Sometimes people make mistakes on purpose

"Thomas has a little cat. Her fault is white. Sometimes she cuddles with Thomas. He makes that." Because people learn from mistakes, teachers intentionally use such wrong texts in their lessons. Have your students correct them and learn the correct spelling.

The ability to learn from mistakes is a fundamental principle that applies not only to humans, but also to many animals and also to adaptive computer programs. Educators know from experience that students learn most when they are neither under- nor overstrained. If the tasks are too easy, they will give one hundred percent correct answers, but will not learn anything new. If they are too difficult, they switch off in frustration and learn just as little. A team of psychologists led by Robert Wilson from the University of Arizona now claims to have found out exactly where the "sweet spot", i.e. the optimal area, is. In the science magazine Nature Communications Establish the "85 percent rule" that learning works best when 85 percent of the tasks can be answered correctly and 15 percent incorrectly.

In their experiments, the psychologists used adaptive programs as models for human and animal learning. They presented the computers with various tasks and measured the speed of their learning success. Among other things, the machines should assign images of numbers to the category "even" or "odd" or decide whether the numbers belong to the group "less than five" or "greater than five". The learning success was greatest when the computer was able to solve 85 percent of the tasks correctly.

The balance between success and challenge is important

According to Wilson, the 85 percent rule can be applied to human learning processes - at least when it comes to simple tasks that have only one wrong or one right answer. A radiologist, for example, who learns to distinguish whether a tumor can be seen on an image or not.

That the 85 percent rule also applies to more complex human learning processes is rather unlikely, the psychologists themselves admit. After all, humans and also many animals learn not only from mistakes, but also in many other ways. By imitating others, for example, or by combining different experiences and thus finding the solution to a new problem. Learning is a complex process - and a basic requirement for survival. Those who only have innate behavior and do not learn anything, for example, cannot adapt quickly to changes in the environment and do not behave sensibly in many situations.

Nonetheless, the interesting question is whether there is a "sweet spot" in learning and where exactly this point is where motivation and learning success are optimal. Many educational concepts are based on the assumption that learning requires a balance between a sense of achievement and a challenge. Consciously or unconsciously, manufacturers of video games also use this mechanism to manipulate their customers: They let players who have solved a certain task climb to a higher level of difficulty and thus encourage them to keep going.