Digital Platforms: Demystifying and Democratizing Design Thinking for Learning


We hear a lot about design thinking across board-rooms and classrooms. But, what does design thinking have to do with learning and teaching? Well, ‘Design’ has come far from the studios of select few mavericks focused on creating ‘cool products’ to being Design Thinking: the human-centered improve-ment of experience that includes products and services.

Ok, but why is it important to include Design Thinking (DT) in a classroom? For one, the 5-steps of the typical DT cycle: empathize, dene, ideate, prototype and test provide a good framework for solving problems and make the world better a better place: the end-goal of any learning. Apart from improving the process of learning itself, DT also widens the scope of learning beyond literacies to include development of skills such as creative thinking, critical thinking, collaboration and communication. None would debate the need for these skills to success in the 21st century world both for an individualin his life and for us, as a nation aspiring for its rightful place.

Yet, adoption of DT is not yet as wide-spread as it should have been owing to challenges of costs, capabilities, contexts and not the least, of mind-sets. That leaves us, begging the question: how can we demystify and democratize adoption of DT in classrooms.

At a policy-systems level, all who matter are talking and emphasizing ‘tinkering’, innovation’ and ‘design’ as part of school and college learning and that is a good start. At an individual institutional level, some of the progressive schools with resources have initiated this journey by partnering with experts. But the key to mass adoption and making it integral to the learning process lies in co-opting the advances and proliferation of the evolving digital platforms and technologies. It is best achieved as a 2-step process, given the risk averse nature of many learning institutes to any disruption in existing systems and schedules.

The first step is to make a small b e g i n n i n g w i t h ‘ d e s i g n t h i n k i n g activities’ as part of the co-curricular programs with few of the ‘open minded’ staff taking ownership for facilitating this in a specific space, a la design studio. Once students start tinkering with the resources m a d e a v a i l a b l e , e n g a g e w i t h t h e structured yet liberating process of design thinking, the enthusiasm becomes infectious. That’s when you take the second step of unshackling ‘design thinking’ and ‘innovation’ from the limits of a single-specific room /staff with specific project manipulatives and make it an institution wide, every learning room phenomena. This leap can best be aided by leveraging the digital platforms for the different phases of design thinking, some of which are discussed below.

Simulated Environments give students the chance to be ‘in the moment’ experientially without being there physically helping build empathy. Imagine experiencing the horrors of wars virtuallyin a history classroom. Augmented Reality(AR) and Virtual Reality(VR) are close t o b rining t ruly immersive experiences to classrooms as Facebook ( O c u l u s ) , M i c r o s o f t ( H o l o L e n s ) , HTC(Vive) to Google(Cardboard) drive down costs and develop more experiences for learning.

Defining and Ideating are best done working in groups with tools to capture and communicate what everyone visualizes. Unlike post-it’s and white-boards that limit you to a room, tools like Google Keep, Mural and Trello will mainstream digital visualization and collaboration not just within different classes or departments of a school but across schools and colleges.

While prototyping is the most critical and fun part for a learner, it is least scalable due to constraints of time, material availability, expertise and costs. I posit that the intersection of VR/AR with digital design tools like Tinkercad and affordable 3D Printers make rapid digital prototyping, complete, comprehensive and adoptable across situations and by everyone.

Finally, testing lets you improve with feedback, and this reection is important for learning to progress. Some digital platforms like the simple Google shared drives to advanced Digital Portfolio Systems like Seesaw make testing and feedback collection easy and scalable.

I have barely scratched the surface on how digital platforms can be used by learners and teachers for wider adoption of DT. How policy-makers can use it for making systemic and strategic changes is a topic for some other day.

Venkatesh Datla is a Co-founder at Creya Learning (www.creyalearning.com), the pioneer of integrative STEM Learning and Design Thinking for 21st Century Skills. He is deeply invested into the advocacy of the ‘thinking through tinkering’ movement and believes building empathy in students is an essential precursor for them to apply learning and make the world a better place.