Here is a challenge for you: name something you did in your education which felt like you were genuinely applying your learning to a real world scenario. Hopefully you are fortunate enough to think of one or more examples, but most of us will not. We learn in school, college, university, and then we work in the "real" world, but they are separate entities.
There are internships as part of courses, projects with companies or NGOs, and numerous other initiatives to try to de-silo the learning and get it out into the community around us in a symbiotic way. Many of these, however, can feel a bit scripted or too formulaic. Are we really in the real world? Will this company actually maybe do something with our findings or suggestions?
It is heartbreaking to watch (and we have seen it) students presenting months of hard work to a company to get a polite round of applause, some robust feedback and then...not much. Was the company involved in the process, or did they just drop by at the end. Did they come ready to take new ideas on board, or just to fulfil a function and tick the "partnership" box on this year's CSR report? Did the learners really have freedom to iterate in this project, or were they boxed in by parameters which were tightly tied to course reporting outcomes?
This sounds scathing, but if we are going to get education and employers really working together, it has to be meaningful and authentic; otherwise what is the point?
The scenario described above is more like problem based learning, where students are given a task to solve, such as how can we improve this company's customer service reviews, or what would a rebranding of their flagship product look like. However, if the process of solving that problem is too scripted, and the involvement of the company itself is just tokenistic, then it's not authentic learning at all and an opportunity has been missed.
Challenge-based learning is a deeper approach because the learner is asked to define the problem fully before even thinking about solving it. Now things get interesting, when we actually use a design thinking approach, it is impossible to script because this process, by definition, must be free-form. Real learning can happen here, as students use their creativity, collaboration, reflection, research and interdisciplinary learning to really understand what it is they are dealing with. Done right, this can throw out new insights that those who are inside a company might find more difficult to see.
Involve the company in the process and not just the outcome, and we have a real chance that something from this whole experience can be applied to the reality of the company's operations. If not, there will at least have been real and meaningful cooperation and co-creation of a problem definition and ideation stage.
We are so excited about this. The IE Challenge is the first project we have seen that promises a truly authentic learning experience which breaks down the theory-practice barrier and brings multidisciplinary skills and complex problem-solving out from the classroom right into the heart of a company's key development stage.
One of these companies, as you might have guessed, is NEO (hence the excitement). We genuinely have two areas we're willing to explore, and several groups of IE students will be working on them:
1. How might we discover and engage soft-skills savvy individuals on a long-term work relationship with institutions in need of hard-skills professionals?
2. How might we engage educational institutions to explore new ways of recruiting Gen Alpha students?.
Right now, almost 80 students are working on these two topics and will present their solutions to us in December, but we are not just hanging back until then. IE has structured the phases of design thinking to really push learners to define the problem in depth from every conceivable angle before even attempting a solution (something many of these challenges really miss).
NEO are invited in to take part in several mentoring sessions at key points in this process because, you know, that's how things actually work best in the real world. This is why we are excited- we have two genuine challenges to address, and we have well-supported students working on this via a properly structured programme with oversight, mentoring, interaction and adaptive fluidity.
Take note business schools, because this is how it's done. IE have ever impressed us, as you will see from the way they often pop up as a reference point or benchmark in our articles on the future of education. We cannot wait to share the results with you, and our insights from the process, and of course, we are ready and willing to shape, develop or just straight implement good ideas when they come in December. Watch this space!