Odd to think design in education, would you say? Design thinking generally brings to mind connotations related to the arts or fashion, but the tide in innovation is shifting. The concept of design thinking may seem at home with creative arts, but shouldn’t be alien to other fields.
This concept has gained a more structured framework and is increasingly been used within organisations in recent times 1 2. Design, which is more of a skill or an art if you like, might be innate, is different from design thinking which deals with the thinking processes involved in creating a product that would be appealing to the target audience in question. A concise definition I like was put forward by Tim Brown CEO, IDEO Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match peoples needs with what is technologically feasible. Feasible in education you think?
Using this paradigm of thinking to drive innovation may seem far removed in fields like medicine that are built on deduction and reduction, but this concept is more intuitive than we think. With the advent of personalized care, administering the right care to an individual requires more, contextual information has to be used when giving a holistic treatment. Even within abstract roles such as management or with the most menial of tasks, design thinking finds the most labour efficient means to transfer an object from point A to B or to create change.
This concept of design thinking could also underpin the delivery of information within our educational system today, that is, if we are to be in a good position to weather the changing environment of the economy or technology. Ours is a world with complex problems and complex natives, that would require more than a linear approach to inventing sustainable services and products.
The adequate translation of the What, the Why, and the How into learning would create perpetual learners and consequently innovators. Key iterative steps within this concept of design thinking are – discovery, defining the problem, ideation, prototyping, and testing; then repeat. Every product e.g. graduate that will survive modern demands must have the ability to empathize with a need through intuition and imagination; gather preliminary data through fieldwork, observation techniques, and open-ended interviews to fill much-needed gaps within the target population and define a clear problem. thereafter, the appropriate prototype can be developed and end-user feedback used to tweak its properties to facilitate optimal functioning.
Anecdotal evidence using my experience of learning within the Nigerian context and emerging research into developing teachers may suggest that traditional models of having the teacher at the top of the pyramid of education may need to be scaled back to facilitate better engagement with learners. While the Nigerian educational system instills habits of hard work required for acquiring analytical and critical skills that would drive innovation. This model may not be sufficient. Contrary to popular belief, evolution has not endowed the brains (quite a porous organ actually) of homo (wise) sapiens (man) with the ability to store infinite information, we usually exercise selective retention. However, we do better when related consolidated information stored in our long-term memory (in the hippocampus to be precise) is encountered, and retrieval is easier when faced with a challenge.
This perhaps is the power behind narratives or pictures (using related information) when explaining complex subject matter or problem-solving and might just revolutionize our learning environment. Changing the culture of hard work characterised by long hours of study or teaching alone only slightly though, it should not be left unsaid that this brings with it benefits that less intensive systems cannot confer – to a culture where the goal is to use the understanding of the inner workings of say the human gut, to design products that may help augment current method of expulsion of waste products from the human body, to reduce prevent such as bowel cancers when toxic waste is not properly expelled.
Now that to me sounds like an interesting alternative that can be used to pique the interest of young minds when delivering a class on biology that may be more obvious to the learner. The ability to stimulate the mind to design or see a desirable, more efficient future is a skill that should constantly be cultivated by those framing young minds and those funding educational systems.