In my last post, I discussed the benefits and risks of incorporating new, untested educational trends in course designs. Whenever we try something new, there is always a risk that it doesn’t work the way we expect. From software bugs to human factors, there are countless reasons why a learning experience won’t be as effective as intended.
When trying something new, I try to ask myself is what happens if it doesn’t work. Will the rest of the course still be effective if that element fails? What are the costs of failure? Is it simply a waste of the project’s time and resources, or will there be a broader negative impact for the learners? What time and money are the students spending on a course? Is mastery of the learning objectives critical for their job performance or subsequent courses?
If the cost of failure is low, I’m a lot more willing to take risks and try new things. If I am completing an eLearning module for a class assignment the only cost for failure is a lower grade. I feel free to play with the features of the authoring tools rather than developing contents of the lesson. If I am designing an online college course, the cost of failure includes the time, money, grades, and futures of every student who takes the class. I will still try new things, but with a much more conservative approach. In that situation, I’m much more likely to incorporate new technology and techniques into supplemental materials rather than the core design of the course.
It should go without saying that we never start a project intending to fail. However, no learning intervention is perfect and there is always room for improvement. Trying new things increases the chances for failure, but also gives us the most room for growth as instructional designers. By considering all of the ways a course could fail and the possible results of failure, we are able to make choices about how much risk is appropriate.
What is your biggest failure you have seen in a course? What do you think could have been done differently to reduce the impact of that failure?