Educating our future innovators

By Christian Rangen:

Education and innovation rarely go hand in hand. In fact, the educational industry is generally considered to be low and slow when it comes to innovation. Young people “learn how to innovate most often despite their schooling—not because of it”, writes Tony Wagner. Wagner, a former high school teacher, now Professor at Harvard Business School on education and innovation has researched innovation in education for a number of years. Now, he’s publishing his work. It is a must read for everyone and everyone concerned with educating our future innovators.

Educating the Next Steve Jobs
– How can schools teach students to be more innovative? Offer hands-on classes and don’t penalize failure
is the title of his Wall Street Journal essay. It is a brilliant piece on what we need to do to change our educational strucutures to build future innovators.

Wagner’s book “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World” is just out. It should be on everyone’s reading list this spring. In it’s very essence, Wagner argues that we shouldn’t teach innovation as a course. We should build innovative thinking and hands-on problem solving into the fabric of every course, of every educational program. Because, like Wagner writes “…young Americans learn how to innovate most often despite their schooling—not because of it”.

You can also check out the website, Future Innovators.

Harvard Business School has taken these principles to heart with their new educational innovations; FIELD and Start-Up Boot camp. FIELD (Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development) is designed to bridge the Knowing-Doing Gap. It puts students on the ground, around the world, taking on real-life challenges as part of their education. In it’s first year, this “grand experiment” put more than 900 students on planes, trains and boats to travel to India, China, Israel, Vietnam, Brazil, South Africa where they designed, planned and executed real-life business and non-profit challenges. Labelled “turning a new leaf”, the goal is very clear: To equip Harvard MBAs for business in a global world.

Another educational experiment is the Start-Up Boot Camp. While many schools offer courses in how to write a business plan, or how to start a company (in theory), “no school has made the launch of a real business a requirement until now”, writes Fortune Magazine. Harvard’s program chair calls it “part of a bold and highly unusual initiative within Harvard”.

Combined, these two new educational innovations are perfect examples of what Wagner recommends. We need to rethink the fundemental premises for teaching and learning. We need to introduce experimentation. We need to enable the students to start, act and reflect, rather than just study.

For BI Norwegian Business School, there are several learning points. I would recommend the following:

1. Increase the global perspective in both learning, exchange programs and program outlook.

2. Design action learning programs that take students far away from campus on a scale never before seen in Norway.

3. Enable radical bottom-up innovation and Little bets to enable faculty and students to innovate around learning and teaching experiences.

note: Parts of this blog was previously published at Christian Rangen’s personal blog.

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