Learning from errors: students’ and instructors’ practices, attitudes, and beliefs

Steven C. Pan, Faria Sana, Joshua Samani, James Cooke, Joseph A. Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


In some educational contexts, such as during assessments, it is essential to avoid errors. In other contexts, however, generating an error can foster valuable learning opportunities. For instance, generating errors can improve memory for correct answers. In two surveys conducted at three large public universities in North America, we investigated undergraduate students’ and instructors’ awareness of the pedagogical benefits of generating errors, as well as related practices, attitudes, and beliefs. Surveyed topics included the incorporation of errors into learning activities, opinions about the consequences of studying errors, and approaches to feedback. Many students had an aversion towards making errors during learning and did not use opportunities to engage in errorful generation, yet studied or analysed errors when they occurred. Many instructors had a welcoming attitude towards errors that occur during learning, yet varied in providing students with resources that facilitate errorful generation. Overall, these findings reveal the prevalence of an ambivalent approach to errors: Students and instructors avoid generating errors but prioritise learning from them when they occur. These results have important implications for the implementation of pretesting, productive failure, and other error-focused learning techniques in educational contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1105-1122
Number of pages18
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct. 2020


  • Errorful generation
  • learning from errors
  • prequestions
  • pretesting
  • productive failure
  • survey


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