Productive Failure (PF) for Adult Learning


The Innovation Centre at the Institute for Adult Learning, Singapore successfully translated the principles of Productive Failure (PF) for Adult Learning. The aim was to leverage the PF principles to facilitate deep learning amongst learners and contribute towards building critical core competencies within the Training and Adult Education sector.

These principles were tested and adapted by a select diverse group of Adult Educators who infused PF into their learning designs and pilot with real learners in real learning environments. Their insights and experiences were incorporated into the resulting framework and template to support Adult Educators keen to adopt PF into their learning design and lessons.

What is Productive Failure?

An empirically tested deep learning pedagogical approach, PF1 embodies constructivist principles, where failure is deliberately designed into the learning, to imbue learners with resiliency and learning agility, much needed skills during this “reskilling emergency” that was raised at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in January 2020, where it was said that more than 1 billion people need to be reskilled by 2030 as jobs are transformed by the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (World Economic Forum, 2020)2.

The PF learning environment is designed deliberately to bring about failure in a task so that learners have the opportunity to innovate solutions while exploring complex and novel problems. This guided exploration also allows learners to activate and differentiate relevant prior knowledge, generate multiple representations of problems, and thereby develop skills needed to solve "wicked" real-world problems.

More information on the relevance of PF to adult learning was shared during a special innovLogue session with leading experts from Zurich, Switzerland, Singapore, and Sydney, Australia, to discuss how ‘learning from failure’, might be leveraged for learning and development. Do not miss out on the in-depth panel discussion towards the end of the session. The recorded webinar innovLogue session can be accessed here.

Download the Practitioner Note below:

Practitioner Note (Updated Apr 2024)

Contact Us

For more information, please contact Ms. Nilanjana Saxena

(65) 6579 0326

 1 As detailed by Kapur & Bielaczyc (2012), PF has a two-phase design: a generation and exploration phase (Phase 1) followed by a consolidation phase (Phase 2). Phase 1 provides opportunities for learners to generate and explore the affordances and constraints of multiple representations and solution methods. Phase 2 provides opportunities for organizing and assembling relevant learner-generated solutions into canonical solutions. The design is guided by the following core principles: (1) create problem-solving contexts that involve working on complex problems that challenge but do not frustrate, rely on prior resources, and admit multiple solutions; (2) provide opportunities for explanation and elaboration; and (3) provide opportunities to compare and contrast the affordances and constraints of failed or sub-optimal solutions and the assembly of canonical solutions. [Kapur, M., & Bielaczyc, K. (2012). Designing for Productive Failure. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 21(1), 45–83.]

 2 World Economic Forum. (2020). Why we need a global reskilling revolution. World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, 1–6.