A few words about failure…

I just finished up a day on campus at Michigan State University attending the Michigan Virtual University Symposium. It was a daylong set of discussions and panels dedicated to blended and online learning.

There were a lot of interesting discussion points to be sure, but the one that is going to stick with me the longest is, perhaps, the one that we try the hardest to forget:

Failure.

Toward the end of the day, in the final panel discussion, the value of failure came out multiple times. The process of learning REQUIRES a certain amount of failure. Failure lets us know that we are pushing ourselves to grow. Failure is a sign that we are trying to put new understanding into practice. Failure gives use opportunities to check our progress toward a goal that sits out in front of us… a goal we haven’t reached yet, but continue to reach for.

We should fail sometimes and our students should see us do it. If we are really trying to show our students that we are lifelong learners, then we need to show our students what learning really looks like.

Many, many students are under the unfortunate impression that failing is something that weak students do and succeeding something that strong students do. While, the latter is certainly true, the former is certainly not.

Failing is something that happens with practically each first try at a new skill. Failing is something that is a natural part of the learning process. It is natural and it is helpful.

I am not sure this education system of ours is encouraging that fact – not of its administrators, teachers, or students. We expect progress now. We expect implementation to demonstrate immediate results. We want our teachers to teach in such a way that our students don’t get wrong answers.

Perhaps what we need to do is get back to the basics of learning. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

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