I’m Busy Failing — Don’t Bother Me!

I’ve written previously in this space about my belief that as educators (or teachers, or trainers, or facilitators) we often treat “failure” in exactly the wrong way with learners.  Through the K-12 experience, we pretty much dwell on what you did wrong and punish you for it — with bad grades, remedial classes, dunce caps and other types of pain.

After that, in the real world (I observe that place, but refuse to live there) we also punish you if you fail.  Trying something new means the risk of making a fool of yourself, being told that you should have known better, that you wasted resources or time.

Gen-next learners spend a lot of time on video games.  Failure there is the standard mode of learning.  Your car crashes, your airplane gets shot down, or your soldier gets blasted by the bad guys.  That’s just an expected part of the learning process. So you push the “reset” button and try again, having learned something.

I ran across this great video from Honda called “Failure:  The Secret To Success” talking about how they built their incredibly successful team by failing, again and again.

“Honda is now the sole supplier of engines for the Indy Racing League.  We’d really prefer to have some competition in the series, but perhaps the Honda success drove some of them out.  Maybe they’ll come back.”  Tom Elliott, American Honda

What would your classroom or e-learning site look like if you encouraged and demanded that your participants fail over and over as they participated?  If it was an accepted and expected part of the experience, rather than an “exception” that you immediately tried to locate and stamp out?

Pretty much exactly the same experience as when you learned to ride your first bike.


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Joely Black March 22, 2009 at 10:00 am

I see what you mean by sharing a brain! I agree. If adults had to learn to walk, they’d fall over once and decide to crawl for the rest of their lives. Kids have a wonderful capacity to cope with failure.

Milly doesn’t even understand the concept of failure. That’s what makes it so fantastic to learn with her.


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