrease of learning.
Our research shows error management training to be more effective than error-avoidant training that does not facilitate active exploration and discourages errors.
With the benefit of examining the errors and how a decision was reached, it helps people to refine the thinking processes that go into good problem-solving.
In addition, error management training was also more effective than training methods that employed active exploration but without error management instructions.
This indicates that both elements of error management training — namely, active exploration and explicit encouragement of errors — are effective elements in teaching.
We also observed that error management training is particularly effective in the transfer of certain types of knowledge and skills.
There are two types of knowledge transfer:
Near transfer: Knowledge can be transferred when the solutions to a problem are similar between the training task and the problem task.
Far transfer: This requires using one’s existing knowledge to change a learned procedure or generate a solution to a completely new problem.
Our research shows that error management training effectiveness is more pronounced for far transfer than near transfer tasks.
How so? When people are confronted with errors during training, they engage in more mindful processing.
This helps them to gain knowledge and acquire skills that are particularly useful in solving problems, both simple and complex.
Error management training may be thus useful as a problem-solving initiative to be adopted by companies.
We should also note that the effectiveness of error management training appears to be more evident after rather than during training.
Error management training encourages people to exert emotional control to reduce negative reactions to errors and setbacks.
People are also trained to plan, monitor and evaluate their progress upon completing a task.
These are beneficial during the post-training transfer phase because errors prompt learners to stop and think about the causes of the error and to experiment with different solutions.
However, because error management training gives learners ample opportunities to make errors during training, immediate performance within the training phase may not differ as people make errors, explore, and sometimes arrive at suboptimal solutions.
This indicates that trainers should not focus on optimising within-training performance but keep in mind that a training method can be effective despite apparently impaired initial performance, as may be the case with error management training.
Error management training can revolutionalise how errors are viewed across all spectrums of society. It should also help to alleviate the fear of making errors.
As the old adage goes: “Failure is the mother of success.”
Every failure is a launch pad for a new journey towards success.