One of the most exciting models of learning today is ‘design thinking’. It combines hands on learning with independent problem solving. Design thinking is familiar to the problem solving-based creative process taught in many design disciplines. The basic steps of design thinking can be characterized as following:
Identify the problem and research to understand the problem better;
Brainstorm possible strategies and identify solutions;
Test these solutions (welcoming failure as a learning tool);
Apply what you learn to evolve best solutions.
failure is not a setback
When students practice design thinking, they not only master the concepts within the project, they exercise their skills of collaborating with teammates, investigating their topic thoroughly, using empathy to generate ideas for solutions, prototyping, and testing. Most importantly, they learn that failure is not a setback. This activity fosters the lifelong skill and mindset that learning new things to help solve problems is part of day-to-day practice. Because this quest for knowledge is self-initiated and involves the direct application of learned skills, the retention of information that students have as a result of this process is significantly higher.
A challenge for educators and schools is that this hands-on, project-based learning approach needs to be directly supported by the spaces where the learning occurs. Design thinking in education requires open spaces with flexible, moveable pieces that can be used in different ways each day depending on the topic being explored. Here are some ideas that any school can implement.
Put wheels on classroom furniture – spaces need to be flexible to accommodate a wide variety of student-use scenarios and project-driven set ups. Furniture that can be easily rolled out of the way can go from collaboration lounge to prototype lab with little effort;
Create comfortable and customizable ‘break-out spaces’ with couches or soft chairs where students can work together – Stanford University’s, d.school, where the current design thinking trend was jump started, exemplifies the importance of comfortable collaboration spaces. d.school students draw from a mobile ‘kit of parts’ to assemble work environments shaped to their project based activities and then put them all back afterwards. d.school has created a culture of creating the space for the environment you need.
Rethinking learning environments will play an important role in education in the years to come. Are you rehashing old models or covering new ground? Everyone who cares deeply about education wants to find creative ways to engage the next generation of learners. The thinking about these spaces will continue to evolve and change as we try them out and learn from these experiences. This is the design-thinking process for creating the next generation of learning environments.