The impact of vicarious failure as a pedagogical strategy in modelling the behaviour of adult learners in open and distance learning

ANantha Kumar Subramaniam and Maheswari Kandasamy
Open University Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Learning becomes effective when an appropriate blend of pedagogical strategies is used at both the course and subject level. In open and distance learning, the concept of blended pedagogy has long been accepted. Face-to-face meetings in the blended pedagogy model remain an important platform for teaching and learning. While many instructional techniques are being employed in face-to-face meetings, there is an urgent need to understand the blended learning components and how opportunities can assist in developing an optimal pedagogy. This paper investigates whether the vicarious failure (VF) instructional strategy, which is a form of vicarious learning (VL), enhances students' understanding of the subject-matter in face-to-face tutorials. Vicarious learning also known as 'observational learning' is defined as learning that occurs through appropriate observation or the analysis of other correct solutions. On the other hand, vicarious failure refers to learning from the failed problem-solving efforts of others. We are particularly interested in knowing if adult learners learn better by looking at the failed problem-solving efforts of others. Can a VF instructional design be used in tutorials that cater for adult learners and result in fruitful learning outcomes? This paper reports on an initial study of a quasi-experiment that compared a VF instructional design classroom with a control group [known as the 'productive failure' (PF) group)]. The PF group generated failed solutions that were given to the VF group. A total of 21 adult learners participated in the study. The PF students generated solutions to a complex problem targeting one concept in programming (the if-else selection concept) that they had not learned yet. The VF students evaluated the solutions generated by the PF students. The findings suggest that, when learning the concept, adult learners model better from their own failed solutions rather than from those of others, provided appropriate instruction on the targeted concept has been given after the generation of the evaluation activity. The detailed results are discussed in the paper.