Learner-Centered Design

Greg Whitby shared this post by Richard Branson, referencing the book, “The End of Average” by Todd Rose (how is that for an “inception” sentence to start off a blog post!). In it, he shares a great story of end-user designed innovation, as well as his own experience in education:

The End of Average uses the example from the US Air Force to illustrate this point. Upon investigating why pilots were struggling to control their planes in the 1950s, US Air Force discovered that it had nothing to do with pilot error, but instead the way the cockpits were designed – to best fit the ‘average’ pilot of the 1920s. The Air Force measured 4,000 pilots on 10 dimensions of size, assuming that most would be within the average range for most dimensions, and many would fit all 10. Zero pilots fitted the average size profile. “By designing the cockpit for the average man, they were designing jets for nobody,” says Rose. The Air Force responded by adopting a design that was adjustable, which led to the invention of the adjustable seat – an innovation that we now take for granted.

The concept of ‘average’ has failed us in many different aspects of life – most notably in our educational institutions. (emphasis mine) I can’t overemphasise how useless I was at school. I didn’t fit in, and couldn’t keep up and was left convinced that I was lazy and dumb. Not seeing any benefits from remaining in education, I left school aged 16. But then something happened: beginning life as entrepreneur, no longer forced to focus of subjects I had no interest in, I turned my attention to things that I could see the relevance in and that I was passionate about. My brain opened up, and so did my world.

The things that really struck me about this post is regarding the notion of serving the end-user.  Similar to the pilots, schools need to be “learner-centred”, not “learning-centred”; there is a significant difference in these statements.

I recently saw a quote being shared through social media and went something along the lines of “If a teacher explains the same thing to a child 100 times, and they still don’t understand, it is not the child that is a slow learner.”  That really struck a chord with me.

When I first shared my thoughts on the “8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset“, the first characteristic shared was “empathetic”.  If that trait does not exist, how innovative could we truly be?  Without understanding that the learner and their needs are our number one focus, it doesn’t make much sense, the term “innovation” in education simply becomes a buzzword, and nothing more.


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