Learning through design, analytics and failure

‘Failing successfully’ is an effective way to learn, says Mike Sharples, Professor of Educational Technology

New findings in a report from The Open University outline future trends which will impact on education and teaching in the next decade  

The Innovating Pedagogy report cites productive failure, formative analytics and design thinking amongst the top ten developments for the sector over the next 10 years.

The 2016 report is compiled in collaboration with National Institute of Education (NIE), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, to give an international perspective on the future of Higher Education. 

Success and failure analysed

Mike Sharples, Professor of Educational Technology at the Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, who is lead author of this year’s report, says: “Trying to ‘fail successfully’ sounds like a contradiction in terms but it’s an effective way to learn. Students can gain deeper understanding by exploring a topic before they are taught it. Looking at why something fails and analysing how to respond to this is a practical skill and something employers will value. In a similar vein, analysing a student’s performance to predict failure or success is going to be a big trend as educational establishments develop their student support using big data.”

Professor Chee Kit Looi, Head of the Learning Sciences Lab, NIE, said: “NIE has been conducting ongoing research in many school-based pedagogical interventions to prepare students in Singapore to be future-ready, including the nurturing of 21st century skills. These include orchestrating collaborative learning in the classroom with formative analytics, designing mobile inquiry science learning activities to promote self-directed learning, and promoting design thinking of students in makerspaces.”

Top three trends

The top three predicted trends are:

Productive failure

Productive failure is being piloted in 26 schools in Singapore. It’s a method of teaching that gives students complex problems to attempt to solve before receiving direct instruction. By struggling and sometimes failing to find a solution, the students gain a deeper understanding of the problem and how to find a route to its answer.

In traditional teaching, tutors give students content and concepts and then the students practise. In productive failure, the opposite happens – students try to solve ill-structured problems first, and then get direct teacher instruction.  Although it requires a shift in how people teach, this approach can help students become more creative and resilient over time.

Formative analytics

The OU has built on its expertise in learning analytics to create formative analytics, tracking learners’ progress through the first few weeks of a course, at which point it is possible to predict if they will succeed or fail. The software uses demographic data and student activity in the virtual learning environment, plus previous students’ behaviour patterns to make its predictions. Tutors can then work closely with learners to intervene in an appropriate way, looking at what can be improved, which goals can be achieved and how they should progress in future. 

Up to February 2016, 70,000 Open University students had been supported by this programme and the next stage is to build a ‘recommender’ which will give tutors ideas on remedial action.

Design thinking

Design thinking places learners in contexts that make them think like designers, creating innovative solutions that address people’s needs. Learners need to solve technical problems but they also need to understand how users will feel when employing the solutions.  Design thinking is a social as well as mental process; it involves thinking across different perspectives – for instance, students designing a computer game need to think from the perspective of a good teacher as well as that of a game player. This pedagogy encourages the teacher and students to take risks and try new methods.

An Open University project using this principle is RE:FORM – ‘Reimagining Education for the Future Of Redistributed Manufacturing’. OU design students work remotely over the internet with distant trainee fabrication learners (‘makers’) based in MAKLab, Glasgow, to collaboratively design and build full scale chair prototypes that are fabricated using industrial CNC routers.

Innovating Pedagogy 2016 can be accessed at: www.open.ac.uk/innovating.

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