Freedom to Fail in Corporate Training

Designing Digitally


Think of a time when you failed at something. Ok, got it? Now what did you learn from that experience? What not to do? What to do next time to avoid that situation? Hopefully all of the above, if you’re smart.

Game-based learning, with the freedom to fail, is one way to use that same methodology in a training context. By giving your learners the opportunity to make mistakes, and work through a solution on their own, knowledge retention and learning are more likely to occur. So, how does learning and growth occur through failure? Let’s investigate.

Does Failure Motivate?

Let’s start with a look at the basic mechanic, failure, in the context of video games. As most people have played a game of some form or another in their life, be it Candy Crush, Super Mario of Call of Duty, you have likely experienced failure within that game. Let’s say you’re playing Super Mario Bros. and you are one hop on top (hey, that rhymed) of a Goomba away from reaching the flagpole and beating the level. However, a poorly timed hop leads you directly into the Goomba’s face and you are now on your last life. Do you rage quit and abandon all hope of ever jumping to the top of that flag pole and reaching victory? (I would hope not) No, you try again! This time, you buzz through the level, dodging Goombas and those duck looking guys with shell bodies, climb those stairs and jump to the highest part of the flagpole to victory!

The point is, just because you let that little mushroom looking guy stop you once, doesn’t mean you are stopped forever. You are motivated to succeed and prove to that Goomba that you are THE Mario and a force to be reckoned with! This same ideology can be used in learning. One little roadblock or failure does not mean you are finished, we can use that to motivate and reach success.

Learning via Failure

So, not only can failure motivate, but it provides the opportunity to learn. To lead with an example: recently I needed to swap the transmission out of my project car (‘95 Nissan 240sx if anyone is a car person out there). Having never done this particular job, it was a learning experience to say the least. So I have my younger brother helping drop the transmission, because those guys are heavy when laying on your back under a car. We pull the old, broken transmission out and begin to try and install the not-so-shiny new transmission. As we are working to get this hunk of metal lined up under the car we encountered numerous roadblocks: how to get the transmission lined up properly while lying on our backs with only a jack, holding transmission in place to bolt it up, how to get the drive shaft bolted together and into the transmission at the same time, the list goes on. Being the first time doing a job like this we expected to hit roadblocks, but did those hurdles stop us? No, we hopped over them by learning a better way to do something. For example, we first tried to bolt up the transmission and then deal with the drive shaft; aka not the best way. To get it seated and bolted up we learned we needed to bolt up the rear end of the drive shaft and slide the other end into the transmission, then raise and bolt up the transmission.

Morale of the story here, roadblocks are an opportunity to learn and improve. Failing to install the transmission perfectly on the first try was a bit disheartening, yes, but we learned what we needed to do in the next attempt to get it right. If we put this in the context of game-based learning, the same thought process still stands. Using game-based training and allowing your learners to work through on their own and explore various paths, they have the opportunity to learn on their own. Either, this worked and that didn’t, or, now I know what not to do and this is what I should do in the future to reach my goal.

How to Make Mistakes Teach for You

“So, how do I incorporate freedom to fail in my online training?” you ask. Well, there are many ways, a few of which are listed below:

  1. Multiple learning paths
  2. Immediate feedback
  3. “What-if” scenarios

Multiple Learning Paths

Using multiple learning paths allow your learners to make decisions and see results of those decisions, whether they are right or wrong. If John chooses to select response A (the wrong answer) in a dynamic dialogue call system in your online training, he will see the result of that decision; which is a dial tone-- the virtual client hung up on him. Now, John realizes what not to say and how to improve in future sales calls. Multiple learning paths make it possible for the learner to make various decisions along the way to reach a most correct or less than desirable outcome.

Immediate Feedback

By giving your learners immediate feedback in online learning, you are telling them right away if they have made the correct/best decision. For example, we created a training for the REVAS process in firefighting where the learner is virtually performing their job. Should the learner choose to take matters into their own hands and perform a task out of order, like breach the front door before cutting a vent, they will see the dire consequences of their actions. Which, in this case, results in their co worker getting blown up..obviously not the desired outcome. Following that outcome, it is likely the learner will be crystal clear on what not do and the correct process.

“What-if” Scenarios

Through the use of “what-if” scenarios you can give your learners the opportunity to think critically through a situation and how they would handle that situation. This gives learners the opportunity to work through on their own and figure out what works and what doesn’t in that particular situation.

By using the above elements in your online training you can have the learner work through on their own and allow them to make mistakes and find the best path to success, without necessarily guiding them through the entire experience telling them what to do.

Freedom to fail is not as negative as it may sound. Allowing your learners the opportunity to make decisions and find out, on their own, what works and what does not, or what is correct or incorrect, is a great way to increase knowledge retention and motivation. Much like how we learn valuable lessons in life through our experiences, be it a success or failure, the same ideology can be applied to aid in corporate training. To learn more about how you can use this concept in your online corporate training, contact us!