Failure as a learning tool.

I feel like you’ve set me up for failure.

It was a sentence I heard recently and it got me thinking about viewpoints.

Having discussed this particular learner, who was part of a group being taught navigation skills, with my fellow colleague the question “with whom does the fault lie?” sprung to mind.

Such a dangerous question, I thought!

  • Could the fault lie with the learner who, through the course documentation was told that pre-learning was required and, having failing to do any, felt they weren’t taught fully during the training?
  • Could it lie with the programme structure not being generous enough to offer more time to experiential learning and embed those skills?
  • Could it lie with the trainers, feeling they needed to follow the programme exactly, not going with the needs of the groups and just disregard timings?
  • Could it lie with the attitude of the learner who was reluctant to engage with the group, ask questions or say when help was needed? Did they feel they just needed to attend to “pass” and no apply a lot of effort?
  • Could it lie with both – a trainer/learner clash of personalities/learning styles that didn’t suit either?


Possible, Astraeus hygrometricus, commonly known as the hygroscopic earthstar. Never seen one of these before.


I find working with adult groups harder than working with young people (but no less enjoyable, just different for a variety of reasons). One of the attendees summed it up almost perfectly I thought: “You know what we [teachers] are like, we have a voice and want to give an opinion. We’ll speak over each other to be heard.” In my mind, I chuckled. Yes, adults are more likely to come with preconceived ideas and notions, they are more likely to point out your errors and judge you based on presentation – a chaotic, poorly timetabled programme doesn’t instill confidence within them – but they have their positives, more insightful input based on their prior experiences, more opinionated input and generally a good laugh; but this is all my perception of the differences between the two age groups…


Refining navigation skills outside in the wet woodland.


I feel like you’ve set me up for failure.

That sentence though. Ouch.


Nature is beautiful as ever.


At the time, it felt like a sledgehammer hitting hard. The trainer and I talked, we tried to find where the fault lay, we reflected on the programme and content delivered, we looked at different avenues… then having slept on it and communicated since… we had made the right decision.

Within the bigger picture of things, you have to justify your decision and this was ensuring the adult is competent and confident enough to safely look after young people outside. This wasn’t a ‘attend to pass‘ course; it had a lot of elements that the learner was required to show competency into a skilled and highly qualified trainer. Unfortunately, this person did not show they were competent in some elements and would need more practice.


Practising pacing on the flat.


But that sentence bothers me. It bothers me because when a young person has said similar (and I heard a lot of gripes about teachers when I was supporting within a school) I have tended to disregard it as that young person being unwilling to see themselves as part of the learning process and hold responsibility for their own learning. Here too, the sentence suggests the learner thinks there are not at fault, but the trainers are. Would this have been said had they passed the course? Probably not. BUT, and this is a big BUT for me, I feel I am being narrow-minded in forgiving young people quicker¬†“because they know no better and are still learning” but not necessarily with adults with whom I feel should have had the training, prior experience and knowledge to know when to speak up and say when they aren’t learning?

I have to question myself in this; have I had enough experience to spot when learning, in either an adult or young people, isn’t happening? It’s a tough thought consideration. I feel I am bothered because I have separated the two age groups based on personal opinion and feel that, equally, both have a right to a quality learning experience and both should recognise they are a part of that learning experience, therefore, take some personal responsibility when the outcome is not in their favour… in this instance, the learner is obviously disgruntled at the outcome and is seeking a justification for feeling this, yet, does not openly acknowledge their part in the process.

I have to learn to recognise that not everyone thinks the way I do about learning! I feel the quote “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” is apt in this instance; that might seem remorseless and un-empathic to some, but it’s held me in good sted and taught me well when I’ve failed previously.


Night navigation skills are a must for any leader.


At the end of the day, whether the “failing” is on the teaching side, the learning side of both side, it what happens next that is important. I feel a follow-up support plan is always necessary; without offering support and helping them to progress is where I think the true “failing” lies…. and what harm can being told that they need to do additional work to pass do? “Get back on that horse.”¬†


Creepy find in the woods.


– Just Joanne