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Design

Adapting education to the way we learn

When we started out Creators School, I got this scary feeling that we were way out of our league, like we didn't have the experience to teach anyone about anything. But as soon as I got over the panic stage, I got excited about the idea of taking a different approach at teaching. So I did a lot of research about education in order to discover new approaches to teaching and better understand how people embrace learning, how to get them 'in the zone'. I came across some interesting concepts that I'd like to share, to contribute for this fascinating subject that is so critical to our future.

“You teach me I forget, You show me I remember, You involve me I understand.”

- E.O. Wilson

Since I was a student, that I had the feeling this sentence made perfect sense and I just couldn’t comprehend why the learning system didn’t adapt to the way people learn. A lot of technical schools started implementing a different, more practical way of teaching, involving students in real-world projects, facing real problems which led to better professionals, with more experience and more capable of dealing with the misadventures of their area of expertise. You can also see this happening with the online courses, for example in Code School, where you get a bit of theory that’s complemented with images of real code, comprehensively explained, leading to some exercises. You can’t proceed to the next level without completing all exercises, which makes this step mandatory, forcing people to really work and get involved in order to complete the course.

Another creative way of engaging students is by setting up a scenario of salutary competition, preferably in teams with 2/3 elements. Give them a goal, show them how professionals deal with the problems they’re facing, teach them the processes of generating a solution and allow them to learn by every misstep they take. The sense of responsibility of having people depending on you, will spark your brain, while the competition will feed your natural wish to win and make you do research, read and learn stuff that not even the teacher knew you’d learn. It’s about giving them the freedom to pursue knowledge and the stimulus not to rest until they do find a way to do what they want to. This is a truly powerful combo, with proven results, combining teamwork, communication, resourcefulness and leadership. They learn without sensing they are learning, which is exactly the way people love to learn. That’s why most of the people i know learned English by watching movies and listening to music or even why a lot of great musicians taught themselves how to play an instrument without ever going to a music school.

Considering how many job opportunities arise in the new tech industries, it’s not a surprise to see many companies investing in education, trying to mould their workers to fit the company’s requirements and culture. At the same speed, there’s been an increase in technical workshops, books and conferences. People are willing to put in the time to be better at their craft, to do that little extra so they can have a shot at that promotion or on their application for the perfect job. The tendency is to increase the number of resources available for the students, as well as the level of the teachers and content lectured.

But you can’t teach without being honest about what you’re teaching. How can a Design graduate teach design without ever have worked on a design studio? Or even after he worked 2 or 3 years and then commit himself to teaching full-time and never got to design anything ever again?

How can you teach practically what you only know theoretically? Where’s the honesty in that?

You can spend years learning about a subject, but if you don’t live it, if you don’t depend on it every day, you shouldn’t be able to teach it. How do you trust a teacher whose sole connection to the subject is teaching it? That’s like a chef that loves cooking but has never tasted his own food.

Sir Ken Robinson described the kind of person you’d want to be teaching you, at his Ted Talk in 2010. He said:

“I meet people who love what they do and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. If you said to them: ‘Don’t do this anymore’ they’d wonder what you’re talking about, because it isn’t what they do, it is who they are. “

I was lucky enough to have a few teachers who actually had their own design studios and dealt with real design problems on a daily basis, while they still found the time to teach newcomers the nitty-gritty of the craft. It was from those teachers that i got the most defying challenges and the most valuable knowledge. They lived it, so they could teach it.

“Real teaching is not about transferring "the material", as if knowledge were some sort of mass-produced commodity that ships from Amazon. Real teaching is about conveying a way of thinking. How can a teacher convey a way of thinking when he doesn't genuinely think that way?”

- Bret Victor

Also, people who love what they do take great benefits from teaching it to others. Teaching is actually one of the best ways to learn even more about the subject than you already know. You get across lots of challenges and problems from the students as well as creating the exercises and examples that you need to provide. It’s great practice to leave your comfort zone and challenge yourself to teach others your craft and pass them your expertise.

We need to change the way we teach in order to improve the way we learn. We must understand the way of thinking that’s valuable and meaningful to what we do and then try to share this understanding in a way that’s clear and relatable to others. It has to be real so it can only be done by those who really live in what they do.

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João Ferreira

About João Ferreira

Believes that Design is not about mastering a tool, but about mastering people. Knows some of Godfather's quotes by heart.