Summary of "DIY productive failure: boosting performance in a large undergraduate biology course"

A team of researchers from Canada explore whether students results improve by adopting a different teaching approach

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Have you ever been asked to solve a problem without prior knowledge of the situation? This is an example of a teaching approach known as Productive Failure, where “learners attempt to solve challenging problems ahead of receiving explicit instruction.” 

A research team from the University of British Columbia in Canada, led by Sunita Chowrira, investigated the success of PD compared to Active Learning, a method where “students are provided the opportunity to apply concepts as they learn them”. 

295 students studying undergraduate Cell Biology learned two topics with the Productive Failure approach, while the remaining 279 students were taught using Active Learning. 

The improved performance of students in exams highlighted the effectiveness of PF, showing this approach encouraged students to self explore other solutions, and facilitated more time to appreciate the topic and grasp concepts in finer detail.

A comprehensive discussion about the team’s finding’s is available in the article, DIY productive failure: boosting performance in a large undergraduate biology course, published by our companion Journal, Science of Learning.

Gabrielle Ahern

Former Managing Editor, npj Science of Learning Community

I am based in Queensland, Australia, and have an interesting portfolio of skills, experience and qualifications in content creation, and science research.