Do examples of failure effectively prepare students for learning from subsequent instruction?

Christian Hartmann*, Tamara van Gog, Nikol Rummel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Studies on the productive failure (PF) approach have demonstrated that attempting to solve a problem prepares students more effectively for later instruction compared to observing failed problem-solving attempts prior to instruction. However, the examples of failure used in these studies did not display the problem-solving-and-failing process, which may have limited the preparatory effects. In this quasi-experiment, we investigated whether observing someone else engaging in problem solving can prepare students for instruction, and whether examples that show the problem-solving-and -failing process are more effective than those that only show the outcome of this process. We also explored whether the perceived model–observer similarity had an impact on the effectiveness of observing examples of failure. The results showed that observing examples effectively prepares students for learning from instruction. However, observing the model's problem-solving-and-failing process did not prepare students more effectively than merely looking at the outcome. Studying examples were more effective if model–observer similarity was high.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)879-889
Number of pages11
JournalApplied Cognitive Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020


  • conceptual knowledge acquisition
  • example-based learning
  • mathematics
  • observational learning
  • productive failure
  • vicarious failure


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