What do Bill Gates, J.K. Rowling, Steve Jobs and Walt Disney have in common?

They’ve all had to endure failure and hardships before finding success.

Making failure a part of the learning process can help students “become more creative and resilient”, according to a recent report on innovations in teaching and learning.

In Innovating Pedagogy 2016, published by The Open University, authors of the report said that a teaching method known as “productive failure” teaches students to “embrace challenge and uncertainty”.

When using the method, teachers give students complex problems and have them attempt to form their own solutions before giving them direct instruction.

“The aim is for students, working together, to use their prior knowledge to consider possible solutions, then evaluate and explain the best answer. By struggling and sometimes failing to find a solution, the students gain a deeper understanding of the structure of the problem and its elements,” said the report.

After the exercise, the teacher will explain the essential concepts and methods of the solution, helping students to consolidate their knowledge by comparing good and bad answers.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Mike Sharples, chair in educational technology at the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology, said that learning how to fail allows students to understand the complexity of a topic before learning about it.

“For the learners, you’ve got to say to them: you’re going to fail with this, you’re going to struggle, you’re not going to understand it in full, but try it.

“And for the teacher, they’ve got to hold back and not try to profess their subject, not try and teach the topic, but to let the learner explore first in a controlled way,” he said.

The report argued that students who explored a topic first by being asked to solve a relevant problem before receiving instruction showed significantly greater learning gains, as they had been primed to understand the lesson being taught.

According to the report, despite being a relatively new method, productive failure is “gaining traction” and has been implemented in over 26 schools in Singapore. Studies have also shown that the technique’s effectiveness, following replication studies in the U.S., Canada, Germany, and Australia.

The report also covers nine other trends that the authors predict will disrupt education, such as learning through social media and translanguaging. 

Image via Shutterstock 

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