To err or not to err? A comparison of errorful and errorless learning methods for children's acquisition of novel visual-verbal paired associates

To err or not to err? A comparison of errorful and errorless learning methods for children's acquisition of novel visual-verbal paired associates

First Author: Robin Litt -- Rocky Mountain Literacy and Child Development; Macquarie University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Signy Wegener; Nathan M. Green; Hua-chen Wang; Nicholas A. Badcock; Serje Robidoux
Keywords: Learning, Literacy, Instruction, vocabulary learning, Orthography
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: Visual-verbal associations are critically involved in much of children's early learning; for example, these associations support vocabulary and written language acquisition. The current study evaluated the efficacy of two instructional methods for teaching typically-developing children novel symbol-spoken nonword associations. Children were either prevented from making errors during encoding (errorless learning) or they were permitted to do so (errorful learning). Cue-target pairs were entirely novel, thereby eliminating any possible pre-existing association between them. In line with the only other published study using similar methods to teach novel paired-associates to typically-developing children, we predicted an errorless learning advantage for both recall and recognition.

Method: Participants were typically-developing children (N=25) aged 10-14 years. Children were taught six novel symbol-spoken nonword associations under both errorless and errorful learning conditions (tested a week apart). Following a brief delay, learning was tested via cued recall and recognition. The order in which participants completed the learning conditions was counterbalanced.

Results: A significant advantage was observed under errorful learning conditions for both cued recall and recognition.

Discussion: Contrary to expectations, a significant recall and recognition advantage was found under errorful learning conditions. These findings suggest that the benefit of retrieval practice, at least within the context of our experimental procedure, appears to outweigh any potential cost associated with the commission of errors during learning. We discuss these findings in light of the methodological differences present in the limited extant literature. These results may inform the selection of the most effective instructional methods for teaching children novel visual-verbal associations.