Failure-driven Learning: The Science Is In

In a previous post, I mentioned three objections to the theory of failure-driven learning. In this post I want to talk about the third of these: “What’s the science behind it?”

The idea that you learn from failure has been around more or less forever–since ancient Greece, at a minimum–but scientific support for it can be traced back to Classical Conditioning theory. As you probably remember from psych 101 (or the lyrics to a Rolling Stones song), Ivan Pavlov performed experiments in which he observed that dogs who were repeatedly given food after hearing a bell ring would begin to salivate whenever they heard the bell. This and similar observations led Pavlov to postulate the theory that came to be known as Classical Condition.  In common-sense terms (and very much not in the appropriate technical language) the theory says that when dogs and other intelligent creatures observe two events juxtaposed consistently, they come to expect the second when they experience the first.

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