Learning through failure

12 Jan 2015 |Written by Kevin Maye


I love learning! There, I said it. It’s probably for the best, seeing as my job is all about learning, but I really do. I learned to juggle while recovering from an operation when I was 20, went back to college at 27 and learned to swim freestyle aged 38; learning has always been important to me.

This month I’m off to the Learning Technologies conference in London and I’m expecting the two days to leave my head swimming. Gamification, MOOCs, adaptive learning, social learning and 70:20:10 to name just a few - we’re surrounded by new and exciting ways of learning.

As we update Learn My Way over the next year, we’ll have to work out what these all mean for us. We’ll want you to help us on that journey but, to get you thinking about how things might change, I want to share something I think helps us learn - failure.

Learning can be a bumpy ride. I dropped a lot of tennis balls learning to juggle and I still swallow a lot of pool water trying to improve my swimming. BUT - and it’s a big but - if we’re motivated, the bumps don’t put us off; they help us to get better. Because I wanted a new career, I would spend hours reworking a college assignment that didn’t meet the pass mark. Because I don’t want to drown, I will remember to turn my head before breathing! Everything is achievable eventually - it just takes practice.

Practice is something we try to include in Learn My Way courses, but we realise that the technical limits to those practice activities are frustrating. Sometimes the practice space is too small to see what you’re doing, or there might be more than one way to do something but we’re only able to show one way in the activity.

Although all of this could be improved, my biggest problem is that we don’t let learners practice going off track. When learners get into difficulty, our activities come to the rescue - that’s great for getting them to the end of the course, but what about when they get home? If they click the wrong button, they’ll have no idea where to go from there, leaving them feeling lost and confused and undoing the hard work you’ve put in.

Everyone makes mistakes; it’s part of learning. So, as you’ve probably guessed, I want us to give learners more chances to practice - that work across different devices - allowing people to go at least a little ‘off-piste’ then practice getting back on track, giving them an easy way to try as many times as they like.

That’s just one of several big changes I think we should make. What do you think to allowing more failure? Do you have other ideas you want us to consider? Get in touch by email with the subject line of ‘Learn My Way improvements’.