How Will We Design The Next Wave Of Education Experiments?

by Paul Haluszczak

Education is an ongoing, never-ending experiment. Observations are made, questions are considered, research is conducted, new hypotheses come to the fore, small scale (or sometimes large scale) tests are conducted, data is collected and analyzed, results are reported, and new observations are made.

Round and round we go, year after year, generation after generation.

Although never-ending, the education experiment often comes up short in addressing the challenges found in the observations we make.

We ask: How do we create authentic learning opportunities? Yet, we retain rigid, standardized structures.

We ask: How do we support and honor multiple intelligences? Yet, we ask all learners to engage with the same learning materials through the same learning medium (most often neglecting any hands-on learning whatsoever).

We ask: How do we reach our most marginalized and underrepresented populations? Yet, we have systems in place that ask learners to leave their lived experiences at the school door and separate the “real world” from the “schooling world.”

The paradoxes could cold fill up an entire book. In fact, such a book was written by Gary Chapin and Carissa Carisa Carrow called 126 Falsehoods We Believe About Education.

Since education is an ongoing experiment and we tend to ask great questions but see minimal systemic change, what if we looked at an often neglected experimental strategy that puts the margins at the center?

Such thinking began in the 1960s and 1970s in Scandinavia under the moniker, cooperative design. When it made its way to the United States the name shifted to participatory design—as managers were hesitant to include their subordinates in change work that was all-inconclusive.

Of course, such a name change greatly slowed down the intention behind cooperative design, where, in the most inclusive sense, “all stakeholders of an issue, not just the users, [are included] throughout the entire process from research to implementation.”

Cooperative design can be seen in a more common design process called design thinking, a framework that one must be careful to approach as a flexible foundation rather than a rigid design formula so as not to dilute the original cooperative design intention of full inclusivity.

Given cooperative design’s inclusive nature, we can look at historical examples where “designing from the margins” or “designing with the margins centered” served everyone well.

Before you read that text

The idea of sending text messages was first formulated in 1984 by Matti Makkonen who “wanted to create a system that would help hearing-impared people communicate on mobile networks.” In 1992, the first text message was sent. In 2022, 18.7 billion texts are sent worldwide every day.

Could you help me peel the potatoes?

OXO is an everyday kitchen brand with a fascinating origin story. Founder, Sam Farber, noticed how difficult it was for his wife to use a metal potato peeler with her arthritic hands, so he designed a peeler with a comfortable, rubber grip. Arthritis or not, when staring down a mound of to-be-peeled potatoes, this rubber grip has been the preferred choice by everyone for over 30 years.

Hold the door!

The first modern day automatic doors were invented in 1931 by Horace H. Raymond and Sheldon S. Roby. The first use case was at a restaurant in Connecticut that was looking to increase the efficiency of staff moving through doorways holding stacks of plates and serving platters. Needless to say, the staff loved it.

Automatic doors quickly became the standard at grocery stores, banks, hospitals and hotels—a thankful reprieve for anyone without a free hand to pull open a heavy door.

As we think about cooperative design and designing for the margins, we can use these stories to inspire the next wave of education experiments that aim for equitable learning for all.