My 2014 Resolution: Create More Problems for Education


2013 seemed beset by news stories of the many problems in our education system. For 2014, I want to focus my work activities as an instructional designer into creating more problems for education.

I want to create interesting problems. And, I want these interesting problems to form the basis of inquiry in project-based learning experiences that require design thinking skills and the access/adoption of need-to-know information and appropriate tools. Again, those essential elements are:

  1. Learning structured as project-based work addressing interesting problems
  2. Design thinking skills as core competencies
  3. Acclimation to knowledge and tools need to do the work

Whether designing curriculum and instruction for K-12, higher ed, or corporate/organizational training, these are essential elements to creating transformative and transferable learning experiences. Here’s why:

1. Project-based learning targets a specific goal and objectives, and often occurs in short, recurring (iterative) time spans. In other words, the learning experience is set up to be purposeful and concentrated. This is how most of us structure our work activities too. Rather than receiving instruction through lecture or assigned readings or other traditional “education” methods, project-based learning requires an active exploration and assessment of the knowledge and skills necessary to completing the project. Learning is applied directly to tangible goals, and therefore is more relevant, memorable, and transferable.

2. Design thinking promotes creative and integrative approaches to problem-solving. Design, as a discipline itself, requires consideration of both usefulness and appeal in solutions. Important subsets of design skills are communication — encompassing interpersonal and team interactions — and resource management, which includes time and other constraining variables. Design thinking skills are the mother of all transferable skill sets.

3. We want learners to become adept at accessing and using the resources they need to inform critical thinking and decision-making at work or in their study. I’ve written before about the importance of “distributed cognition” which proposes that knowledge is not confined to an individual, but rather it is distributed throughout an environment. We use external sources including other people, materials, and other tools and supports within the environment to help us solve problems. This applies to any task in any setting: I need to do this, so I need to know this and I need to use this.

There’s a wonderful dynamism between project-based work, design thinking skills, and the ability to assimilate resources that supports — indeed transcends — the subject domain or task area.

It begins by creating interesting problems: challenging, worthwhile, intriguing, surprising, complex problems that act as significant catalysts into the content and skills to be learned.