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Design Thinking in education

Morgane Lopez |

Originated at Stanford University and popularized by Tim Brown in 1991, Design Thinking is defined as a way of finding solutions to problems, highlighting the user’s interactions and trial & error methods. For a long time, it has stayed in the confidential spheres of industrial design, but today it is taught and implemented in many universities and companies. But what about education? 

1. Design Thinking

Some fields are great examples in terms of transformation. Let’s look at the approach of designers. Their role is to ensure the continuous improvement and transformation of what is existing, no matter the sector, with the unique goal of improving the user experience. 

This 5-step approach mobilizes skills that we all naturally have but tend to underuse, such as intuition, emotional intelligence and practicality.

  • Empathy: Putting yourself in the shoes of users, understanding them and getting in contact with them is the key to the methodology. There is no room for ego; you have to put your intuitive ideas aside and refer to the quantitative and qualitative data you can get about the users.
  • Define: The analysis of quantitative and qualitative data allows you to identify the problems to be solved. Starting from this problem, you need to ask yourself the right questions: “How could we meet this expectation”, “What could be improved”, etc. 
  • Ideation: The next step is to find new solutions to these problems. There are many methods of idea or creativity generation for this, such as the Crazy 8  (a co-creation workshop which invites participants to draw up eight distinct ideas in eight minutes), the 6-3-5 brainstorming (6 participants come up with 3 ideas in 5 minutes), or Bono’s 6 hats (an approach which encourages people to step back and observe a given situation from six different angles, 6 distinct ways of thinking or “filters” materialized by 6 hats of 6 different colors).
  • Prototype: it is not about designing one prototype, but several prototypes, which will make it possible to experiment with different solutions and to detect those that are most likely to solve the problem.
  • Test: Design thinking is not a linear process, so it is necessary to test the “final product” in order to findpreviously unidentified problems, or to challenge your understanding of the user.

2. Release the creative potential of students

Design Thinking is more than just a tool, it is a creative and pragmatic way of thinking, based on three very realistic pillars: 

  • Desirability: do my users really want this solution?
  • Feasibility: do we have the resources (technologies, skills, organization, etc.) to implement this solution?
  • Viability: is it interesting to provide this solution?

It is not only problem solving, it is an inclusive approach allowing the student to feel helpful, to act and to develop empathy. It is about truly becoming actors of their learning process. 

This approach can easily be applied for children in the classrooms in the form of workshops. It puts aside rote learning and introduces them to collective intelligence, encouraging them, for example, to think about spaces, tools, homework or more general issues directly related to their curriculum.

Education though design instils a real interactive and constructive dynamic, helping children to become ‘Problem Solvers’ who will use innovation and empathy in their daily lives.

3. The role of teachers

While the major challenge is to release the creative potential of children by making them actors of their learning process, teachers still have a major role to play in most projects, both to initiate the process and to lead it. 

In this context, as users, teachers are directly involved in the design of learning materials. If the teacher becomes the designer of his or her own experience in the classroom, the changes will be more effective as they will match the needs of students. 

Design Thinking can impact 3 categories of problems within the educational system: 

  • Content: Every day, teachers design ways to interact with their students around content. The challenge is to link the existing learning materials with the interests and desires of students, by taking a closer look at what they do outside of school and integrating these activities into the content.
  • Spaces: The layout of the classroom sends a strong signal about the behavior expected from students. By rethinking the organization of spaces, the teacher can change the message sent to students about how they should feel and interact in the classroom.
  • Processes and tools: Schools have already implemented tools and processes, but there is nothing to stop teachers from appropriating and rethinking them. 

In the field of education, Design Thinking improves the way schools function and the relationships and processes that take place in them. It provides simple solutions to problems that emerge, based on collaboration, observation, experimentation and continuous evaluation. The method allows all education players to participate and provide consensual solutions to everyday educational needs.