3 Reasons Why Failing As Instructional Designers is OK and Encouraged

3 Reasons Why Failing As Instructional Designers is OK and Encouraged
Summary: As Instructional Designers, we often want the courses we design to be perfect. Every student must have an equal experience, our faculty members should be able to do everything with the greatest of ease, and our courses should be the envy of every institution in the world! Well, it rarely works out that way, but that’s ok. In fact, I think as Instructional Designers, it is important to create a space where faculty members, students, and even IDs make mistakes and sometimes fail. Here’s why:

Why Failing As Instructional Designers is OK and Encouraged

  1. Mistakes Encourage Creativity
    The creative process often involves trial and error. We want to try something new, and in many cases it doesn’t end the way we intend. But in my experience, most students are willing to go on the ride if they can see the value of the experiment being carried out. Nurturing an environment that is centered on creativity is also going to be one that contains activities that don’t always go according to plan. But giving faculty and instructional designers the leeway to make those mistakes encourages them to go to the next level that may lead to some new innovation that wouldn’t have been possible without those mistakes.
  2. Failing Encourages Learning
    Thomas Edison famously said that his numerous failures to create a light bulb filament taught him all the ways of how to not make a light bulb.(1) The same is true for faculty and instructional designers. Often in my work, I am tempted to force my faculty to change their designs because I know that their designs will not work. However, some of the moments of greatest progress with faculty has come when they have been allowed to make mistakes. I’ve had faculty create collaborative activities that failed because they were too complicated to use. In others instances, faculty members have required so much participation in their courses that students get burned out and give up half way through (if they even make it that far!). Those moments become teachable moments because that is when our faculty realize that something needs to change, and they become receptive to new design ideas. In fact, one study showed that failed tests actually increase learning when used as a learning opportunity.(2) When those designs work better, it creates a level of trust between the design team and the faculty, creating more teachable moments and bringing everyone to a higher level.
  3. Mistakes Sometimes Become Successes
    Sometimes we make discoveries after hard work, dedication, and a willingness to persevere to find the best possible solution to a problem. Other times, we stumble onto answers completely by accident. Charles Goodyear made a major breakthrough in the process of vulcanizing rubber unintentionally in 1839 when he accidentally dropped his rubber mix on a hot surface while showing it off to potential buyers.(3) The Kellogg brothers came upon the recipe for Corn Flakes when they let their wheat dough go stale and tried to use it anyway, surprised to find that the result was quite good.(4) What we sometimes perceive as mistakes can often become newfound discoveries. Giving faculty and instructional designers an environment where mistakes can be made allows not only for creative solutions but accidental discoveries.

Clearly we do not want to produce poorly designed courses riddled with errors, but part of the growth process as instructional designers and faculty is to be bold in innovation, which often means hitting some bumps in the road. Nurturing an environment that allows for mistakes and failures will make you a better designer or teacher, and it may even produce the world’s newest innovation!

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  1. Forbes, B. C. “Why do so many men never amount to anything?” The American Magazine, 1921, January.
  2. Richland, Lindsey E., Nate Kornell, and Liche Sean Kao, “The Pretesting Effect: Do Unsuccessful Retrieval Attempts Enhance Learning?” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 3, 243–257.
  3. “Inventor of the Week: Charles Goodyear” MIT, http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/goodyear.html (access May 2, 2013).
  4. “Inventor of the Week: John Harvey Kellogg” MIT http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/kellogg.html (access May 2, 2013).