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Mistakes are brilliant for learning

The general attitude to mistakes is that they’re bad, and that your objective as a learner should be to avoid them. I think this is completely untrue.

As a language user, as a performer, mistakes are bad. But as a learner, mistakes are what you live on. They should be sought out and celebrated.

Here are a few reasons why mistakes are the most important part of learning.

Mistakes as opportunities

  • Every mistake is a good opportunity to learn more.
  • Correcting simple errors gives a quick +1 to your ability.
  • The bigger the mistake, the more it can teach you.
  • Other people’s mistakes are an easy way to gain understanding.
  • Going the wrong way can lead you to discover something new.

Mistakes as tools

  • Mistakes let you identify problems in detail.
  • One mistake can expose big flaws in a mental model.
  • Mistakes are embarrassing, and this motivates you to get better.
  • A mistake will lodge in your memory better than an explanation.
  • Mistakes can be used to test out your ideas.

Mistakes as insight

  • Understanding what is wrong is as important as understanding what is right.
  • A lot of sports training involves intentionally doing things badly, to better understand how to do them well.
  • Looking at your former mistakes shows you how far you’ve come.
  • Realising that other people make the same mistakes is encouraging.
  • Mistakes are a sign of ambition and effort.

A lot of the points above are strongly linked, or perhaps even the same. The overall idea is that for learners, mistakes should not just be accepted but actually sought out.

Do you disagree with the points listed here? Have mistakes helped or hindered you in your learning? Share your experience in the comments.

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