Learning From the Failure of Others

Some interesting research provides insight into how we might learn from others' failure when it's framed as a learning experience.

Photo of Margaret Powers
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This short article, and the research it cites, have interestings implications for education. Failure has become a catchphrase in the field of education recently and I wonder how we can utilize failed idea/experiences/lessons as launch points for deeper learning. What if we take the spotlight of the failure itself and frame the entire experience, of discovering a new idea or approach to teaching and learning, trying it out, and failing at it, as an opportunity for others to learn from what happened? What might be the next step after that? 


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Photo of Gregg Austin

Great stuff. Establishing a culture in which failure (through effort) is seen as a positive movement and recognized as leading toward success. In this manner, one is certainly establishing a framework for rituals and routines focused on a non-traditional understanding of success.

Although, it is funny that the stigma of failure in the educational setting is difficult to shake. As a former life insurance salesman, the mindset driven home from the very outset by management is: "every no brings you closer to a yes." One will fail more often than one will succeed but the sum-total of the successes will far exceed the cost of failures.

Photo of Valerie Furnas

This has been a recent drive at our school this past two years. We call it "failing forward." How might we create a community where failing forward was the norm?

Photo of Margaret Powers

I love that term because "failing forward" presents it as an action instead of just a static event that "ends" or has to be fixed. I wonder how we can capitalize on the momentum that comes with a mindset to fail forward, to continue on an iterative journey?

Have you seen any changes in how teachers and/or students tackle challenges since your school started that push?

Photo of Michael Schurr

I like the addition of "forward." Are you familiar with the term Feedforward instead of feedback? It embraces the idea of goal setting to become better vs focusing on the past.


Photo of Jessica Lura

Maggie, neat article! It seems like "failure," as mentioned in the picture, is just part of the learning cycle--it's only failure it's your end point. I like your idea of reframing failure into something else.

Photo of Margaret Powers

Yes! I really liked the cyclical nature of failure here and am interested to see how my students would react if I put up a visual that assumed or expected to be part of the process and one that would happen repeatedly throughout a year, project, or even a single class.

Photo of Michael Schurr

Yeah, makes a lot of sense. In fact, in the Michael Michalko article I posted from Edutopia, he argues there is no such thing as failure.

7 Tenets of Creative Thinking by Michael Michalko

6. There Is No Such Thing as Failure
Trying something without succeeding is not failing. It's producing a result. What you do with the result -- that is, what you've learned -- is the important thing. Whenever your efforts have produced something that doesn't work, ask the following:

What have I learned about what doesn't work?
Can this explain something that I didn't set out to explain?
What have I discovered that I didn't set out to discover?
People who "never" make mistakes have never tried anything new. Noting that Thomas Edison had "failed" to successfully create a filament for the light bulb after 10,000 attempts, an assistant asked why the inventor didn't give up. Edison didn't accept what the assistant meant by failure. "I have discovered ten thousand things that don't work," he explained.

Photo of Margaret Powers

I wonder which would have a larger impact or be more valuable - to eradicate the word and social concept of "failure" or to embrace it as an opportunity or a celebration of discovery of things that don't work and things you did not know before?