Errorless learning seems simple enough. The words are simple and easy to understand, until you start reading the research. Then errorless learning becomes a lot less simple.
Watch this video from Brainline about Errorless Learning
I love how Tedd Judd mentions determining when someone may make a mistake is an art. As a clinician I really enjoy this challenge. My brain is working to continually alter the situation with strategies and cues to create an errorless learning environment.
Errorless learning versus trial and error
Before looking at errorless learning, let’s look at the opposite type of learning. Trial and error learning is a familiar term to many of us. With trial and error, the learner gains understanding and learns from errors. However, in order to be successful with trial and error good skills of analysis are required. The learner must recognize when and where the error occurred in order to resolve the error.
Many of our clients with memory impairment often have impairment extending beyond memory. Their ability to recognize errors is often compromised, resulting in trial and error being an unsuccessful strategy for learning new information or processes. Without the ability to recognize errors, there is concerned that errors will be encoded into the memory, which will result in errorful responses later or conflict between correct and incorrect information.
The goal of errorless learning?
Errorless learning strives to reduce errors as much as possible. It is very challenging to completely reduce errors, as we are not privy to the thoughts our clients are having or the extent to which those thoughts are being encoded into memory.
Selecting errorless learning targets
Motivation is a large factor in the success of targets being learned. Select things important to the client. Research indicates errorless learning may be helpful for people to relearn face-name associations (family members) or personal information (e.g. where they live, phone number, birth date).
Errorless learning may also be helpful to help clients learn to use external memory aids. Rather than training all of the bits of information, the goal is to train clients to use an external memory aid for recall. Have you ever helped a client create a gorgeous and functional memory book only to have it get stuffed into a drawer and forgotten about? Errorless learning is a strategy we can use to train clients to use memory books.
Choose a target that is very specific and lower level. Great benefits are seen from use of errorless learning with specific, low-level knowledge opposed to more complex knowledge. For example, eye glasses are in the bedside table would be specific and low-level, whereas steps to disperse pills in a pill box would be a more complex, higher level task. Targets should be specific without need for assessing context to complete the task.
Who benefits from errorless learning?
Errorless learning is best used with clients who have impaired executive function and attention, which impedes their ability to assess the context, complete tasks while considering multiple variabilities, or complete other higher level tasks. Errorless learning can not help with those higher level tasks; however, it is helpful for clients that need to learn specific targets (e.g. where their room is, family members’ names, roommate’s name, using their cane or walker all the time, etc.)
Research has shown benefits in errorless learning for clients with traumatic brain injury, CVA, Alzheimer’s disease, amnesia, and schizophrenia.
Tips for making errorless learning successful
- Successfully complete target behavior or responses many times in order to increase proper encoding of the correct answer.
- Pair with other memory interventions such as or .
- Break up complex tasks into smaller tasks or units. (Clare & Jones)
- Provide appropriate models prior to task completion. (Clare & Jones)
- Discourage guessing. (Clare & Jones)
- Choose targets that were at one time familiar to the client
- Train a few (or one) targets at time until mastery has been achieved.
Errorless learning is not usually an intervention or strategy to use by itself. For best results combine it with other strategies and interventions.
Clare, L., & Jones, R.S. (2008). Errorless learning in rehabilitation of memory impairment: A critical review. Neuropsychology Review. 18:1-23 DOI 10.1007/s11065-008-9051-4