Reflections on the importance of learning from failure
“Failure is fun.” This phrase has made its way into professional training at Google, Amazon, and Amazon’s corporate retreat. On a personal level, it has become a mantra for many that have faced difficulties in their careers or had to go back to school. Business leaders, those who run the educational system, and students who seek careers all struggle with how to keep problems from spinning out of control or, worse, how to properly model the value of failure when it comes to problem solving and academic success. The fear of failure can paralyze learning and academia. It’s a normal reaction to the fear of success, but success takes persistence.
Your education is a reflection of who you are. It is not a competition with other people’s graduates. The worry of failing to improve your education should not frighten you. Rather, failing will help you become a stronger learner, stronger student, and stronger person. Although most of us are told education must be cookie cutter, failure can be a creative catalyst for learning. Believe it or not, challenging yourself and failing in class can make learning better.
If you know how to self-correct and prepare yourself for failure, you can actually benefit from it. The most important part of success in math, science, English, history, and other key subjects is training yourself for it. Failure and the learning lessons it teaches are absolutely critical. It’s this type of experiential learning that is the essence of education. If you miss any school assignments, have a boring class, or don’t understand the information, it’s the great benefit of the process of learning. Failure is necessary. And it’s one of the best ways for learning to be even more effective, improve your abilities, and get better at whatever you are studying. Just ask Thomas Edison. If his invention, the light bulb, didn’t fail, he may not have been the world’s greatest inventor, but he certainly wouldn’t have invented many other things that may have changed our world.
Understanding why failure may be helpful is not as easy as it sounds. There are at least three aspects of learning to consider:
Personalization. Your education can be personalized to you as your needs or skill sets change throughout your life. It’s your responsibility to check your performance or learning goals at the end of every semester. If you fail to ask what needs to be improved, it’s unlikely your course will be improved. Growth. From an educational standpoint, failure can help you learn. For instance, don’t blame yourself for failing if you are striving for your fifth in trigonometry. Blame the issues or problems or situations that led to your failure. Also, you can learn more from failure than success. Learning how to correct a problem through failure should make your journey to graduation at least as rewarding as a college diploma. Professional competence. The resolution of our failures is a key way to stop our shame or frustration and start building our confidence. Any decision you make involving your students or your family involves some aspect of learning. To build your professional competence, you may need to make hard decisions that result in mistakes, failures, or missed expectations. When you make these adjustments, you create learning strategies that will help you recover faster.
You are facing hard lessons right now. Failure makes learning easier. Maybe you’re nervous about working in an organizational setting. If so, failing in a new setting could be a great place to start if you think it is a part of the learning process. Failure is good.
Katarina Chanelle as an example: She took an algebra class that was not challenging. Before the end of the semester, she found a shortcut that made the tests and concepts more accessible. She failed, but she could not fail without having a strong attitude toward it. She kept trying and moved to a physics class that was much harder than her math class. It was actually harder for her to get up for class in the morning, but it paid off when she landed a summer internship. She now maintains a good work ethic and great confidence in her abilities because of her previous experiences in “complex math.”
(Katrina Schwartz is the communications manager at Wiley University and a Teaching Tastes Great part-time K-12 educator at Crossgate School. She encourages students to explore greater diversity with food and world cultures through “Let’s Talk, a cultural values program connecting students to their cultural influences through food.”)