The last few weeks we’ve been thinking a lot about how to best articulate the importance of educational design. And then… serendipity at a Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise event where Al Fullerton spoke about a packaging innovation, the TomKat KoolPak. From a challenge to reduce impact on the Great Barrier Reef, Tom and Kath Long developed an environmentally responsible, thermally equivalent alternative to Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) fish boxes to transport their product direct to market. When they couldn’t find an appropriate alternative, they invented one.
It’s much easier to understand the need for design with material items or technology than with education. However, the principle is the same. How many years have we used the Polystyrene box for all sorts of things? We have accepted it as the default for storing and transporting cold produce for a long time. It is familiar, easy to understand, cheap, ubiquitous. However, while polystyrene has many benefits, it comes with consequences. 90% of these mostly single use containers make their way into landfill, the ocean and the food chain (you may want to check out the National Plastics Plan 2021). The packaging solution was actually negatively impacting on the sustainability of its own industry.
And the same applies with education. We are all used to the packaging learning comes in. We are comfortable with familiar, traditional forms and common-sense approaches, even though we know the results often fall far short of the mark. Not only that, but poor educational design also creates many short and long-term impacts on the people it is supposed to be helping.
Unfortunately, learning programs, including traditional schooling, can:
- Create learned helplessness
- Reduce learning agility
- Create a negative self-image as a learner
- Reduce creativity
- Promote transactional ways of working ie rewarding the learning to the test…
And so on. You can probably think of other negative impacts.
Polystyrene solutions are no doubt valid for some circumstances. However, we are short-changing everyone – students, employees, participants – when we apply these to every situation just because they are more familiar, or ignore the long-term consequences of cheap and easy approaches.
The TomKat KoolPak is reusable, 100% recyclable and it is high-performing. It is a result of a lot of care, thinking, problem-solving and collective intelligence. The product can now be used for purposes other than seafood. The initial investment in good design will pay off in scalability, transferability of the technology and sustainability for the community and the industry. It arose from an unwillingness to accept the limitations of what was on offer, of the familiar, well-accepted solution.
To channel this philosophy into education, we could:
- Raise our expectations and acknowledge the shortfalls in our education services and products.
- See past the limitations of the familiar and invest in design thinking for fit-for-purpose sustainable educational experiences that uplift and empower people for meaningful, happy, productive lives including employment.
- Be courageous in stepping out of the box (yes I went there) to create something new even when we don’t exactly know what it will look like or if it will work the first time.
- Think about programs as more than static, published, one-off offerings and consider them more as collections of high-quality, flexible resources, tools and interactions that can be repurposed and renewed in line with changing needs.