There are no wrong answers

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I was at a conference recently, at a workshop where we were given an exercise that included a brainstorming activity.

Among the guidelines was the now-all-too-common refrain: “There are NO wrong answers!”

Poppycock.

There are too wrong answers!

Plenty of them.

There are even dumb answers. BUT….

We should still be encouraged to try them out. How will we know they are wrong or dumb if we never give them voice? Claiming there are no wrong answers is one of those warm-and-fuzzy sophisms that, in the long run, causes more problems than it solves. In a subtle and subversive way it erodes our willingness to take risks by claiming there is no risk. Risk-taking is essential to learning.

What’s wrong with admitting that there really ARE wrong answers, but that it’s OK to state them???? After all, don’t we learn from mistakes? What’s so bad about making mistakes? If the study of digital games has taught me anything, it is that making mistakes in a safe environment is a great way to learn stuff.

So rather than misleading people by pretending “there are no wrong answers”, how about if we start to admit “It’s OK to be wrong here.”

Note: There are still some places where it’s really not OK to be wrong, like life-threatening emergencies. In most learning environments it IS OK to be wrong though – and the risk-taking that is associated with the possibility of being wrong should be both encouraged and supported.

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