The Only Constant Is Change

College and university leadership is at a pivotal crossroads — rethink higher education and challenge the status quo, or stay the course, try more of the same, and risk stagnation. Seems cut and dried, right? Choose innovation! Champion change and lean into disruption instead of fighting it. While deciding on the path is easy, finding ways to turn your aspiration into activation is inherently complex.

Traditional approaches no longer suffice, especially in the face of budget constraints, shifting student expectations, and technological disruptions. What higher ed needs now more than ever is a fresh perspective, a paradigm shift that takes innovation to new heights.

Enter: Design thinking, a game-changing approach that promises to redefine how universities navigate challenges, seize opportunities and create impactful strategies.

Ready to embark on your journey into design thinking?

Download our Higher Education Design Thinking Workbook to kickstart your institution’s transformation.

What Is Design Thinking?

Imagine a world where institutions become dynamic hubs of creativity and adaptability. This is design thinking: an operating philosophy that nurtures innovation by understanding all stakeholders’ needs, desires and pain points. When a university embraces design thinking, it positions itself to lead the way and define what’s next, designing superior student-centric experiences that delight learners and support broader institutional objectives.

When a university embraces design thinking, it positions itself to lead the way and define what’s next.

A Surprisingly Human Approach to Problem Solving

At its heart, design thinking is a collaborative process that emphasizes empathy, encouraging leaders to immerse themselves in the shoes of their students, faculty and staff. By understanding the experiences, frustrations and aspirations of their students, universities can pinpoint areas for improvement and craft solutions that truly resonate. A solution, process or initiative that only considers what is best or easiest for the institution but falls short of end-user expectations will not be successful.

From Fear to Actionable Statements

Design thinking can also help universities reframe their challenges into more actionable statements. This is where the real magic happens. Design thinking encourages leaders to shift from a place of fear to one of opportunity. It prompts questions like, “How might we leverage these changes to create a more impactful and relevant learning experience?” These actionable statements, which we refer to as statement starters, encourage more divergent thinking, spark impact-oriented ideas quickly and, if done properly, build stakeholder consensus along the way.

Design thinking encourages leaders to shift from a place of fear to one of opportunity.

Design Thinking in Higher Education May Be New, But Design Thinking Is Not

Some of the world’s most innovative and successful companies infuse design thinking into their cultural DNA. Take Apple, for instance. The tech giant’s user-centric approach, rooted in design thinking, has propelled it to unprecedented heights. Case in point: the iPod.

While most tech companies focused on an iterative approach to improve the capabilities and desirability of current portable music players, Apple opted to broaden its thinking and challenge its team to redefine how its customers could experience and engage with music. They connected with their customers using surveys, focus groups, interviews, and contextual inquiry and learned that people craved convenience and simplicity. Armed with these insights, Apple expanded its thinking, and the outcome was one million songs in your pocket.

The other tech companies floundered because they focused too finitely on the current state. This prohibited innovative thinking and action. College leaders who readily embrace emergent technologies and invest in innovation while respectfully challenging legacy policies, pedagogies and perceptions will come out on top.

Creating a Culture of Design Thinking

The digital age has taught us that disruption is inevitable. But with a design thinking mindset, universities and colleges can navigate these changes head-on, adapt and thrive. The world of higher education is at a turning point, and your chosen path will determine your institution’s future. Design thinking in higher education isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a philosophy that can revolutionize how you approach challenges and opportunities.

Get Started Here

How can you introduce a new way of problem solving and get your teams and their leaders bought in and on board? Our Higher Education Design Thinking Workbook offers a step-by-step guide to help you unleash your institution’s innovative potential. This toolkit isn’t just a document; it’s a call to activation and impact.

Have a complex challenge and want assistance? If you’re looking for expert guidance, our innovation enablers at Collegis Education are here to help. Let’s reshape the future of higher education together.

Author: Wes Catlett-Miller

A certified human-centered, design-thinking facilitator with over 10 years in the education technology space, Wes Catlett-Miller is senior director of student lifecycle strategy at Collegis. He has designed and led custom workshops for numerous institutions, ranging from Arizona State University to Campbellsville University. Before joining Collegis, he was the director of content strategy for Microsoft and the director of marketing, new business and innovation for Wiley. He has developed transformational content strategies for notable brands, including Kraft, Samsung, Unilever, eBay and Sam’s Club.