Design Thinking

Design Thinking


What It Is

Design thinking (DT) is an iterative, human-centered, creative approach to innovation that integrates the needs of people, and what is feasible, equitable, and sustainable (IDEO, 2022). Teaching uses design thinking to keep improving  practice of attaining the goal of student learning. Therefore, design thinking from a teaching and learning perspective views teachers as designers.

Why It Matters

Learners need critical, creative, and collaborative skills to address society’s increasingly complex and difficult challenges such as climate change, poverty, housing instability, and health promotion (McLaughlin et al., 2022). Design thinking provides an opportunity to equip students with the critical, creative, and collaborative skills because of its application in designing learning tasks within higher education (Kalantzis & Cope, 2010; McLaughlin et al., 2022).


Apply it


Instructors can apply design thinking by focusing on the elements that are most important to the design of effective learning tasks and processes (Bower, 2017). Wrigley and Straker’s (2017) Educational Design Ladder offers an organizational approach to integrating DT in teaching. They recommend aligning learning modes and assessments across 5 stages.

  • – Factual Learning modes include lectures, tutorials, discussions and other introductory activities. Assessment approaches focus on analysis of design processes or reflection.
  • – Conceptual product content design – Learning modes include collaborative design projects, workshops, and field study. Assessment approaches focus on written or verbal design discussions and individual design assignments.
  • – Conceptual design management – Learning modes include identifying and assessing design methods and processes. Assessment approaches can include more formalized processes such as research, project design, or experimentation. 
  • – Procedural – Learning modes include synthesizing design procedures and constructing forward-looking strategies. Assessment strategies include idea pitches, business plans, and formalized writing. 
  • – Metacognitive – Learning modes include development and demonstration of workplace or applied skills and methods for opportunity discovery. Assessment strategies include collaborative work and applied problem solving. 





Bower, M. (2017). Design of technology-enhanced learning. Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited.

 Kalantzis, M., & Cope, B. (2010). The teacher as designer: Pedagogy in the new media age. E-Learning and Digital Media, 7(3), 200–222.

 McLaughlin, J. E., Chen, E., Lake, D., Guo, W., Skywark, E. R., Chernik, A., & Liu, T. (2022). Design thinking teaching and learning in higher education: Experiences across four universities. PLoS ONE, 17(3), 1–16.

Wrigley, C., & Straker, K. (2017). Design thinking pedagogy: The educational design ladder. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 54(4), 374-385.


Cite This Resource

Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation. (2023, January). Design thinking [Teaching resource].

Updated 2/2023