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Learning from mistakes

This blog was written by Andrew Downes and first appeared on the Epic blog on 17th June 2013.

In my recent guide ‘How to design Tin Can tracking for real world learning’, I promised a series of blog posts outlining examples of Tin Can in action. The idea is that you can apply the principles from the guide to an example put forward in the blog as a way of practising designing for Tin Can.

So for this second example, we’ll explore failing a task, which was helpfully suggested by one of our readers via Twitter.

Let’s start by thinking about why an organisation might want to track failure. First, you might want to track failure as a quality control process. Failure might mean a bad customer experience, loss of revenue or even legal action. Secondly, you might want to track failure as the trigger for performance improvement. Everybody makes mistakes, and identifying these can help to improve performance in the future. Top sports people often video themselves, for example, then spend hours analysing the video to see what they could do better.

Let’s look at the performance improvement case in more detail.

A lot of tasks can be tracked by Tin Can automatically, for example, failing a quiz or assessment or failure using a machine or software. Tracking goals, plans and targets can help with identifying failures that cannot be automatically tracked. In this case, the absence of reporting on a learner achieving a goal can imply that the goal has not been met and therefore the learner has failed.

But what about those failures that are unexpected? Can we encourage workers to share their failures openly and willingly?

I recently watched a TED talk by Brian Goldman on the subject of doctors making mistakes. In his talk, Brian advocated creating a culture where mistakes are shared so that improvements can be made both in the practice of the doctor in question and in general medical practice. Tin Can tracking on its own won’t create that cultural change, but it can help by providing the mechanisms and tools for sharing failures.

Think of a work task or process in your workplace where tracking failure would be helpful. Can this be tracked automatically, using goals and targets, or by the learners themselves? What cultural changes are required in your organisation in relation to failure?

Have a go at applying Tin Can design principles to the failure you have identified. Clarify the requirements, identity events and craft some statements.

Watch out for my next blog post which will look at using Tin Can to integrate self-directed learning into formal programmes.