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Educated By Design Blog

Filtering by Tag: Learning Theories

4 Ways Soft Skills Will Prepare Students To Overcome Hard Challenges. #4 Will Surprise You.

Michael Cohen


In education today, there at times can be an overemphasis on the value of specific skills. It is these skills that then define the success of our students. We then expect students to automatically appreciate and value these skill sets to the same degree as we do. Just last night I was discussing the value of memorization with a new colleague. He was adamant that memorization helps build capacity and allows for great problem solving skills later. While I agreed with him, I questioned memorization as a skills and ability rather than a rote process. I can recite to you the preamble, tell you where just about any country in the world is located, and even name drop a couple elements from the periodic table. For what?!? Why do I need any of that? Is it to be considered well rounded? Intellectual? Please. If my entire learning experience 4th-12th can be googled then what do I need school and learning for? This is NOT what we want our students to be able to say.  

The struggle in education is that our reference point worked for us, but it simply does not work anymore. Technology has developed a tool for knowledge access and that is a threat. It's the same level of threat as the pencil was to Socrates and the Greek methods of learning. What we need to do is step back and look at the essence of these skills that we are programing, I mean preparing our students succeed with are similar to mini Google search engines. The problem is that Google is way better than any student could ever become. Remember, a good robot stores and recalls information efficiently, executes commands within a hair’s breadth, and does not deviate from its pre-programmed parameters. Sound like the “ideal student” right? In the end, we are teaching students from a very young age not to think for themselves, discover on their own, and more importantly take risks knowing that those risks could help them reach a higher level in their learning. That is why it is critical to help students develop a mindset that focuses not just on skill and ability but on how they output and manage their learning experiences. As an educator we need to aid students in rising above these standardized skills as the sole method of success. This will also allow them to better understand technology’s role in helping them reach greater heights.  


Now there are dozens of ways that technology can help us in teaching and learning. I have found the following four to be impactful but most importantly scalable. Yes even creativity is scalable. 


Artifacts of Learning






This is one of the most critical areas of learning. Where is the evidence? How is success measured?  How do I know you learned something, or better yet how do you know you learned something? In general this area is addressed via worksheets, quizzes, and cumulative tests. It's all about the sumative. While there is nothing wrong with these assessment tools, they tend to rank low on the engagement scale, high on the anxiety scale, and give you a very standardized and even limited glimpse into the minds of students, only to the point of knowing they can regurgitate pieces of information and forget it after the test successfully. There are many ways in which technology is able to completely redefine how learning can been showcased as an artifact. These articles of learning can not only demonstrate students understanding but can also be used to support the learning of other students. The reason why I tend to describe student work as artifacts, is because I want student work to have life to it, and have substance. I want their work to tell a story. I want student work to be something someone can look at, learn from, and appreciate. I have never seen a worksheet achieve that, but you never know.


Artifacts of Learning in Theory

Traditional evidence of learning is found through essays, worksheets, and tests. Consider how technology can empower students to development artifacts that can provide evidence of understanding. 

Artifacts of Learning in Practice

Using social engagement as a reference point, consider what excites students in today's world. Look at how visual, audial, and interactive media outranks almost all other experiences. Look at how students could create a video, graphic poster, or interactive publication or game that provides the same or even greater level of understanding than traditional work. How can we design learning so that student output is used to facilitate the learning of other students? I share some lessons in depth in one of my iBooks here


The creativite process seems to be purged right around the 3rd grade when students then become inundated with standardized and constraining learning experiences. We define creativity as a talent rather than a way of thinking and approaching problems to solve. These problems could be your own inter struggle of expression, or those affecting others. So how is creativity manifesting outside of our schools? Think for a moment about the massive success of social media. What is it that makes it so contagious? Two words, Creativity and Shareablity. At one point social media was about “what you ate for breakfast today” or “that awesome vacations to Tahiti”. The main players in the social media game Snapchat and Instagram have shifted their strategy to that of telling stories, and storytelling is ALL about creative expression. Creativity is about promoting ownership, choice, and knowing that others will benefit from or enjoy your work. Creativity pushes us to go the extra mile and challenges us to create a product or solution that makes an impact. While it's ok to set limits and create guidelines, it is beyond vital to bring creativity back into the classroom. When I was in 9th grade I taught myself how to use Photoshop 6.0. While 1998 might not seem that long ago, it was still years before Youtube or Google, so my skill development was limited to experimentation, asking a friend, or Photoshop 6 for Dummies to master this complex software. Still, I was driven by a thirst for creativity and control, and drove me it did. Nearly 20 years later, I have taught Graphic Design courses to 5th graders, High Schoolers, and even at the College level through the lens of creative freedom, opportunity, and experience.


Creativity in Theory

Creativity is about challenging ourselves to thinking in a non linear way to solve problems, communicate ideas, and help others. It give a person pride and ownership that can be shared and seen by others. This is a powerful ingredient for the classroom.

Creativity in Practice

There are so many ways to engage creativity in the classroom. Students can use photograph, film, animation, and design to create projects that are unique. Further they can use strategies like Design Thinking to understand how 50 ideas synthesized together will solve a challenge to a greater degree than one or two ideas. Take a short movie or graphic poster for example. Such a project not only shows student learning but it can be used as a resource for others to learn from unlike a student’s filled in worksheet.



It all started with someone drawing in a cave. It might have just been some scratch paper, or maybe a manifesto for generations, but one thing is for certain. Humans are designed to connecting and communicate. Two of my favorite communication quotes are “Communication is key” and “Communication is a two way street”. It's not enough for our students to simply understand their teacher They need the space and the ability for their teacher to understand them as well. This is one of areas in a classroom that is critical to foster a potentially positive and successful learning environment. Verbal, written, and even visual communication all play a role in how we connect and share information with each other. Our ability to communicate with students effectively and give them a voice as well will directly enhance the other areas of life and lead to an increase in student’s academic success. 


Communication in Theory

Communication is one of those differentiation challenges every teacher faces. How, when, and to whom we communicate with is very complex. The question that should be asked is how can technology or other methods of instruction besides frontal teaching allow for communication to change or be enhanced.

Communication in Practice

Two amazing examples of how communication is redefined in the classroom is through the use of technology and student leadership. Technology can allow for discussions to take place in a way that students who are introverts can feel empowered to contribute to a conversation, or be used as an archive for reference later. Remember, you can't be paused yourself, and while recording a lecture is one way of using technology, it does not produce a very engaging artifact. The second is student leadership which beyond clubs and the extra curricular, should be about identifying students who can be lead learning in the classroom. Instead of enriching advanced students with “extra work”, challenge them to help their peers. This is a nature always demonstrate their level of understanding of the material. 



There is a double edge sword with efficiency. Efficiency doesn't mean getting done quick or being first. At times, it might mean extending an experience to ensure that later down the road things will run quickly and smoothly. It's where their short long road and the long short road meet up. In education, we are so focused on the short long road because of our ability to measure success more often. Many times in fear of not covering all the curriculum we rush through areas of learning, or feel that technology and other tools, methods, and process can not be incorporated for fear that we won't meet curricular objectives. That is because efficiency is about quality AND quantity. Therefore it is critical as educators to ensure that we are making the best use of time, being properly organized, and clear in our expectations.


Efficiency in Theory

Efficiency allows for us to not just get work done, but complete it in an organized and effective way. This has two benefits. One is that it allows for work to be completed at a faster pace allowing for more learning to occur and second it allows for students to learn at a self paced rate allowing for enrichment for strong learners and support for struggling learners.

Efficiency in Practice

Mapping out learning is critical for success in the classroom. It isn’t enough for you to have a carefully planned lesson or unit outline. Students need to have this as well to allow for them to best organize and plan out their learning. Consider creating a week long list of objectives that promote student choice in how they are completed rather then you being the exclusive guide of the learning process.


These four areas should focus on complementing or enhancing your teaching practice and student learning. We sometimes compartmentalize teaching and learning. The crossover between the two is where meaningful learning occurs. These teas are meant to enhance the learning culture of the classroom to allow successful learning to occur. It also gives a foundation when considering how other models such as SAMR, TPACK, RAT, Design Thinking, and PBL can be used in the classroom to avoid extremes or overstauration of progressive models that can support learning. These are some of the fundamental skills to prepare students to succeed. In the end no model will achieve success without a high quality, passionate, and self-sacrificing educator in the room aka you.


Why Elementary Students Should Learn How To Design



Image Courtesy of:

In middle school, incoming 6th graders are met with an overwhelming change in how they learn. One teacher multiples into six or seven, school becomes longer, and students are expected to become super organized and able to communicate on a whole new level.

"This is why elementary students must learn about Design." 

Students must understand why it's important to be aware and thoughtful when creating even the most menial documents. Design evokes emotion, and gives a person a connection to a visual object. Typography, layout design, color theory, are inseparable parts of everyday life. The letter types of street signs, the colors emitted from lightbulbs, everyday objects are carefully designed to give people a positive and enjoyable experience. We expect certain colors, and letter types around us, and it's only after they are altered that we become aware of how truly powerful their impact is on us.


Student learn basic math and science because they are the foundation of understanding how the world works, yet not every student will become a mathematician or scientist. Similarly, learning design doesn't mean you must become a designer, but it will help you view the world differently. One of the biggest misconceptions is that design is just about making advertisements and posters.

"Design is about making conscience decisions that verbally or visually connect people and ideas."

We do this every day with our students, friends, and co-workers yet we still make powerpoint slides that look like this

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 10.52.31 PM

instead of like this Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 10.52.39 PM

Source: @emilanddc

Flat Design

Flat design is a trending design style that utilizes geometric shapes, color, and smooth lined letter types. Below is the ever popular Facebook logo which was recently updated with those elements in mind. By dropping the blue highlight at the bottom, and utilizing positive and negative space with the "f", these small yet powerful adjustments have strengthened the logo's visual pop.

Challenging students to make good design choices enhances their critical thinking, problem solving, communication, decision making and organization skills. It teaches them how to simplify their ideas so they are clearly understood and internalized by the viewer. Design was not always this way. Below is an example of a logo that has experienced one hundred years of design as it abandons high contrast muddied imagery, and replaces it with simple, sharp, and powerful form.

Who can teach this?

While many teachers are already overwhelmed by meeting learning quotas, every teacher can themselves learn, and model proper design concepts that can be integrated into the many projects already planned for the year. Design can be taught as a class but in an elementary or middle school environment this would not be realistic or even productive. Like technology, design should be used to enhance current learning experiences or stimulate new ones, they should not be an end unto themselves.

"Students are not interested in learning when it isn't relevant to them, and design is no different."