IDEO.org, the non-profit social innovation branch of the IDEO design firm, recently took on the project of redesigning the student experience “as part of a new blended learning college aimed at low and middle income students in the United States.” IDEO.org designer Marika Shioiri-Clark offers some conclusions in “Synthesizing Toward a Disruptive New Model for Education in the United States”:
Inspiration means that students must find relevance in the topics that they’re studying, and understand the meaning in their own lives. We’ve seen some innovative project-based teaching models where students learn content in several different academic areas as applied to a hands-on project. One school used the topic “Build a Boat” to teach buoyancy, physics, geometry, and craft, and ended with a launch party, as students saw the boat they had designed and built actually floating. Show a student how a concept that they’re learning has ramifications in their own everyday lives, and they’ll work that much harder to master it.
Momentum means that students are able to build school into their routine, and to understand that they are on a path to a specific goal. Many students we talked to lamented the sense that they didn’t know what they wanted to study, and thus wandered from major to major, or that they didn’t even know what the benefit of a degree would be in the long run. Some students also worried about inadvertently losing connection to the tenuous momentum they had built by taking even small breaks from a study routine. One online masters student discussed completing a semester’s work in a hospital room while her son lay recovering. “I was worried that if I took time off even for a week, I would never go back.”
Support means that students have access to a network of people who will help them to finish their education, and shepherd them through points of weakness. Many students we met with had few mentors or role models to help them along; indeed, often their parents didn’t much care if they finished college or not. In this environment, the role of teachers and school counselors becomes ever more critical in instilling in students the sense that finishing school is important. We sometimes heard lines like “I felt like if I dropped out, no one would care or even notice.” And because students often cited a desire to make others proud as a driving force in their efforts, having someone at the finish line to congratulate them is paramount.
How might we build on these three crucial elements of student motivation to introduce a truly disruptive new model of education in the United States? We’re developing concepts as we speak, and are pretty excited about some of the ideas we’ve already come up with at this early stage. Onward and upward!