5 Things I’ve Learned about Teaching after Three Years of Studying and Coaching Design Thinking

About three years ago, I started my first semester studying design thinking. I graduated from HPI D-School in 2015 and have been working as a design thinking coach and facilitator ever since. After more than 30 workshops and projects I’ve realized once again, that teaching is really not just about teaching content, but also about the “recipient” of the teaching. Or, speaking in design thinking terms, it’s important to be mindful of the user. This line of thought is based on constructivist didactics.

In constructivist didactics, learning is understood as an active, individual process. Not the knowledge and the information that is brought from outside to the human body is in focus, but the human being himself and his individual processing of knowledge and information. The learning process is based primarily on the individual’s own personal experience. People don’t learn what they are ‘told’, but what they perceive as relevant, significant and integrable (see Siebert, 2012). Accordingly, the acquisition of knowledge cannot be taught by the teacher, but can only be stimulated (see Quilling, 2015). Consequently, the role of the teacher expands in the sense that they do not only provide knowledge or provide information, but they also take the role of a coach who acts as a supporter and facilitator of individual learning processes (see Arnold, 2012).

But what does that mean in concrete terms? I would like to share five principles I experienced as particularly important when it comes to “student-centered” teaching.

Give everyone the opportunity to get actively involved and provide them with a safe environment in which new skills can be tested.

It’s all about learning through doing. Like Julius Caesar once said: “Experience is the teacher of all things”. So let people work in small teams where everyone can contribute, give them only the bare necessities of theory and then let them have experiences where they can explore and figure out things by themselves. Your job as a teacher or coach is not to tell people all the answers beforehand but rather to support and guide them through their learning journey.

Encourage reflection processes and value feedback.

People don’t only learn through doing but by reflecting on what they’ve done. But that´s only possible if you have had the experience. Quite often people ask for explanation first and are only then open for the experience. Have it the other way around. Actively encourage people to let themselves in for the experience first and then reflect on it afterwards. For that, always arrange enough time for reflection. Moreover, also have regular feedback sessions. They are not only valuable for the group to exchange but also a great opportunity for you to learn more about the students and get a better facilitator of their learning process.

Welcome diversity and support multiple perspectives.

Value multiple perspectives. Your way of teaching is just one possible way to do it. Your opinion is just one view of the subject. Therefore, try to examine facts from different perspectives and provide interdisciplinary approaches to topics. This increases the likelihood that content and topics will be relevant for a wider range of individuals and therefore supports their learning processes.

Moreover, support interdisciplinary teamwork. Different professional backgrounds and functions are the foundation of a creative work culture, and at the same time, the participants can inspire and help each other with their different experiences and their expertise. Working in a great team can be an eye-opener for people — they realize that it’s okay not knowing everything by themselves and learn the advantages of collaboration.

Make learning relevant to people by connecting the content with real-world issues.

Try to get to know your participants to provide learning content that builds upon their existing knowledge and skills. Create relevance. The more relevant the content is to their everyday life and the better it fits to their level, the easier you can evoke the learning process. In order to do that, ensure that your assignment has no one right answer and leaves space for different approaches and levels of knowledge.

Provide various learning opportunities and remain flexible with your teaching.

Be open to new approaches and new methods so you can offer students a wide range of learning possibilities. Use different teaching styles and also be aware of the physical space as a tool to provide a great learning environment. While preparing and planning is important, stay always flexible and be ready to change course if necessary. Remember: You as a teacher are always a student too. So don’t be afraid to experiment and make mistakes — they will make you better.


Arnold, R. (2012). Ermöglichungsdidaktik — die notwendige Rahmung einer nachhaltigen Kompetenzreifung. Berufsbildung in Wissenschaft und Praxis, pp. 45–48.

Siebert, H. (2012). Didaktisches Handeln in der Erwachsenenbildung. Didaktik aus konstruktivistischer Sicht. Augsburg: ZIEL.

Quilling, K. (2015). Ermöglichungsdidaktik. Available at: www.die-bonn.de/wb/2015-ermoeglichungsdidaktik-01.pdf [Accessed 23 April 2017]