Design and Design Thinking in Education

Human beings continuously create things—technologies, organizations, processes, environments, ways of thinking, or systems.  Creating or recreating new things requires we engage in design.  “Design thinking is an activity that is implicit in the process of design” (Koh, Chai, Wong, & Hong, 2015, p.2).

Today, people’s interest in design and design thinking have intensified, including within the educational sector.  The potential of design thinking in improving curriculum and pedagogy has been advanced by a growing number of scholars and educational leaders (Friesen, 2009; Friesen & Jacobsen, 2015; Laurillard, 2012; Trebell, 2009; Tsai, Chai, Wong, Hong & Tan, 2013).

In many ways, many teachers and administrators have been involved in design thinking before the term became popular in education.  There have always been those in education who paid close attention to learning as it was unfolding and made modifications and changes to support and enhance ongoing learning.  That said, design and design thinking represent a radical departure from “teacher as implementer” or “administrator as implementer” of someone else’s curriculum document, policy, or plan. 

In this video, Dr. Douglas Clark, Research Professor of Design Thinking in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary challenges educators to draw upon design thinking to create some of the needed and necessary changes within education.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Dr. Clark makes the point that changes to curriculum as enacted and learned, pedagogy, and assessment might be difficult within education because it has such a long history tied to images of implementation.  Why might design thinking provide an opportunity to rethink approaches to curriculum as enacted and learned, pedagogy, and assessment?
  2. How might design thinking enable students gain the “tools they do need” to learn and live well in a contemporary society?
  3. Dr. Marlene Scardamalia, professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto argues that many students are asked to operate in “schoolwork mode” where the object of their day is successfully carrying out assigned activities.  What might design thinking offer students as an alternative to “schoolwork mode.”


Friesen, S. (2009).  Teaching effectiveness framework: A framework and rubric.  Toronto, CA: Canadian Education Association. Retrieved from

Friesen, S. & Jacobsen, M. (2015). A design-based approach to teachers’ professional learning: Through a design-based, iterative learning process, classroom teachers gain practical knowledge of “know-how” and “know-why.” Canadian Education Association. Retrieved from

Koh, J.H.L., Chai, C.S., Wong, B., Hong, H.-Y. (2015).  Design thinking for education.  Singapore: Springer.

Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a design science: Building pedagogical patterns for learning and technology. London: Routledge.

Tsai, C-C; Chai, C.S,; Wong, B.; Hong, H-Y; Tan, S. (2013).  Educational technology and society, 16(2), 81-90.