Trial and error or trial and success learning?

Edward Thorndike is seen as the person who showed us “how to manage a trial and error experiment in a laboratory”. This video shows how an experiment like that took place:

For people who want to read more from Thorndike here is a great resource:

Trial and error is often seen as a not so very productive way of solving problems. As one of the last things you would want to try when you need to learn something. Suitable mostly for organisms that cannot reflect on their own behavior. The basis of learning in a trial and error situation is that you get a positive stimulus from doing something right, (finding a way out in the cat-example above) which means that that behavior is reinforced and more likely to occur in the future. In order for this to work there must be neutral or negative experiences also (negative reinforcements) or otherwise you would not notice a positive reinforcement and have little idea what the desired behavior is.

Now lets take a look at what we do in the laboratory that is Etmooc. We are encouraged to try (trial) out all kinds of things; blog posts,  commenting, making GIF’s, write six words stories to name a few. But it is stressed that there is no right way to do the “assignments” For the topic digital storytelling beneath the tasks it explicitly says: “you can’t break them or complete them incorrectly”. Are we introducing “trial and success” learning here? Or is the area of connected learning so new, that we have no idea about what is right or wrong in that way of learning?

At least sharing your thoughts and commenting on others seems to be a crucial aspect. But is any way to do that the right way? Or is the assumption, that because of all the connections with others, useful feedback loops will form automatically and in that way create trial and error experiences?

Maybe the organizers follow the approach that they highlight desired behavior and ignore undesired behavior?

If you do a search for posts with the etmooc hashtag with the word great you get a lot of tweets most of them sounding something like this:

So people get a lot of positive responses to what they post and you can hardly find tweets correcting people or telling them that their post was not good.

Of course there are people in ETMOOC that experience problems:

There you see trial and error at work but that seems mostly related to technical issues, which seems to be a recurring problem:

For now the conclusion about how learning takes place in ETMOOC seems to be:

but maybe we need a bit more of:

Trial and success is fun and it sure makes you feel good about what you do.  Maybe a bit more focus on our mistakes and misconceptions helps also. What do you think?

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4 Responses to Trial and error or trial and success learning?

  1. Yes! I completely agree. I wonder if many of us are trying hard to be supportive because many of us are struggling somewhat, and we don’t want ourselves or others to get discouraged. That’s completely understandable, and support is always helpful. So is praise where praise is warranted. But there are useful ways to constructively criticize while being supportive, of course, and that is a crucial part of learning.

    Of course, right now in digital storytelling, it’s harder to criticize or point out mistakes–except insofar as a tool is not working properly, or could have been used more effectively. It’s hard to criticize stories themselves, or say they are “mistaken.” Usually that doesn’t apply to the stories themselves. But when we’re talking about theories (e.g., rhizomatic learning, connectivism, or something like that) we may be able to point to misconceptions if there are any. And I think that’s an important thing to do. Supportively, kindly, inviting further discussion.

    This is something I need to work on myself. I’m not much for criticizing the work of strangers, usually, and am reticent to say anything negative on a blog post. But your post reminded me that, done well, pointing out what may be mistakes or things that could have been done better (and inviting discussion about that) is actually helpful to the other person. I tell my students that all the time when they’re doing peer feedback on writing, so how did I forget it myself?

    • louwarnoud says:

      I totally agree also, when I write blog posts I know that sometimes I take shortcuts or did not thinks something trough completely. It would be helpful if others reflected on that especially if they are critical. As long as the shared assumption is that critique is given to improve understanding.
      As Alec points out in his reaction it is of course different to critique in the open setting that ETMOOC is compared to a classroom where there are more safeguards for giving feedback.
      Even for the topic of storytelling I think that reflections about how well you think the story was told are worthwhile. At least for me its the first time experimenting with this way of telling a story and it would be great if somebody would point out things I could improve.

  2. Alec Couros says:

    I think that with public posts, you are missing some of the story. I’ve observed that authentic critique is difficult to both give and receive in public spaces. It is happening in #etmooc, but much of it is hidden in dms, in private messages in Blackboard (which moderators can see), in private emails, and face-to-face.

    I agree with your conclusion – there is a lot of learning by doing happening, which is precisely by design – but I do think that some of the more vulnerable stuff is hidden from the public.

    • louwarnoud says:

      Alec thanks for pointing that out to me. I had indeed not realized that there was a hidden part to #etmooc. I do think its one of the challenges for endeavors like #etmooc to make this visible also. Maybe that would mean that at the start of an open course time must be devoted to reaching consensus about the way feedback is given. I have seen this approach in some Coursera courses. One went as far as given detailed rubrics for giving feedback and you had to pass a training in applying those rubrics before you could start given feedback on work from other learners.
      It seems to me that there is also a big difference between the learners, some are used to being critiqued on the web, respond graciously, an open discussion evolves and even if you don’t agree in the end worthwhile learning takes place. If this is all new to a learner I can understand that private messages are more the preferred way of communication.

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