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Design thinking at scale - Investigating the MOOC potential of design thinking training

Our team observes opportunities of teaching and learning design thinking in online settings. Since late 2014 we observe the landscape of digitally offered design thinking courses as well as the research on learning outcomes associated with design thinking training formats.

The two responsible researchers in Prof. Dr. Christoph Meinel’s team are:

1. Mana Taheri was born and raised in Tehran, where she studied her bachelor degree in Economics. She continued her studies in Economics and Management at Humboldt University and completed her master’s degree in Berlin, Havana and Istanbul. Her research interests lie in the impact of learning Design Thinking in individuals’ professional lives, in different cultural contexts as well as in diverse media formats for learning such as podcasting.

2. Thomas Unterholzer studied educational science (B.A.) and continued his studies in Education & Media-eEducation at the Distance University of Hagen where he completed his master’s degree. Thomas is also an alumni of the HPI School of Design Thinking where he finished his Advanced Track in 2013. His interest lies in the learners’ acceptance of technological building blocks in MOOCs as well as creating a better general understanding of design thinking learning outcomes.

 

Existing efforts of teaching design thinking online

Design Thinking has arguably become a state-of-the-art innovation methodology. It has received increasing attention from both media and educational institutes around the globe. Consequently, there is an increasing demand for Design Thinking education. In this research we aim to answer the question of whether and how Design Thinking can be taught in the form of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that promise scalable teaching. In our research we discuss the potentials as well as challenges of teaching Design Thinking in a MOOC environment. In order to learn about the pedagogies and practices required for high quality teaching, we looked into four Design Thinking MOOCs and through the lens of a widely used pedagogical framework called the Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. We also pay careful attention to the technological features and the didactical methods applied in selected courses and how they support the fulfillment of these principles.

 

Looking at the four selected courses from a pedagogical perspective, using the Seven Principles framework, provided us with the clues about how each principle is supported in an online environment. This allowed us to answer the question of whether Design Thinking can be taught with a high pedagogical quality in MOOCs. Table 2 demonstrates the evaluation results. Since the point of this evaluation was to identify the best practices, we decided to omit the course names and refer to the courses using successive numbers.

 

 

Course 1

Course 2

Course 3

Course 4

1) Encouraging contact between the students and faculty

Very Low

Very High

High

Low

2)Encouraging cooperation among the students

Very Low

High

Very High

High

3) Encouraging active learning

Very Low

High

Very High

Very High

4) Providing prompt feedback

Low

Medium

Low

High

5) Emphasizing time on tasks

Very Low

High

Very High

Low

6) Communicating high expectations

Very Low

Very High

Very High

Very High

7) Respecting and supporting diverse talents and ways of learning

Very Low

Low

Low

Medium

Table 1 An overview of the evaluation results based on the framework of The Seven Principles of Good Practices in Undergraduate Education.

The results show that all the seven principles have been supported in one way or another in these MOOCs, although the level in which they are fulfilled varies from course to course. Thus the pedagogical principles assuring high quality teaching can be achieved in a MOOC environment. Despite the seemingly challenging nature of principle 7, the digital setting seems better suited to treat a massive number of learners individually than a typical classroom. This offers an interesting research opportunity in the field of adaptive learning environments.

 

Three domains of learning outcomes in DT education

Whereas technological and didactical decisions play a key role in (digital) course design the starting point should be defining achievable learning outcomes of the training session or program.

It is worth noting that there is no universal definition of design thinkingand there are clear disparities among experts regarding the general understanding of design thinking (von Thienen et al. 2010), let alone its expected learning outcomes.Therefore and additionally because of the wide variety of formats in which it is taught, it is time to raise the question: What do people learn as a result of taking part in a design thinking training? What are the expected learning outcomes of design thinking? Defining clear learning outcomes will help instructors and course designers to communicate achievable learning objectives and to manage the participants’ expectations within a given setting.

Based on an educational model built on three domains of learning outcomes (affective, cognitive and skill-based) (Kraiger, Ford, Salas, 1993) a literature review revealed a strong emphasis on the affective outcomes of design thinking in research, such as creative confidence, and on the cognitive outcomes,such as mindshifts. However, it is important to point out the threat of neglecting the skill-based outcomes; as this may eventually result in unrealistic expectations about what can be achieved in a training and applied afterwards. This is especially the case in professional trainings where individuals hope to apply their learnings within their own working context.

While believing in the potential of design thinking as an innovative problem solving methodology is achievable in a short workshop format, developing design thinking mindsets or skills might require more time and effort.

The developed model suggests that affective outcomes such as creative confidence and believing in the potential of design thinking can be achieved in early stages of experience with design thinking (e.g. in a short and pre-scripted workshop format). Cognitive outcomes can also be reached during early experiences with the methodology. For instance, participants might understand the value of talking to users or working in interdisciplinary teams. On the other hand, although participants go through hands-on activities early on and apply several skills (e.g. interviewing users), the lack of critical feedback regarding the skills -especially in short workshop settings with focus on productive outcomes and learning experience - results in rather slow development of skill-based learning, especially for those who have no prior expertise in those skills (e.g. no prior experience with user research). Thus although the design thinking way of working can be experienced in a short format with guidance from a coaching team, in order to develop related skills and deeper level of cognitive understanding, more time and constructive feedback on practice is needed. It is worth noting that skills related to empathy work (e.g. qualitative interview and immersion) are of significant importance in applying a successful project using design thinking.

Setting up a design-based research approach

Further, the research team aims at setting up an online course on Design Thinking in collaboration with the openHPI platform— one of the Europe’s frontrunner MOOC providers.

When checked for the application of the 7 principles openHPI offers great possibilities with its various technological features as well as a highly experienced team behind the platform. Following a design based research approach we will create interventions and survey acceptance as well as effects on the participants’ learning progress. Furthermore, by researching Design Thinking and MOOCs we expect a positive side effects for MOOC research in general in other fields from the perspective of didactics, course design as well as technical support and potential new features.

 

Team

     Principal Investigator

     Prof. Dr. Christoph Meinel

     PhD/Research Fellows

     Mana Taheri

     Thomas Unterholzer

Selected Publications

Taheri, M., & Meinel, C. (2015, June). Pedagogical Evaluation of the Design Thinking MOOCs. In Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference for Design Education Researchers, Chicago, USA, 469-481. PDF

Taheri, M., Unterholzer, T. & Meinel, C. (2016, March). An educational perspective on design thinking learning outcomes. In Proceedings of ISPIM Innovation Forum, Boston, USA fileadmin/user_upload/fachgebiete/meinel/papers/Design_Thinking/2016_taheri_unterholzer_ispim.pdfPDF