Learning to create more a-ha! moments in learning

How do you learn? I learn through doing; a-ha..! Knowledge applied through reflection of a real life experience.

Learning to master ‘Creative Confidence’; sharing learning at Stanford d.School’s University Innovation Fellows Teaching and Learning Studio July 1997

Those ‘A-ha!’ learning moments come for me, more often than not, when I’m doing or trying something out; experimenting for myself or more crucially doing it with others.

I spoke to a university graduate and a current postgraduate student recently and they expressed a similar view. They described learning as not knowledge being poured in but in the application of new knowledge; both expressed a desire for more opportunities for active learning in the classroom, for discussion and collaboration across disciplines to share ideas and perspectives. ‘I want to know what I can do with this knowledge; my knowledge out in the world.’

We see that magical ‘aha’ moment a lot when students bring a problem or an idea to work through together in the Ideas Labs we run weekly in the Learning Zone during term time.

Working on your own idea is a motivated process of being willing to challenge your dearest held assumptions, experimenting to apply knowledge you have or new knowledge you have found, joining the dots to make sense of what’s needed to move forward and validate an idea as an opportunity. It’s about the search for desirability, feasibility and viability of a solution users want, need and will pay for; even just paying with their time; whether it’s a project, a social enterprise or a business venture of some kind.

The Teaching and Learning Studio at Stanford University is a place where educators from all disciplines experiment with new ways of engaging students using design thinking and experiential learning to solve wicked problems. The studio supports educators to develop strategies that help students develop skills and mindsets for the 21st century and I was very fortunate to be an awardee of the EEUK Richard Beresford bursary, a personal development fund for educators, which part funded a trip to the studio for the learning trip of a lifetime.

Fresh from d.School inspiration, I’m grateful for a whole new network of international colleagues to exchange ideas on shaping learning using human centred design that puts the student at the centre of the experience.  So forward thinking are they at Stanford d.School, that it’s an annual thing for educators to pitch their major and minor courses to students on d.School’s ’Pitch Night’…

I want to learn to facilitate more of those ‘A-ha!’ learning moments for students who come to the Enterprise Team’s Ideas Labs sessions. It’s about creating the environment for students to ‘try on’ mindsets and behaviours; practice being curious, resourceful, imaginative, questioning norms and assumptions, observing, ideating, making connections and big leaps to confidently create new solutions; seeing failure along the way as as the stepping stone to the next experiment…and that’s a tough one for us all to ‘try on’ in our practice.

It’s about the quest to develop all students as creative problem solvers;  ‘innovators’  in every discipline. This skill, rooted in creativity is needed in every shape and size of organisation to remain competitive and for employees, leaders and entrepreneurs to continue to find ways to create new value.

So what is Design Thinking and how does it relate to designing learning and facilitating learning experiences and how an it be used as a pedagogical tool?

Design thinking is a mindset. It is optimistic, collaborative, human centred and creative and it’s experimental. It’s the confidence that everyone can be part of creating a more desirable future, and the design process empowers people to take action when faced with a difficult challenge. That kind of optimism is well needed in education and in students heading out into a challenged global environment.

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Design thinking is a team sport and through small design challenges we and our learners can learn the attitudes and mindsets to collaborate and create, experimenting by framing a learning through design challenge, unpacking assumptions about the challenge or problem, exploring the problem space with users, defining a point of view about the challenge.

Through optimistic and energised ideation a design team can  learn to ‘turn off’ the evaluator mindset and generate ideas through divergent thinking; brainstorming, building on one another’s ideas, generating lots of ideas to create great ideas, and learning that sometimes seemingly wild ideas are the spark to something better; out of the box possibilities; solutions to wicked problems. Ideas are selected for development through voting and the design team builds to learn through improv and role play to imagine possibilities before building simple, fail fast mockups and prototypes to share with users for feedback. What works, what doesn’t..? Return to prototype… return to test… iterate…until ‘Ahah! We did it! Our solution has cracked the problem; what a feeling… ‘like something inside me changed.’

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The Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators contains the process and methods of design. Developed by the global design company Ideo, (Founded by David Kelley who also founded Stanford’s d.School). The toolkit offers new ways to be intentional and collaborative when designing educational experiences, and empowers educators to create  impactful student centred learning solutions, but also to integrate design thinking into problem based learning as a creative problem solving process. The process empowers students to get creative, starting by solving simple human centred challenges to prepare them for tackling seemingly insoluble challenges.

‘Educators from across the world are facing design challenges every single day, from feedback systems to daily schedules. Wherever they fall on the spectrum of scale – the challenges educators are confronted with are real, complex, and varied. And as such, they require new perspectives, new tools, and new approaches. Design Thinking is one of them.’ Ideo.com

What was woefully missing in my education, and my daughter’s after me, were those serendipidous ‘A-ha’ moments in learning, and it’s this creative, human agency, I now believe that is at the heart of our work as educators. We have a short window of opportunity to intentionally develop learners as creative problem solvers, innovators and value creators beyond their discipline; skills for living and for lifelong learning.

‘Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.’

Benjamin Franklin

My thanks first to Humera Fasihuddin, (Maker of movements that start small) Co-Director, University Innovation Fellows at Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford ( d.school ) for answering the call to learn from ‘Creative Confidence’ and calling in to Lancaster University to kickstart our movement. You made possible a world of change in us that day and for the creative confidence of many more in the future.

Thank you to  Enterprise Educators UK for part funding this learning experience with the Richard Beresford Bursary. More details on how to apply here.

Resources:

Teaching innovators can download Design Thinking for Educators here.

A Canvas to design learning here

Sir Ken Robinson’s ‘Whats the point of creativity at University’ here.