This write-up foregrounds Kapur’s (2008; 2010; 2012, & 2014) empirical works on productive failure. The theory of productive failure contends that learners in
un-scaffolded and ill-structured groups may initially experience struggle in defining and solving problems, but will eventually outperform learners in scaffolded and well-structured groups in the learning transfer. In other words, the initial ‘failure’ could instead foster more successful acquisition and approximation of the targeted skills in subsequent similar learning situations. How is this conceivable? Productive failure advocates ‘conditions’ that maximise learning in the long run although these same conditions may not promise immediate performance in the short term. It is also this very self-same conflict between short-term performance and long-term learning that productive failure distinguishes itself from other theories on learning and instruction.
Productive failure is also conceived of as an instructional method or even as a form of scaffolding to foster learning and transfer. The contention lies herein that the sufficiency of complexity or chaos could harness learners’ flexibility to adapt and to innovate. This theoretical argument has its premises in Kaufmann’s (1995) law of self-organisation and complexity. On the same token, un-scaffolded processes may deem inefficient in the short term, however, the unordered processes in the long run may facilitate more flexible, adaptive and innovative ways of managing complex problems. Kapur proposes a continuum to locate scaffolded and un-scaffolded processes where the former stand on the ordered end of the continuum and the latter as operating on the chaotic end of the continuum. Further, Kapur argues that scaffolded processes are efficient for short term gains but for long term benefits, un-scaffolded processes may bring about an optimal level between efficiency and innovation. In sum, the design of learning experiences should seek to provide the conditions for productive failure in order to develop learners’ capacity to
problem-solve and to innovate for sustainable practices.
Kapur, M. (2008). Productive failure. Cognition and Instruction, 26(3), 379-424.
Kapur, M. (2010). A further study of productive failure in mathematical problem solving: Unpacking the design components. Instructional Science, 39(4), 561-579.
Kapur, M. (2012). Productive failure in learning the concept of variance. Instructional Science, 40(4), 651-672.
Kapur, M. (2014). Comparing learning from productive failure and vicarious failure. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 23(4), 651-677.