5 Things Educators Should Know About Design Thinking

April 1, 2015   |   By Karen Jorge, Business Innovation Factory

Attempts to improve educational experiences are too often top-down. The best solutions, however, come from the people most affected — the students — and those on the front lines — the teachers. Over the last ten years, we at the Business Innovation Factory have used human-centered research and design thinking to engage students, teachers, and education leaders in designing, prototyping, and sharing radical new models for learning and teaching.

So what is design thinking, and why should it matter to educators?

At its core, design thinking is a creative problem-solving approach that focuses on the needs of the people affected by the issue at hand. It’s a human-centered way to define an existing challenge, understand it from different perspectives, and then generate, test, and implement innovative solutions. Design thinking processes help you collaborate with others to get inspiration from new sources, engage in outside-of-the-box thinking, and come up with ideas you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

Here are five things that educators should know about design thinking:

1. Design thinking builds on what you’re already doing.

Educators solve problems in their classrooms and schools constantly. Design thinking taps into the creativity and problem-solving skills that educators already use everyday, and provides a more rigorous and structured process for tackling challenges head-on.

2. Design thinking is a way of seeing and creating possibility.

Using design thinking lets you assess problems that you face in your school, district, or community, and imagine what might be instead. When framing challenges to tackle, we use the open-ended language of “How might we…?” to remind us of the range of possibilities we can engage. But it’s not just ideation — design thinking is a way to actively create new experiences.

3. Design thinking forces you to take a step back before jumping to solutions.

When confronted with an issue, our first instinct is often to immediately come up with ideas to fix it. But these hasty remedies may only address surface-level symptoms of the issue without getting to the root of the problem. Design thinking slows you down. Before generating solutions, you develop a deep, human-centered understanding of the problem by exploring what it means to different stakeholders from their own points of view.

4. Design thinking is messy.

Design thinking emphasizes experimentation and iteration. Sometimes testing out your ideas in the real world will confirm what you already thought you knew, but more often it will take you down a path you didn’t anticipate and lead you to unexpected insights and inspiration.

5. Design thinking is as good for students as it is for teachers.

At the Business Innovation Factory's Student Experience Lab, we’ve used design thinking to help students create a student-designed and centered high school in Rhode Island, and to guide college students in developing a more relevant student support services model for their university. But it’s not just for large scale projects — integrating smaller design thinking activities into your classroom can help your students reimagine their learning experience, improve their problem-solving skills, and flex their creativity muscles.

Design Thinking In Action

To give you a sense of how educators can use design thinking, I'd like to introduce you to four veteran teachers from Rhode Island. These teachers were frustrated by the professional development in their district and by a lack of opportunities to share ideas and learn from their peers. Watch the video below to find out how they used design thinking to improve faculty collaboration by creating an “underground” learning community for their colleagues.

To learn more about design thinking and how it can be used to drive transformation in education, check out the Student Experience Lab and the Teachers Design for Education (TD4Ed) programa design thinking curriculum the Business Innovation Factory developed with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Start Your Own Design Thinking Project

Interested in learning the design thinking process and starting your own project to tackle a challenge you’re facing in your classroom, school, district, or community? Browse our “Design Thinking for Educators” resources in the BloomBoard Resource Library. These free, self-paced resources use the TD4Ed curriculum, and can be completed as individual modules or as a seven-phase course. 

Note: To access these professional learning resources you must have a BloomBoard account. If your school or district does not use BloomBoard, but you would like access to our Resource Library, please complete this form.


Let us see what you create: upload your work on the TD4Ed platform, and tweet a link to it to @BIFsxl!

 About Business Innovation Factory

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At the Business Innovation Factory, we help leaders design and test transformational business models. We do this in complex social systems like healthcare, education, and government, where the potential and impact for making people's lives better is the highest. Our approach is human-centered, seeking to understand the jobs customers need done, and using this insight to design new experiences to better serve them. We experiment in the real world, and rely on storytelling to engage others in the process.


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