Escape Rooms as Tools for Learning Through Failure




Failure, Escape rooms, Play, Games, Playful learning


The increasingly neoliberal course of Higher Education is linked to rises in student anxiety around assessment and increased fear of the consequences of failure. Making mistakes is an inevitable part of any learning process (and of life generally) and managing failure in a productive and positive way is crucial for success and wellbeing beyond university. In this article, we argue that academia does not adequately prepare learners for managing mistake-making progressively and that escape rooms can provide a way to facilitate learning through failure. We first present an original model of failure-based learning that explores why being able to make mistakes safely is important for students and why the use of escape rooms in Higher Education presents an excellent opportunity for the application of this model. We then show the relevance of this model by using it to analyse two case studies that explore different ways in which educational escape rooms can be used in Higher Education: either designed to facilitate learning by playing a game; or supporting learning through designing a game. Our model of failure-based learning has three stages, emphasising the importance of preparation, an iterative play cycle of testing, failing, reflecting, and revising, and finishing with a presentation phase. The article concludes by considering the limitations of educational escape rooms in this context and highlighting some practical considerations for the use of these approaches.

Author Biographies

Rachelle Emily Rawlinson, Durham Centre for Academic Development, Durham University, UK

Rachelle Emily Rawlinson is a Senior Learning Designer at Durham Centre for Academic Development at Durham University. Rachelle became a National Teaching Fellow in 2023 for her work relating to playfulness and inclusivity in Higher Education. She also holds a CATE award for her work with the #creativeHE community. Her research interests include digital education, computer science, digital games and escape rooms, surprise and playfulness in Higher Education. Rachelle is a PhD student at Northumbria University in Newcastle and her thesis focuses on the use of digital escape rooms in pedagogic practice.

Nicola Whitton, Department of Computer and Information Sciences, Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK

Nicola Whitton is Professor of Digital Learning and Play in the School of Computer and Information Sciences at Northumbria University in Newcastle. Her research focuses on play in adulthood, in particular the use of digital games and learning in the context of Higher Education, and the potential of play in teaching, research, and academic practice. Her most recent projects have focused on the potential of escape room design for learning.



18 Mar 2024