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Creating safety in making mistakes

What did I do this time?

By holding a Ph.D. degree, I may not have the right to say that I wasn't a school-smart. But I argue that I was not smart in classroom. When I was an undergraduate student, I often skipped classes. There are straight-A students who do that, too. But I wasn't that good. My nature has always been more about learning by making or doing something rather than sitting in the class.

Naturally, I am always skeptical of the completeness of my textbook knowledge of any field, and this is probably the case. Fortunately, I rarely had a crisis due to the holes in my knowledge, but I have to confess that I get slightly anxious about it when I discuss something with subject matter experts. I would like to speak more confidently, and that requires self-assessment of my learning.

I would learn by far the most when I make mistakes, and I should make as much mistakes as I can in the classroom, and probably even in the real life.

Another reason that I hated classroom was because I over-fear in making mistakes. One thing I wish I knew when I was much younger is that I would learn by far the most when I make mistakes, and I should make as much mistakes as I can in the classroom, and probably even in the real life.

In classroom, I would never notice the misunderstandings of the subject until I discuss with others, do the drills, quizzes, or until I take the final exams. Any of the classrooms I experienced from the elementary school to the college failed to make me feel safe. Mistakes in the quiz meant the increased chance of lower grade. Saying something incorrect in the discussion was a big embarrassment. And when the exam was over, there was no way to retake it after learning from the mistakes.

Teachers have to put a great amount of effort to create safety for making mistakes in the classroom, and I have a deep respect to the educators who mastered the art of creating such atmosphere. 1

Now my school days are distant past, and I never have to study just for the sake of getting good grades. But I love to continue learning. True learning of the subjects I truly love. And I would like to keep my knowledge as accurate as possible when I do so.

Recently, I started to officially2 enroll in online courses on coursera. I found it well suited for my needs. There are plenty of college to graduate level courses available in diverse subjects. The course video typically contains occasional pauses with small quizz. I can check my understanding real time without being embarrassed in front of others. If I make mistakes, all I have to do is to rewind the video a little to watch the lecture again.

I am a self-motivated adult for learning. Well-designed online courses in the services like coursera are an easy solution for creatig safety for making mistakes towards maximized learning rate. In elementary education, this still seems like one of the biggest challenges in making learning more effective.

Lastly, I think same goes to professional environment. Continuous learning by motivated employees is single most productivity booster for businesses. Therefore, it is very important for growing companies to encourage employees to always learn and innovate...possibly through making a lot of mistakes. I wonder if there are companes out there where the management explicitly includes the attempt for innovation in employee's performance review, and encourage them to take risk of failure not just for potential success, but for increased learning opportunities.3 If you work or know such companies, please let me know how it is working for them.


  1. I think this is a tough skill to learn because a mistake inevitably triggers a negative emotional reaction to some extent as long as we have desire to be correct. 

  2. I had signed up for a lot of classes just to watch video, but I never meant to get certification. This time, I paid a small amount to show myself that I am committed to complete the course. 

  3. Probably we find more often in research division, but I am talking more broadly. Every part of business has opportunity for innovation. 

Original post: Nov. 13, 2014 | Last updated: Nov. 15, 2014

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