Failures, Errors, and Mistakes: A Systematic Review of the Literature

  • Amber SimpsonEmail author
  • Adam V. Maltese
  • Alice Anderson
  • Euisuk Sung


Terms such as failure, mistakes, errors, obstacles, and struggle are used interchangeably, but each carries different connotations and discipline-specific meanings. Reactions to experiencing a failure can range as well from being seen as having educative value to be debilitating. These reactions are based on criteria like environment, prior experiences, and individual characteristics, to name a few. The purpose of this chapter is to synthesize and clarify how these terms are articulated and utilized in research studies and commentaries published between 1970 and mid-2018. Through a systematic literature review, we will discuss similarities and differences in how researchers defined these terms, as well as how these definitions differ by cultural context, discipline, and age of participants. Next, we briefly highlight how our research findings on failure within making and tinkering contexts contribute to our current thinking on failure, mistakes, and errors. Our research included approximately 500 youths and 150 educators situated in a variety of settings that implement making and tinkering programs and/or activities including an informal educational setting (i.e., museum), a formal educational setting (i.e., public middle school), and a hybrid setting (i.e., science center running after-school programming at local school sites). We conclude with open questions and recommendations for the field to consider when conducting research around failures, errors, and mistakes in educational contexts.


Mistakes Errors Failures Maker education 



This research is funded by the US National Science Foundation under Award DRL-1623452. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amber Simpson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Adam V. Maltese
    • 2
  • Alice Anderson
    • 3
  • Euisuk Sung
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Teaching, Learning, and Educational LeadershipBinghamton UniversityBinghamtonUSA
  2. 2.W.W. Wright School of EducationIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  3. 3.Minneapolis Institute of ArtMinneapolisUSA

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