Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Errorful and Errorless Learning: The Impact of Cue-Target Constraint in Learning from Errors

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Errorful and Errorless Learning: The Impact of Cue-Target Constraint in Learning from Errors

Article excerpt

Published online: 11 March 2014

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract The benefits of testing on learning are well described, and attention has recently turned to what happens when errors are elicited during learning: Is testing nonetheless beneficial, or can errors hinder learning? Whilst recent findings have indicated that tests boost learning even if errors are made on every trial, other reports, emphasizing the benefits of errorless learning, have indicated that errors lead to poorer later memory performance. The possibility that this discrepancy is a function of the materials that must be learned-in particular, the relationship between the cues and targets-was addressed here. Cued recall after either a study-only errorless condition or an errorful learning condition was contrasted across cue-target associations, for which the extent to which the target was constrained by the cue was either high or low. Experiment 1 showed that whereas errorful learning led to greater recall for low-constraint stimuli, it led to a significant decrease in recall for high-constraint stimuli. This interaction is thought to reflect the extent to which retrieval is constrained by the cue-target association, as well as by the presence of preexisting semantic associations. The advantage of errorful retrieval for low-constraint stimuli was replicated in Experiment 2, and the interaction with stimulus type was replicated in Experiment 3, evenwhen guesses were randomly designated as being either correct or incorrect. This pattern provides support for inferences derived from reports in which participants made errors on all learning trials, whilst highlighting the impact of material characteristics on the benefits and disadvantages that accrue from errorful learning in episodic memory.

Keywords Testing effect . Cued recall . Errorless learning . Errorful learning

The significant boost in memory retention for items that are tested rather than restudied during learning is one of the best characterized memory phenomena to date (Carrier & Pashler, 1992; Karpicke & Roediger, 2008). The retention advantage that this incurs, known as the testing effect, has been replicated across numerous materials including simple word lists (Carpenter & DeLosh, 2006), foreign language associates (Carrier & Pashler, 1992) and general knowledge facts (Carpenter, Pashler, Wixted, & Vul, 2008). The robustness of this phenomenon has led to repeated calls from empirical researchers for testing to be employed more frequently as a tool for boosting retention in educational settings (e.g., McDaniel, Roediger, & McDermott, 2007), calls that are supported by evidence of testing effects elicited in real classroom and learning environments (Carpenter, Pashler, & Cepeda, 2009; Carpenter, Sachs, Martin, Schmidt, & Looft, 2012; Larsen et al. 2009). One of the key facets of the argument for pushing testing as an instrument for learning as well as assessment (Metcalfe & Kornell, 2007) is the claim that the advantages that arise from recall during learning outweigh the losses that might arise from any errors that this could elicit. Put another way, this is the perspective that tests boost retention, even when they are errorful.

In one report, Kornell, Hays, and Bjork (2009) provided a degree of evidence in support of this assertion. Across a series of experiments, they compared the mnemonic consequences of two learning conditions: one in which participants incorrectly guessed items on (almost) every trial before they were told the correct item, and a second condition in which items were simply studied. By employing a condition in which testing principally elicited errors, the authors could determine the influence of making an error without concern for specific item characteristics that might have influenced the memorability of an item in the first place. In one representative task, Kornell and colleagues presented participants with a series of word cues and asked them to generate a semantic associate for each, before showing them the associate that they should actually learn for that item. …

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