Failure is Not Problematic – It’s a Learning Opportunity

Posted: May 22, 2008 in digital culture, edushifts, tools

As I think about the evolution of education and how we can encourage a paradigm shift in the way we deliver lessons and engage students in learning, I think about how we in education generally have difficulty in accepting new norms. We resist change as we fear that it will expose our ‘weaknesses’. We worry about failure and how failure affects our students’ learning. The fact is, however, if we do not fail, it means we haven’t grown. Failure only happens when we try something new and different. Failure provide us with opportunity to learn something new.

It just appears to me that when it comes to trying new things, we in education generally have this ‘do what I say and not what I do’ attitude. We want our student to do and try new things but we are afraid to do that ourselves. We use expressions such as ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’. This expression comes out of a spirit of trial and error and not does not value status quo. Thomas Edison, considered one of the most prolific inventors of all time, once wrote that genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. We are knowledge workers and our business is learning. Isn’t learning all about discovering and trying new things?

Why is it that we shoot down the incorporation of new technologies when it doesn’t work the way we expect the first time? When we hear anecdotal stories about the misuse of digital handheld technology, we quickly use them as examples of how the technology does not work in learning. Yet, at the same time, we bemoan the fact that students are able to quickly learn new tools while we are not so quick to learn. The basis of this appears to be what I will call ‘the sweat factor’. Kids are constantly experimenting with new tools and learn how to use them because of this constant experimentation. Adults, on the other hand, give up after one try because of failure. We do not see this failure as an opportunity to learn but as a reason to resist.

George Siemens, in his breakout session at Leading Learning 2008, stated that teachers should be encouraged to constantly experiment with new techniques and new ideas. I agree and one nice place to start is with technology.

Here is a short inspirational video that informs us that failure is actually part of the growing and learning process.


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