Design thinking in learning (and education)

800px Raspberry Pi boxed 300x199 Design thinking in learning (and education) Photo by Nico Kaiser / WIkimedia Commons.

In the last ten years design thinking has been one of the most used buzzwords among technology and design circles. In my book Designing Learning Tools — Methodological Insights I also use the term. To be honest, one of the sections is titled “Design Thinking: Solving Wicked Problems in a Participatory Way“. Cool title, isn’t it? icon smile Design thinking in learning (and education)

Last week in San Francisco I visited Square, a company providing electronic payment services with smart phones. Currently their main product is the Square Register, a credit card reader you can attach in your phone or tablet and start accepting credits cards. With their product, also small merchants and individuals can take credit cards.

Their second product, the Square Wallet, however, is definitely more interesting one. With the wallet app, running in your phone in your pocket you can pay just by saying your name. After saying you name in the checkout your name and photo appear on a screen of the cashier and he may confirm the sale. The data comes from the server based on the location information. Smart. No showing your phone, no scanning, no NFC, no RFID. Nothing. The technology works in the background. You keep your head up, say your name and you have paid.

I asked the people in Square how do they feel if I define them as “design company”. They didn’t object. It is, naturally, a real software engineering house but design thinking seems to be the driving force behind their product development. The vision is not to provide credit card readers or payment solutions but to improve the user experience and interaction in a situation of making payments. When you approach the matter of paying someone from the point of view of a service and an experience you can design products like the Square Wallet.

This blog is not about payment systems or customer experiences. From the Square example, however, we may gain some insights to learning and education, too.

Design thinking is discussed in the context of education, too. The Design Thinking for Education by Riverdale Country School and IDEO is a great resource.

In the iTEC project we (my research group) have also brought design thinking to classrooms by promoting teachers to carry on design activities with their pupils. Right now we are prototyping a design toolkit with a group of teachers. The aim of the toolkit is to help teachers to design learning activities. The kit with the title “Designing Learning Activities — a Workshop Toolkit for Teachers” will be published in a couple of months.

This is all good, but I am still wondering are we really able to catch the essence of design thinking in these? Should we still step back and think one more time what is learning and education really about? How people could raise their head up, say their name and learn? How would be a learning experience designed primary on this principle?

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