Games In Education Could Help Students Learn By Failing

Games In Education Could Help Students Learn By Failing


Using games in education can make learning more interesting and fun, but they also serve another purpose that is perhaps even more important–games teach us that it’s okay to fail.

If you think about it, failure is an essential part of learning and growing, yet in so many educational environments failure is discouraged. In this commencement speech, educational games designer Randall Fujimoto spoke about the importance of failure and how game-based learning helps students learn through failure.

As Fujimoto points out, videogames are all about failing. When playing a videogame, you’re actually failing around 80 percent of the time. He uses the example of Angry Birds to demonstrate how you must first lose over and over in order to figure out how to win. Each time you fail, you learn something new. And immediately afterward, you get to try again.

Games create a non-threatening environment in which it is not only safe to fail, but expected. When you’re playing a game, you are consistently rewarded for perseverance and effort. Fujimoto describes how trying to fail on purpose–while playing Angry Birds, for instance–often teaches him something and gives him ideas about how to defeat the green pigs next time around.

This is in direct opposition to how most schools operate. Failing on purpose is pretty much unheard of, which makes innovation and risk taking in school much less common. Some schools are starting to see the wisdom of encouraging failure, but so far, those tend to be few and far between. Incorporating game mechanics into education would be a natural way to develop an environment that rewards risk taking and out-of-the-box thinking.

Fujimoto also talks about the difference between a “fixed” mindset and a “growth” mindset. People with a growth mindset believe intelligence and other traits are not fixed at specific levels, but instead can be developed through dedication and hard work. When faced with a tough problem, someone with a fixed mindset might think they aren’t smart enough to figure it out. Someone with a growth mindset might be stumped by the same problem, but believe that if they stick with it they will learn how to solve it.

Not surprisingly, research by Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck has found that a growth mindset promotes perseverance, resiliency, motivation, productivity, and a love of learning. Games are an excellent way to develop a growth mindset, since in playing games you can fail over and over while constantly learning from those failures.

What have games taught you about failure and perseverance? How have you seen this aspect of gamification used in education or business to improve results and promote creativity?

image by iwann


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  1. Some of the issues that need to be considered however include the investment in failure. The investment required for a round of Angry Birds is a couple seconds. The investment in a term project for social studies can be considerably more. On top of that is the potential loss of face that can be devastating to an adolescent. One final consideration is the individual’s tolerance for failure. Everyone is different in this regard. Get tired of failing with Angry Birds and you can easily give up and opt for something a little more productive. Give up on your education and the consequences will follow you for life.

    On the other hand, take the #ESL game Truth or Dare for English Language Learners for instance. Here failure isn’t really an option. Instead failure has been reworked into an opt-out clause, a positive force through the “dare” element which serves to reduce the “Affective Filter” to put it in the nomenclature of Krashen.

  2. Glad your article landed in my feed, as I couldn’t agree more. Well said. There are a good 100+ teachers using our Civic Mirror program which – at its core – challenges students to learn from their mistakes in the quest to become the citizens they want to, but the real deterrent to its growth and success has been systemic aversion to failure on the part of educators. 1) They are afraid to ‘fail’ to cover everything in the curriculum (by entrusting students will learn on their own in a game-based approach), and (2) Many simply don’t have the training and skills to teach students how to learn from adversity and failures. Anyway, articles like yours are great in that they’ll (hopefully) help educators feel more comfortable embracing failure instead of running away from it in the classroom.