Project-based education is so effective because students learn by doing. But what happens when things don’t go as planned? How do students deal with failure in the context of project-based education?
As it turns out, failure can often teach more than success. The whole idea of project-based education is learning by doing. Experience has a lot of lessons to teach.
Failure Isn’t Fatal
Let’s consider an example of project-based education. Imagine a student studying marketing. Instead of sitting in a classroom analyzing decades-old advertising, they opt for project-based education. They take a real product and start to build a campaign to market it. In the course of doing so, they learn the basics of advertising and marketing. But instead of just gaining some education or a certificate, they are gaining actual experience that can serve them in their next endeavor.
Imagine, in this example, that the student’s marketing efforts go poorly. The product doesn’t sell as much as they anticipated. We might consider this to be a “failure”. But it’s not fatal.
Our culture is extremely allergic to failure. When things don’t work out, we’re quick to jump ship. Failure is shameful in the eyes of our culture. When we fail, the last thing we want to do is analyze our failure.
But failure is a part of life. No one has a perfect track record and no one will.
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Failure Is An Option
The fear of failure holds us back from trying so many things. And yet it is often failure that teaches us the most if we are willing to embrace and learn from it.
Let’s go back to our example of a marketing student’s failure. If the student simply quits and walks away discouraged by failure, they won’t grow. However, if they evaluate their experience, they may find some powerful insights on what they could have improved or done differently to get a different result.
Failure is an essential learning tool. And studying the great case studies in a lecture hall won’t expose students to the powerful educational value of failure. For many successful entrepreneurs and leaders, their great success is an endpoint on a long road of past failures. When we make case studies of these successes we lose sight of the failures which brought them down the road.
That’s the beauty of project-based education: even if the “project” doesn’t end as expected or desired there are still tremendous learning opportunities. Failure is an option that brings just as much value as success (if not more).
Learning From Experience
Failure can teach us a lot when we’re willing to actually “listen” to it. When students take on the challenge of doing projects in the real world, they will inevitably face setbacks and sometimes even failure. The key is to evaluate and analyze the experience and make notes for improvement.
Project-based education gives students the chance to learn from experience and build skill by doing things!
Jace Bower is the Marketing Coordinator for Unbound. An Unbound alumnus, he has experienced firsthand the powerful advantages of doing college differently and participating in an intentional community. Jace graduated with his bachelor’s degree in History in 2016 and has worked in restaurant management and marketing since then. He also served on the Unbound Student Cabinet in 2019.
The author of two books and a semi-regular blogger, Jace can often be found doing something with words. When he’s not, chances are he’s reading about theology, listening to music, or playing pool or tennis with his wife Shannon in their Virginia home.