The idea of “failure” sounds negative and scary, doesn’t it?  I’d like to change that.  I think the word should connote inspiration and opportunity.  Let me explain…

Dr. Bea Carson published an excellent article titled “The Role of Failure in Learning” in the January issue of Chief Learning Officer. In it, she explained that “performing” is a situation in which failure is viewed as totally unacceptable. “Learning” is different, she explained. “[T]hose who make it to the top of the corporate ladder aren't necessarily the ones who have been best all along. Rather, it's the ones who take failure as a learning opportunity.”

In the world of professional education, failure is too often viewed as something to be avoided at all costs. Learners fear failure, and for good reason.  In a world where future opportunities are often determined by the marks they receive, failure has negative consequences.  But I think we can all take a lesson from the world of business and entrepreneurship, in which failure is often a desirable experience. 

Thomas Edison once said, "I make more mistakes than anyone I know. And eventually I patent them." He understood that failure was an integral part of invention, and learning from his failure was the surest path to success. George Siemens of the blog ELearnSpace has pointed out that one of the great strengths of Google is the company’s willingness to experiment – to be willing to try things that might fail, and to learn from those failures.

Everyone can learn facts and formula, processes and procedures. In fact, that’s one of the things that the Blackboard Learn platform facilitates.  But it’s important to remember that what matters most is what we do with that information; that we take our knowledge and push it to its limits by trying, and failing, and trying again. That’s the only way to learn the things that no textbook or class can ever teach.

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