Spelling errors: A fresh explanation for learned errors
Mental mechanisms that affect learning and memory have been studied by psychologists since 1920. One of these mechanisms, proactive inhibition (PI), is an inhibitory interference effect on learning and memory produced by, "conflicting associations that are learned prior to the learning of the task to be recalled". In effect, if what the person has learned previously is in conflict (disagreement) with the new material he or she is trying to learn, PI is involuntarily activated and exerts an inhibitory effect on the recall of the new material, causing it to undergo accelerated forgetting and leading to the person reverting to their old way of doing things.
The main effect of PI on new, conflicting, learning is that although it does not prevent learning from occurring, it prevents the association of conflicting ideas. This, in turn, dramatically slows down change and improvement, resulting in a greatly prolonged adaptation period to the new learning.
During this adaptation period the athlete appears to "forget" the new technique or skill and repeatedly falls back to old ways.
Please go to the demonstration of this proactive inhibitory mechanism, complete the activities, and then read the explanation of your scores on the two tests. This "words in colour" demonstration will give the opportunity to experience PI for your self, and will also give you some idea of how much PI you have hard wired into your brain. Follow this link to go to the PI demonstration.
These inhibitory effects on recall of new learning and the associated problems with transfer of learning to new settings have been well documented in many experimental manipulations of the proactive inhibitory mechanism. However, the implications of such interference for error correction and habit reversal and for ways to accelerate learning were not sufficiently explored.
Old Way/New Way® theory has extended the PI story and produced an explanation of why habitual errors in conceptual understanding and skilled performance are so difficult to eradicate. The main principles are stated here, in the context of spelling correction.
1. Repetition of a skilled behaviour pattern is a sign that learning has occurred, so consistent, habitual spelling errors indicate the presence, rather than the absence, of learning. In this case, what the person knows is how to do it "wrong". This becomes the starting point for spelling correction.
2. PI does not prevent learning from occurring, it merely prevents the association of conflicting ideas.
3. When new information or ideas disagree or conflict with what the person already knows, this conflict generates inhibition of the new learning. This leads to confusion, slower performance, and an increase in errors. PI produces accelerated forgetting of the new, correct, spelling, and within minutes or hours, the person appears to forget what he or she has been taught.
4. It does not matter whether what the person already knows is correct or incorrect, because PI protects all prior knowledge and skills as it cannot discriminate between what is "right" and what is "wrong", in a given context.
5. PI therefore exerts a maintenance effect over prior learning, inhibiting change and preserving erroneous (as well as correct) knowledge and skills.
6. PI is an involuntary mechanism over which we have little or no control. It is universal but most people are not even aware they have this mechanism hard-wired into their brain.
7. There appears to be considerable variation within the population in the level of PI one inherits. Individuals with higher PI are less likely to achieve successful behaviour change (e.g., error correction, habit reversal) under conventional correction methods.
8. Performance becomes cue-dependent, and the person reverts to their prior, incorrect, spelling when the teacher's presence is withdrawn, thus inhibiting transfer of learning to other settings and ensuring that the erroneous knowledge and behaviour continue to resist correction.
9. This is why, "old habits die hard."
The emphasis in Old Way/New Way® is on what the learner can do, not on what the learner can't do. Whereas in conventional teaching the teacher would say, "He can't spell properly", in Old Way/New Way® teaching the teacher would say, "He consistently spells it 'recieve'; he should be spelling it 'receive'."
The enormous significance of learned errors for human learning and continuous improvement, and the impact on skilled performance, is reflected in the vast amount of literature on behaviour change, particularly in the fields of education, psychology, sports coaching, and the enhancement of skilled performance. Despite the impact of this universal problem, Old Way/New Way® is the first and still the only teaching methodology that offers a cost-effective and user friendly solution.