No one likes to fail. Most people don’t want to fail. In fact, many people suffer from a constant fear of failure. And yet, failure happens. It’s really not a matter of if but more a matter of when. The big question, however, is what you do with failure when it inevitably happens to you or your team. Some of you who are reading this are already feeling uncomfortable, aren’t you? After all, failure tends to be a taboo subject, and speaking openly about it rarely occurs. But avoiding the topic of failure hurts more than it helps. By tackling the issue of failure head-on and with courage, you can turn your epic eLearning failures into success.

By tackling the issue of failure head-on and with courage, you can turn your epic eLearning failures into success.

Putting Failure in Perspective

If you’re constantly afraid of failing, you’ll be less likely to take the kinds of risks needed to be truly creative and innovative in your eLearning programs. This is the “nothing ventured, nothing gained” perspective. It recognizes that taking risks can be scary, and could easily lead to failure, but can also lead to incredible breakthroughs. One trick is to shift your thinking to put the right “spin” on failure.

Take Thomas Edison, for example. It took him multiple tries to come up with a working incandescent light bulb. And not just a few tries – I’m talking like 10,000 tries before getting in right. Yes, he failed 10,000 times. But that’s not how he saw it. He’s famous for putting a different spin on it by saying, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” If Edison had quit trying before he came up with a workable bulb, then his work would have been a failure, but by persisting until he succeeded, all those previous attempts can been seen as steps to success. This is the kind of healthy perspective on failure that will allow you to move forward.

There’s a “big-picture” perspective here that also helps. A baseball player stepping up to the plate wants to get a home run, or at least a hit. If it doesn’t happen, it is a failure. But there are going to be more chances throughout the rest of the game, not to mention a whole season of games. Any given instance of striking out is just one tiny piece of a much larger puzzle. If you view your failure as just one step on the road to success, you’ll naturally look for ways to turn the failure into a win.

Embrace Your Epic eLearning Failures!

When epic eLearning failures happen to you or your team, it’s all too easy to sweep them under the rug and try to just move on. But that would be a huge mistake. Instead, I challenge you to fully embrace your epic eLearning failures as learning opportunities. The key is to analyze what went wrong and what can be done to correct things moving forward. After all, you don’t want to find yourself doing the same things over and over again hoping to somehow get a different result. That’s how some people define insanity!

In my previous article, I explained how eLearning professionals can use root cause analysis to examine business issues in order to figure out what kinds of learning objectives and content will address the need (see Root Cause Analysis for eLearning Objectives). Root cause analysis is also your go-to strategy for learning from epic eLearning failures. By asking the right questions, you can reveal the root cause of the failure. And the single most important question you have to ask is WHY? But you have to ask it multiple times because each time you ask it drills down deeper into what happened.

For example, let’s say your latest eLearning course or training is clearly being viewed as a failure. Ask yourself, why? The answer might be something like, the completion rate for the course was abysmally low. Now, you could stop right there and come up with a plan for how to better publicize the course, make it required instead of optional and so on. Stopping there would be a mistake. Your answer to the first why might be little more than an indicator of failure, but isn’t necessarily the root cause of the failure. But you won’t know unless you ask why again.

In the second round, you’re now asking yourself why was the completion rate for the course so low? To answer this question, you go into the course evaluations filed by learners and discover for those who did complete the course, they gave it very low satisfaction scores. In other words, your leaners hated it! But, as you might imagined, there’s more to it. You can’t stop there because you need to know why your learners hated the course.

In this third round of asking why, you discover that your leaners rated the topic as highly relevant, so that wasn’t the issue. Instead, you discover they gave it such low rankings because they found it boring. Then you ask a fourth time to figure out why they found it boring and you discover it’s because the presentation of the material was little more than a set of PowerPoint slides put online with a lot of static text and bullet points. You’re getting closer, but you’re still not quite to the finish line. Asking why a fifth time leads you to an answer that your learning team wasn’t given enough time to put together a more exciting format for the course. If you ask why a sixth time, you might discover that your learning department is short-staffed, creating too much pressure on everyone to get things done, resulting in subpar learning courses. However, that sixth answer might be considered beyond your immediate control, but also worth pursuing if possible. If not, then your primary goal is going to be a deeper dive into how your team manages its projects to find a solution.

You can easily see how critical it is to keep asking why in order to reveal all the different layers of what’s happening and what can be done to make corrections. The general rule of thumb is to ask why five times. Sometimes you’ll get to the root cause with fewer iterations, and sometimes it will take more than five. But if you keep asking why, you’ll get the fullest picture of what’s going on. Armed with that knowledge, you can come up with a plan to do better moving forward. Who knew a simple little one-word question could lead to such a powerful analysis? Use it to transform all your epic eLearning failures into resounding successes!