Big Idea: Failure

Mar 10, 2019

failure_head_down_on_computerFailure is a hot topic. From Ted Talks to books about pedagogy and design there is an effort to redefine perceptions of failure and move it from something to be avoided to a necessary element of continuous improvement. By definition failure refers to a lack of success, falling short, omission, deterioration and as a way to define a person who is not successful. These are hardly positive attributes to be strived for or nurtured. In redefining failure as a natural part of learning, there is some work to be done concerning expectations and support.

Interestingly failure is a pretty simple concept to grasp when thought about outside of formal education. For anyone who has participated in a sport or hobby. When learning how to ski, shoot a basket or juggle there is the understanding that a large number of attempts will be needed before competency arrives, and a majority of these attempts will be failures. Each unsuccessful attempt is analyzed and used to make adjustments to try again, a process that seems completely natural. In school, the idea of failure and being unsuccessful is still in most cases negative.

The key to changing this perception has to do with shifting the focus of learning from product to process. We can not just assume that failure is bad or good, ultimately it is what we do with it. This week’s Big Idea is Failure, and the challenge is to learn from failure. Through participating in this Challenge, we can learn how to change perceptions and what scaffolding needs to be in place to help people “fail forward” and improve.


Big Idea: Failure
Essential Question:How can we help to change the definition of failure in our environments?
Challenge: Learn from Failure!

Sample Guiding Questions

These are only example questions we encourage you to ask as many personal and contextual questions as possible.

  1. What is failure?
  2. Why is failure negative?
  3. When is failure necessary?
  4. What happens when we fail?
  5. What is the role of reflection in failure?
  6. Why do we need to fail to succeed?
  7. What does fail forward mean?
  8. What is the difference of failure when discussion process and product?
  9. What role does failure play in the sciences?
  10. What is the role of failure in design?
  11. What if failure is seen as a necessary part of learning? How does this change the process?
  12. How do we help people be comfortable with failure?
  13. What is needed to overcome failure?
  14. What does overcoming failure feel like?
  15. How do we model a productive failure?
  16. How does the structure of schools need to change to embrace failure?
  17. Etc.

*Once you brainstorm all of the questions organize and prioritize them.


Guiding Activities and Resources
These are only a set of example activities and resources and the learners will need to evaluate the quality of the content. They are not verified or necessarily supported, just examples. The ones that you choose should be in direct relationship to your specific guiding questions and context. Activities and resources for adults, adolescents, and younger children will be different. The goal is to develop solutions that mean something in your community and are sustainable.

Example Activities

  1. Define failure, learning and experience.
  2. Write about a time when failure left to success
  3. Learn a new skill and document the experience with failure
  4. Research how failures have led to success in science and technology
  5. Challenge yourself to do a difficult task every day and reflect on the experience?
  6. Create a failure journal to keep track of your experiences.
  7. Interview people on their experiences with failure.
  8. Etc.

Example Resources

  1. Resources on learning from Failure – Edutopia
  2. Strategies for Learning from Failure – Harvard Business Review
  3. 5 ways the best leaders learn from failure – World Economic Forum
  4. 4 Steps To Overcoming Failure And Using It To Your Advantage – Fast Company
  5. The Failure of Failure – Screwing up isn’t necessarily a productive experience for kids – Psychology Today
  6. Ted Talk Playlists related to Failure
  7. Etc.


Using the research findings from your Investigations develop a synthesis that demonstrates a clear understanding of the challenge. For help with creating a synthesis explore this resource.

Solution Prototypes – Using your research synthesis create multiple ideas for solutions and review each one to make sure your research supports it. Share the prototypes with various stakeholders and get feedback.

Solution – with the feedback from the stakeholders develop one solution that has the most potential for success.


Implement – Develop a plan to implement the solution with the stakeholders and collect data about the impact.

Evaluate – Using quantitative and qualitative measures determine if the solution is valid and what can be improved.


Throughout the experience take time to document the events and reflect on what is happening to build on prior knowledge and identify future questions.

Share what you learned with your local community and the world. Use #CBLWorld on social media.