How-To vs. Go Do

What’s the Diff?

Jess and I have been talking about design thinking a lot lately. In fact, we had an epic video-making session this morning where we answered some specific questions on why it’s critical to use design thinking in education and how it benefits students. We are crafting an online course called JumpStart: DT Primer to give you some tools that you’ll be able to use immediately. Should be ready in about a month. Stay tuned.

One question comes up over and over that I want to address here and now:

What is the difference between using design thinking to teach content and teaching students how to design think? Isn’t that the same thing?

Well, the quick answer is No. Those are not the same.

One is a delivery system and the other is a learning process.

The How-To Perspective

Design thinking is gaining popularity among educators as an invigorating and dynamic teaching method. Plain and simple, DT is fun. It’s different. It makes all of us think in unique ways and from a variety of vantage points. Design thinking encourages multiple perspectives and avenues of investigation. How many angles can you approach learning about volcanoes or marine life or literary characters or geometric shapes in nature?

Design thinking encourages curiosity by inviting students and teachers to formulate new questions around traditional topics. The potential for learning is virtually unlimited. Take the timeless theme of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. A teacher might use design thinking to create a whole unit’s worth of lesson plans around the possibility of what today’s world might look like if these creatures had survived extinction. Definitely a not-the-way-it’s-always-been-taught approach to learning about dinosaurs. Students would likely find this interesting and refreshing.

In this vein, design thinking is a how-to… how to learn subject matter in an engaging way. But at the core, DT is a process, not a content delivery system.

Go Do

Prosser Balloon
DT means: Sky’s the limit! [I was up above looking down when I took this pic.]
Design thinking is a thought process that leads to discovery and self-mastery. I love this definition:

Design thinking is a mashup of creative ideas.

At the heart of DT are these five steps: Empathize / Define / Ideate / Prototype / Test.

Design thinking is about going and doing. DT is action. DT is problem-solving. DT is world-changing. Which is exactly why it all begins with empathy.

When we teach design thinking skills to students, we empower them to create solutions. They become confident to step up and take ownership of situations that need fixing. Young minds see the world and its problems with fresh eyes and can many times provide simple perspectives that offer unique insight to adults. We would be wise to listen to their small but mighty voices more often.

DT teaches students to identify core issues that affect others through knowing and understanding a person’s or a group’s particular circumstances. Only then can a workable solution be found. Generating ideas and testing prototypes turns into action. And action creates change.

DT is Action

Design thinking as a content delivery system–even though dioramas and improv might be involved–is more about passive student learning. By all ways and means, use dynamic teaching methods to impart knowledge on young minds.

But use design thinking to its full advantage:

Teach students how to think and find creative solutions to problems.
Empower them to change the world–now and in the future.

That is the gap that DT fills with action.