Running a technology enhanced learning fail faire, and not failing to share and learn

Failure is not a myth. It happens every day with our socio-technical interactions, including with technology-enhanced learning. It is one of the most important sources of learning in fact, yet few like to share and discuss it. That is why a consortium of young, doctoral minds meeting with experienced researchers could be the best place to start talking about it.


The Joint Technology Enhanced Learning Summer School is an important event that for the last decade has brought together young researchers, academics, consultants and industry specialists from different backgrounds across Europe to share experiences and network. The 10th summer school took place in Malta between 26 April and 3 May and featured a workshop looking specifically at technology-enhanced learning failures. Building on the experience of previous information and communication technology ‘fail faire’ events, the workshop (TEL Fail Faire) was organised by Dr Endrit Kromidha, a Fellow of the Centre for Distance Education at the University of London, and assisted by Sulafah Basahel, a PhD student on e-Education at Royal Holloway University of London.

“Failure is not a myth. It happens every day with our socio-technical interactions and is one of the most important sources of learning”


The aims of the Fail Faire were to draw lessons from attendees’ research and practice experiences, to foster an open dialogue, to respond to TEL project challenges of various types, and to critically investigate how open innovation can help us deal with failures. To achieve these aims, following the guidelines set forward by MobileActive for organising a Fail Faire, a set of rules were put in place:

  1. No names (use the roles and responsibilities of the people involved instead)
  2. No blame (you can’t blame anyone, just state what happened)
  3. No recording (including no webcasting, no blogging, no live Tweeting of identifiable information, no archiving of presentations on the Intranet during the FAILFaire)
  4. You can only speak about projects you were involved with
  5. Chatham House Rule applies (you are free to use the information received, but not to reveal the identity or the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant)
  6. Keep to the time limit per presentation and discussions
  7. Audience participation is required

Sharing failures, especially when someone is personally involved is not easy. That is why the workshop started with some specific cases from published literature. ALaRI for example was an intranet platform at the University of Lugano, Switzerland that supports collaborative interaction between academia and international high-tech companies in Switzerland, but due to low customisation only a few of the services were available, known about and utilized (Salvioni, 2005). On the other hand e3an was designed to be a questions’ database shared among a few British universities that tutors would use to prepare students’ worksheets, but due to technical issues and poor quality internet, it failed to deliver the expected results (Su & Hugh, 2007).

Fail Faire imageThe workshop organisers had to share their own technology-enhanced learning failures too. For example, consulting challenges due to stakeholder involvement or a loss of scope for research without a clear theoretical focus and contribution.

These general and personal examples led to the audience opening up, first in their small groups, and then with everyone. Some key outcomes from the workshop:

  • Participants’ realisation that they were not alone in suffering failures
  • Some failures were shared by all and could be laughed at
  • Acknowledging failure can offer great learning potential, and can often drive more attention than only listening to best practices
  • Participants’ understanding that, once shared, failures could become more approachable and solvable

The workshop also included a critical discussion on sharing practices, which was intended to engender debate on the value of open innovation in technology enhanced learning: Is it a source of solutions or confusion? It can be argued that no two failures are the same, and therefore no solutions fit all, but opening up the black box of what went wrong can not only initiate some laughs, but also generate valuable lessons that everyone can take home.

Dr. Endrit Kromidha

Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Royal Holloway University of London
Fellow of the Centre for Distance Education – University of London


Workshop proposal

See Endrit’s presentation proposal here: TEL 2014 Fail Faire

Presentation slides

Salvioni, C., 2005. A Technology Enhanced Learning Case from Birth to Deployment: Critical Analysis of the ALaRI Intranet Platform (Case Study). Innsbruck, Microlearning.

Su, W. & Hugh, D. C., 2007. Experiences of Technology Enhanced Learning: What Went Wrong?, London : University of Southampton.

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