Work-based Learning Toolkit and Partnership Plans

Productive failure

Productive Failure engages people to work in small groups to generate multiple ideas, solutions, and strategies for solving complex novel problems that target concepts they have not yet learned.   In essence, productive failure is a bit like a solving a problem, without fully knowing what the problem is.

Ira Glass in the video below talks about “The Gap” and the I’m-never-going-to-get-this-right feeling that is often associated with productive failure.

Productive Failure engages staff in the creative and design processes of divergent exploration and invention, reinvention, and refinement, while working in small groups to persist through struggles and failure in problem-solving.  Learners are put in a position where they need to embrace challenge and uncertainty. They may feel unconfident at first, but this experience can help them become more creative and resilient.

Example:  Productive Failure for Age Friendly Economies:

Productive Failure lead to the creation of pacemakers which used to be very large devices. Then Wilson Greatbach made a mistake that revolutionized medicine. When building a heart rhythm recording device, he pulled out the wrong sized resistor and plugged it into the circuit. When it was installed he realized it sounded like a human heartbeat. With some work, he miniaturized the device to two cubic inches. The result was an implantable pacemaker, which has since saved thousands of lives.[1]


This post is also available in: Spanish Polish

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