The Truth Behind Failure: The Route to Success

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." ~ Winston Churchill

Failure—a word that makes the hairs on the back of our necks stand up. For too many of us, Failure is something that keeps us from moving forward. What separates successful endeavors from those who have failed us is how we look at this world.

Studies have shown this illusive frenemy of ours has a unique relationship with each of us. Subjective, it can be both internally and externally driven. (1)

1. Internal Failure is a personal experience that judges it on one's virtues and standards. Given when everyone is cheering us on, we can still see ourselves in unsuccessful light.

2. External Failure is the case when we believe that we have failed those around us.

This differentiation is vital to the construction of the classroom environment. When we continually put obstacles to struggling students, consistent failure can derail their optimism and progress. This point raises a question: is there a dynamic where we make progress the standard with no unnecessary burden on students' failures?

For all of us, Failure comes with contrasting emotions (2). Depending on the severity, it can lead to disappointment, sadness, and even trauma while cultivating optimism and hope. It is in the balance of these emotions that we will help our students grow beyond their weaknesses.

To do this, we must understand the perceptions that the classroom environment gives to the students. With consistently rigid grades, potential failure becomes a limiting factor with a fatal end. However, if we were to develop new grading systems that turned failure into motivation, we could make great strides. With new ideas, it will no longer be an obstacle, but just the closure of the gap in human error (1)

Fail Again but Fail Better

With the many opportunities of a new age, we can integrate failure into the classroom with a definite benefit. A culture where everyone succeeds comes close to articulating the new perspective in mind. With this idea should come the inclusion of reflection with unachieved goals.

When students cannot achieve at the same levels, we should not fill the gap with a penalty, nor should it be with reward. It should pull from an explanation of the discrepancy. This understanding can come through:

1. The Promotion of Problem-Solving. This focus will prove useful at all levels of cognitive function, from individual problems to developing major conceptual models.

2. Teaching Latent Pitfalls is something not all curriculums provide. Often left to student discretion, they often do not take advantage of it, so there should be material and time that gives additional attention to teaching student pitfalls.

3. Error Avoidance Strategies have the potential to increase student growth and help them from continuing the same mistake.

Though these three factors are commonplace in today's instruction, we can still increase teacher effectiveness. Though well-abled students have enough time to learn their mistakes, shouldn't there be more leeway to help lower-performing students?

Failure, Creativity, and Curiosity

One influence of creativity is a failure. For some, this is counterintuitive because we can see it as a hindrance. It is when we have healthy self-efficacy that Creativity can grow from failure. Failure feedback has related to Creativity in both the incremental and radical sense (3).

1. Incremental Creativity is the adaptive change within a continuous framework.

2. Radical Creativity is a groundbreaking way of thinking that creates a new cognitive model.

With firm goals, will, and self-efficacy, we can move forward with creativity in the face of Failure.

Teachers and students both need support for consistent progress. In a recent study, 9 out of 10 participants felt great consequence and powerlessness in the face of failure. A focus is that none of those detailed accounts was the utilization of collaboration (4).

When used efficiently, we can collaborate on all levels to help us in two ways.

1. Help us overcome the adverse effects of Failure.

2. Help each other create alternative ways to succeed with novel ideas.

With this in mind, we can develop networks that connect teachers, educational developers, and students in a trifecta made for progress. Each helps others understand the processes that the other oversees as this allows us to overcome individual Failure while developing the whole academic environment (1).

Success Based Learning vs. Failure Based Learning

Success Based Learning (5)

Learning takes on two different models, depending based on progress. Success-based education is the conventional approach used in the classroom. As a four-step process, we can understand how students can learn.

1. Define the Conditions for Success. This step is where teachers set the goals and standards for the students before the assignment/task.

2. Attempt with Existing Mental Model. As students practice what they know, they work through problems and situations with flawed conceptual models.

3. Implement the Proposed Solution. Here, teachers and tutors help students make up the gap in knowledge.

4. Assess Viability of Outcome. Here, the learner and teacher work together to see if they met the conditions of success.

What we will come to find is that in contrast to the failure-based model, this proves to be a shorter cycle, and with that, comes benefits and hindrances to both models.

Failure Based Learning (5)

This model pushes students in different ways. Focusing on problem-solving, students understand the flaws of their current conceptual models. A complete shift towards failure-based learning would be cumbersome and inefficient. But, if incorporated into traditional instruction, this 9-step model will aid students in their conceptual understanding of the material (6). The real problem comes in the current standardized environment. This brings about another question. If the students do not understand the nature of the material, what is the overall quality of their education? With that in mind, let us dissect the model.

1. Experience Failure. Instead of determining the standards of success, this model begins when students do not achieve set goals.

2. Challenge Existing Model. Similar to step 2 in the success-based model, students test their current conceptual model.

3. Inquiry. Here, students question why their past attempts were unsuccessful.

4. Identify Potential Reasons. With answers to their inquiries, this helps students determine what could be wrong.

5. Find Validating Evidence. In the comparison of unsuccessful and successful attempts, students will find evidence for their identified errors.

6. Identify Root Causes. To truly understand their mistakes, they must identify the conceptual reasons for their failure.

7. New Solution Generation. In this step, students figure out novel ways to help solve the problem at hand.

8. New Solution Implementation. Students then apply the solutions from the previous step to the problem.

9. Assess Outcome Validity. Students see if their alternative solutions solve the problem.

The cyclical nature of these two processes stresses their differences in efficiency. Naturally, just letting students know of their failures allows for quicker progress and leads to the implicit understanding of the concepts. However, the explicit conceptual knowledge of failure based learning will enable students to perform better on Preparation for Future Learning (PFL) assessments, but lower on recall quizzes (5).

Implementing Failure-Based Learning

There are critical areas that failure-based learning can add significant value to. As it provides a chance for students to solve their problems, it proves to be beneficial in the long run. Some questions to ask. Does it aid problem-solving? Does it make for a more independent student? In what key points does conceptual learning prove essential?

Final Thoughts

Failure is inherent in learning additional information (6), and facing it is inevitable. To develop students into independent adults and employees, reducing the fear of Failure is essential as it aids in student creativity and can bring the classroom to new heights.

Community Engagement Question

How have you been able to overcome Failure? Have you had any success by incorporating it?

Special Thanks

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

(3) He, Yimin, et al. "Linking Failure Feedback to Individual Creativity: The Moderation Role of Goal Orientation." Creativity Research Journal, vol. 28, no. 1, 2016, pp. 52–59., doi:10.1080/10400419.2016.1125248.

(4) Jungic, Veselin, et al. "Experiencing Failure in the Classroom and across the University." International Journal for Academic Development, vol. 25, no. 1, 2020, pp. 31–42., doi:10.1080/1360144x.2020.1712209.

(2) Rong, Hui, and Ikseon Choi. "Integrating Failure in Case-Based Learning: a Conceptual Framework for Failure Classification and Its Instructional Implications." Educational Technology Research and Development, vol. 67, no. 3, 2018, pp. 617–637., doi:10.1007/s11423-018-9629-3.

(6) Steenhof, Naomi, et al. "Productive Failure as an Instructional Approach to Promote Future Learning." Advances in Health Sciences Education, vol. 24, no. 4, 2019, pp. 739–749., doi:10.1007/s10459-019-09895-4.

(5) Tawfik, Andrew A., et al. "Failing to Learn: towards a Unified Design Approach for Failure-Based Learning." Educational Technology Research and Development, vol. 63, no. 6, 2015, pp. 975–994., doi:10.1007/s11423-015-9399-0.

(1) Timmermans, Julie A., and Kathryn A. Sutherland. "Wise Academic Development: Learning from the 'Failure' Experiences of Retired Academic Developers." International Journal for Academic Development, vol. 25, no. 1, 2020, pp. 43–57., doi:10.1080/1360144x.2019.1704291.

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