If you don’t provide immediate feedback on a mistake – whether it’s the wrong answer on a quiz or a skill that’s being practiced incorrectly – it will be much harder for trainees to “unlearn” the mistake later.

Researchers found that a wrong answer followed by immediate feedback encodes the correct answer into memory. But delaying feedback suppresses the right answer and locks in the wrong one.

We remember what we commit brainpower to. Even if we come up with the wrong solution, the mental effort we spent to get there tends to lock it into our memory.

When you provide immediate feedback, the mental effort continues and ultimately gets attached to the correct solution.

Take home for trainers: When possible, review tests right away.

Also, don’t make learners wait for the correct response. Go ahead and give them the correct answer, but have them work through how to arrive at it.

Researchers found that this kind of reversal triggers a new set of memories and strengthens the new, correct answer.

Source: Hays, Matthew, et al., When and Why a Failed Test Potentiates the Effectiveness of Subsequent Study, 2012: In press.

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