Can the Pandemic Teach Students to Fail Forward?

Can the Pandemic Teach Students to Fail Forward?
(Alexandra Nicholson via AP)

One of my favorite shows to binge-watch is Shark Tank. Watching promising entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to industry experts in the hopes of landing a lucrative investment deal always offers lessons in ingenuity, determination, and the opportunities found in failure.

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Mistakes, on this show, aren’t usually shunned. They’re celebrated. That’s because the show’s experts know what most of us eventually learn—failure is often a steppingstone for success.

Too many of us don’t share this mindset and are crippled by a fear of failure. Our students are suffering as a result. Unlike Shark Tank’s contestants, young people aren’t learning the value of failing forward, especially in the classroom.

More specifically, business and education leaders are not giving students enough room to explore all their options for the future—whether that means college prep, career exploration, or some combination of both. Each of us has a responsibility to work together to give students ample opportunity to try different pathways to success. As part of this goal, we must fully embrace an online platform that can help our kids prepare for their future: career education.

Education isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor, but many of the ways schools and parents teach their students haven’t changed in generations.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed.

According to a recent survey, only 5% of students and 13% of parents said they “strongly agree” that schools are teaching kids useful skills that will help them in the real world.

Instead of adapting to the many new and exciting ways children and young adults are learning today, too many business and education leaders cling tightly to more traditional methods of teaching them. However, the traditional model doesn’t work for everyone. It never has. And that's okay.

Career education programs can help us reach students where they are. That’s because these programs adapt to their changing needs as digital learners. Through online coursework and virtual work experiences—like online internships, job shadowing, and project-based learning opportunities—students can gain the tools they need for success in today’s digital-first workplace.

Additionally, through video conferencing and virtual student-professional workshops, students can learn from and swap experiences with a variety of business professionals and industry experts—from scientists, agricultural specialists, and engineers, to programmers, software developers, and nurses.

Students who want to attend college or enter the workforce after high school can do both, equipped with the resources to make informed, sound decisions about their future. Research supports this idea: on average, 93% of students taking career readiness courses graduate high school, compared to the national average of 84%. Other studies suggest that work-based learning experiences, improve students’ self-confidence and critical-thinking skills and “motivate them to pursue learning.

I know that an online approach to teaching and learning may not work for every family. Trust me, I understand the dilemma. I, myself, am the product of a very traditional learning environment. Throughout my childhood, I took the school bus every day. I sat at a wooden desk alongside my peers. Then, I waited for the bell to signal my next class. That’s what my teachers did. And that’s what their teachers did before them.

But the current pandemic is an opportunity for us to give students non-traditional learning options that weren’t available to us decades ago. These options include exposing students to more digital learning experiences.

Changing traditional modes of thinking when it comes to education won’t be easy. As parents, educators, business executives, and administrators, we won’t make perfect decisions all the time. But we should, at least, be willing to try, and try again.

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