Work Backwards: A Design Thinking Approach To Higher Education

Education has always been designed forward, or from left to right. What do students already know, and what’s the logical progression? Secondary education follows primary education in language arts, social studies, math, and science. And while post secondary education allows greater choice, for most students the first 30 or 60 credits of general education follow naturally from what they learned in high school.

Forward works for some, but not nearly enough. With close to half of students who enroll in undergraduate degree programs failing to complete, alternatives are desperately needed. Enter Design Thinking, Silicon Valley’s problem-solving methodology of choice which starts with two precepts:

1. Empathize with those whom you’re trying to serve; and 2. Define their needs.

First and foremost, colleges and universities owe empathy to tuition-paying students. And although few are listening, students have been screaming for a few years that they need economic security via a good first job in a growing sector of the economy – screaming amplified last month by the report from Strada Education Network’s Institute for the Future of Work on the lasting effects of underemployment in the first job after college. Students are desperate to get a foot on the first rung of a career ladder with as little debt as possible.


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