Trial and Error = Flow

Posted on June 17, 2012


At The Puzzle School we’re essentially trying to teach through trial and error. Which means we aim to create environments (puzzles) where you can solve challenges through trial and error. This means that the environment is simplified, making it easier to come up with hypothesis to “try” and where there is feedback that makes it easier to determine whether your hypothesis was correct or in “error”.

I think most people associate trial and error with blindly groping for a solution, but you really should associate it with the scientific method. Trial and error is about coming up with creative ideas that take you one step closer to a solution, trying them, and learning from them even if they didn’t work.

It’s how every child learns to crawl and walk and understand language. They’re constantly trying new ideas. Most of them don’t work, resulting in a face plant or a babble that means nothing, but each error informs the process and they persist in trial and error until they have a very intimate understanding of how to walk or talk.

I think this process is one of the most important, effective, and enjoyable ways to educate.

In order to engage in trial and error there are a few requirements.

  1. The challenge can’t be too easy.
    Otherwise trial and error is unnecessary, you just know the answer.
  2. The challenge can’t be too hard.
    Otherwise you won’t be able to come up with any hypotheses to try.
  3. There must be consistent feedback.
    Otherwise you won’t know whether your hypothesis worked or failed.
  4. There must be a clear goal.
    Otherwise you won’t know whether your hypothesis is moving you in the right direction.

Interestingly these are the exact same requirements for Flow, an extremely engaging state of mind.

I find this to be very interesting. Here you have a state of mind that has been recognized as one of the most optimal, engaging, enjoyable, and creative states of mind to be in and the requirements for it exactly match up with the process a child goes through learning how to walk.

My theory is that we find this process so enjoyable and engaging because it is how we’ve evolved to learn and learning offers the greatest benefits to survival and thriving in this world.

This is why we’re focusing on trial and error as the primary mechanism for learning at The Puzzle School. I think it’s the key to creating an educational environment where students truly enjoy learning, are deeply engaged in their learning, and leave with a true love of learning.

If you’d like to see some of the online educational apps we’ve discovered that take use trial and error to teach, we’ve begun reviewing them on the Puzzles page of The Puzzle School site.