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Disrupting Design Education

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes.

It’s an exciting time to be working as an educator. Hybrid learning approaches – that bring together the best of studio education and remote education – are truly transforming learning experiences.

There are a number of businesses working on disrupting education: General Assembly, CareerFoundry and Treehouse, to name just three. I’m watching them all with interest. Many of these businesses, however, have adopted a mindset that education is easily scalable.

It isn’t.

To create truly transformative education experiences takes time. Add to this the fact that design, itself, is a very subjective field – with very few right or wrong answers – and the idea that you can ‘mechanise’ learning (especially design learning) is deeply flawed.

I’ve been working as an educator for 15+ years and as a designer for 25+ years. Sharing that knowledge with learners takes time. Yes, there are aspects of the process that we can streamline and improve, but the core process – imparting knowledge – is very difficult to streamline.

High quality education is not a ‘one size fits all’ endeavour. It requires a degree of finesse as you find the right knowledge for the learner at the right time in the right context.

Aligning these variables isn’t easy to automate. I’m sure it’s possible, but I have no doubt it’s difficult.

The problem with a lot of the (often Silicon Valley) disruptive innovators who are trying to ‘rethink education’ is that they have either no real experience of education, or very little.

They think that education can simply scale if you throw software at it – and then, if that doesn’t work – throw low-paid, poor-quality ‘mentors’ at it (mentors who would never be employed by a university, because they are sub-standard).

Education is all about:

  1. Knowledge; and
  2. Relationships (relationships between: educator and learner, and different pools of knowledge).

That’s hard to scale. This is something I’m working on just now and – from experience – I can tell you, it’s by no means easy.

There’s no doubt in my mind that education needs to be disrupted and the time for that disruption is now. My son has just graduated with a music degree (and a tonne of debt) and my daughter will, all being well, graduate with a silversmithing degree (and an eye-watering £60,000+ in debt). When I studied at Glasgow School of Art (1988-94) the fees were precisely: £0.

Sadly, the UK is following the US model and we are well and truly immersed in an age of the marketisation of education. I find that very sad, and as a father – supporting two children, hoping to pursue their dreams – I believe there has to be another way.

Education is a right, not a privilege. We urgently need to rethink education, particularly design education, ensuring that it is:

  1. Accessible;
  2. Affordable; and
  3. High Quality

I’m spending every moment thinking about this. I’m in the process of building a web-based curriculum based on two books I’m currently writing: one for Adobe (exploring UI); and one for Smashing Media (unraveling UX). These ‘courses in a book’ coupled with the ‘component decks’ I’m currently working on and publishing at Notist will be the heart of the curriculum.

My primary concerns: ensure the quality is high; ensure the curriculum is diverse; and ensure the price of admission is affordable. If you have thoughts on this, I’d love to hear from you and kickstart a conversation.

The above thoughts were very much inspired by a late night conversation with the wonderful Cat Noone. You should follow her, she’s super smart (and I’m delighted to call her a friend!).

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