Shaming, safety, & misconceptions

Author: Clark
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Another twitter debate, another blog post. As an outgrowth of a #lrnchat debate, a discussion arose around whether making errors in learning could be a source of shaming. This wasn’t about the learners, however, being afraid of being shamed. Instead it was about whether the designers would feel proscribed from  making real errors because of their expectation of learner’s emotions. And, I have strong beliefs about why this is an important issue. Learners should be making errors, for important reasons. So, we need to make it safe!

The importance of errors is in the fact that we’d rather make them in practice than when it counts. Some have argued that we literally have to fail to be ready to learn. (Perhaps almost certainly if the learners are overconfident.) The importance to me is in misconceptions. Our errors don’t tend to be random (there is some randomness), but instead are patterned. They come from systematic ways of perceiving the situation that are wrong. They come from bringing in the wrong models in ways that seem to make sense. And it’s best to address them by being able to make that choice, and getting feedback about why that’s wrong.

Which means learners will have to fail. And they should be able to make mistakes. (Guided) Exploration is good. Learners should be able to try things out, see what the consequences are, and then try other approaches. It shouldn’t be a free-for-all, since learners can not explore systematically. Instead, as I’ve said, learning should be designed action and guided reflection. And that means we should be designing in these alternatives to the right action as options, and provide specific feedback.

So, if they’re failing, is that shaming? Not if we do it right. It’s about making failing okay.  It’s about making the learning experience ‘safe‘. Our feedback should be about the decision, and why it’s wrong (referring to the model). We might not give them the right answer, if we want them to try again. But we don’t make it personal, just like good coaching. It’s about what they did, not who they are. So our design should prevent shaming, but by making it safe to fail, not preventing failure.

The one issue that emerged was that there was fear that the designers (or other stakeholders) might have fear that this could be emotionally damaging, perhaps from fears of their own. Er, nope! It’s about the learning, and we know what research tells us works. We have to be responsible to be willing to do what’s right, as challenging as that may be for any reason. Time, money, emotions, what have you. Because, if we want to be responsible stewards of the resources entrusted to us, we should be doing what’s known to be right. Not chasing shiny objects. (At least, until we get the core right. 😉

So, let’s not shame ourselves by letting irrelevant details cloud our judgment. Do the right thing. For the right reasons. We know how to be serious about our learning. Make it so.

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Shaming, safety, & misconceptions
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