In an interview with Jesse Mulligan on RNZ in June, Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine, said that we have to accept being “perpetual newbies” in this digital era. He argued that, “We’re going to have to become lifelong learners. I think this is the major meta-skill that needs to be taught in schools.”
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) agrees: “The capacity to continuously learn and apply / integrate new knowledge and skills has never been more essential.” (OECD, 2012, p. 8)
Handily, for us here in Aotearoa New Zealand, the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (TMOA) mirror these sentiments. No doubt we are familiar with the call to develop young people who are confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.
Doubly handily, the NZC doesn’t just leave us floundering with the abstract notion of the ‘lifelong learner’, but gives us the key competencies by which lifelong learners are developed. If you like, the key competencies are the ‘how’ to the ‘why’ of the NZC’s vision; they directly support it.
The ‘what’ is the ‘stuff’ teachers decide to do, guided by the essence statements of each learning area. And while there is a lot of ‘stuff’ competing to be on the list of things teachers could do, I’d like to suggest design thinking as a way to develop the key competencies, and thus nurture lifelong learners.
It’s difficult to capture in a succinct sentence what design thinking is. It’s a methodology, it’s a mindset, it’s a kind of inquiry process on steroids. David Kwek does reasonably well when he defines it as, “An approach to learning that focuses on developing children’s creative confidence through hands-on projects that focus on empathy, promoting a bias toward action, encouraging ideation and fostering active problem-solving” (Kwek, 2011, p. 4).
I like to think of design thinking as being a way to bring people together to explore, learn, and co-develop solutions to real-world problems. I see it as having three broad phases:
- Immersion: researching, scoping, thinking, exploring, and, most importantly of all, empathising.
- Ideation: synthesising, defining, brainstorming, creating.
- Implementation: prototyping, pitching, gathering feedback, refining, problem-solving.
I call it iCubed.
And, I believe that as learners grapple with each phase of the design-thinking process, they actively encounter the five key competencies: thinking, relating to others, using language, symbols and texts, managing self, and participating and contributing.
By way of a brief example, a few years ago my Year 8 English class was exploring how we might welcome new students into our school. We began by putting ourselves in the shoes of a new student. We close-read some passages, we role-played, we conducted interviews. We were using language, symbols, and texts, relating to others and thinking. After generating loads of creative ideas, we formed groups around those we thought might have the greatest impact. We made prototypes, pitched to each other and to key members of staff. We sought feedback, refined our ideas, and worked together to find solutions. We were thinking, managing self, participating, and contributing.
While this is a high surface overview of both the learning and the key competencies that were being fostered, it was clear to me that design thinking is a powerful way to develop creative, empathetic thinkers. And my students thought that too. As one said, “Design thinking helps you to learn how to process ideas into something to help people”.
In other words, my students were being “critical and creative thinkers, active seekers, users and creators of knowledge, informed decision-makers” (NZC, p. 8). They are lifelong learners.
- Kelly, K. (2017, June 27). Don’t be afraid of AI (J. Mulligan, Interviewer) [Audio file]. Retrieved from http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/afternoons/audio/201849035/kevin-kelly-don-t-be-afraid-of-ai.
- Kwek, Swee Hong. (2011). Innovation in the Classroom: Design Thinking for 21st Century Learning, [Master’s thesis)] Retrieved from http://web.stanford.edu/group/redlab/cgi-bin/materials/Kwek-Innovation%20In%20The%20Classroom.pdf.
- OECD. (2012). The nature of learning using research to inspire practice: Practitioner guide from the Innovative Learning Environments Project – How can learning sciences inform the design of 21st century learning environments, OECD Publishing, Paris.
- Mosbourne01. Golden circle [image file]. CC BY SA 3.0. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Golden_circle.png.
- e-odyssey: Design Thinking