IDEO Reimagines the Classroom

IDEO, the well-known Palo Alto design firm, in recent years has increasingly moved into service design and organizational design, branching out from their original work designing objects like the first Apple computer mouse, or the shopping cart shown on TV on a Nightline special in 1999, to design processes and systems. Now, IDEO is starting to redesign classrooms and schools, using its design thinking methodology.*

They got a huge opportunity in 2010. One of Peru’s richest men, billionaire Carlos Rodrigues-Pastor, decided to donate his money to reform education in Peru, where the education system is one of the world’s worst. He bought three private schools in Lima to get started, and he wanted to keep tuition $100 a month. But who do you call to design the school of the future? He might have called a university-based school of education; he might have called an education reform consulting firm; but Rodriguez-Perez got in touch with IDEO. It sounds like an odd choice, but IDEO has been doing so much work in schools that they have an Education Practice, led by Sandy Speicher. Speicher learned her education chops in the Learning, Design, and Technology (LDT) master’s degree program at Stanford University, just down the road from IDEO.

The Peru schools are called Innova Schools, and Speicher led a team of about ten designers to develop a curriculum, design the buildings, and prepare the business model. Innova’s innovation director said:

Speicher is very principled and the sort of person who would come into a discussion, listen to what we were saying, and somehow elevate it. She’s great at connecting dots.

IDEO came up with a blending learning model, with some instruction delivered online via computers, some with students on their own engaged in projects, and some with students doing group problem solving. But not really in a traditional classroom: The walls in these buildings can be adjusted to create bigger and smaller spaces, depending on the type of group work under way. Some “classrooms” are even outdoors! IDEO also developed 18,000 lesson plans, to help teachers get started.

Innova now has 23 schools with 13,500 students, and the plans are to keep building more schools. Stay posted for more details!

If you want to learn more about how to redesign schools based on the sciences of learning, look for my article “The Future of Learning” to be published in The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, Second Edition, Fall 2014. I argue that you can’t do it right if you don’t ground your innovations in the learning sciences. I’ll blog the article here when it’s published. We’re creating a new master’s degree program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that will give educational innovators the expertise to design successful innovative learning environments. We expect the first students to start Fall 2015, stay posted!

*Dimitra Kessenides, 2014, School’s Out(Side). In Bloomberg Business Week, March 24-April 6, page 99.

3 thoughts on “IDEO Reimagines the Classroom

  1. Right. I argue that new school designs should be grounded in the learning sciences, and our new MA degree at UNC will give graduates a strong grounding in evidence based designs. I believe Stanford’s MA in LDT also is connected to their learning sciences faculty.

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