Exploring people centred design in the context of curriculum and learning design in higher education

Macy Lee's picture
Call for Papers
June 1, 2023
Subject Fields: 
Educational Technology, Teaching and Learning

In the forthcoming Special Issue we will explore design thinking also known as human or people centred design (Grau and Rockett, 2022) in the context of curriculum and learning design in higher education highlighting a number of innovative applications in this area from a range of disciplines, professional areas in the context of higher education including academic and learning development. While Kimbell and Sloane (2020) argue that design thinking as a practice can be difficult to neatly define as it seems to have multiple interpretations and perspectives, there are some shared principles and part of the attractiveness of design thinking is that these principles and processes are adaptable and useful in the area of increasing uncertainty that requires malleable methodologies with an emphasis on empathy, inclusion, co-creation, playful experimentation and creativity. These also align with Lockwood’s (2010: 5) explanation of design thinking who sees it as “a human centered innovation process that emphasises observation, collaboration, fast learning, visualization of ideas, rapid concept prototyping and concurrent business analysis.”

We have noticed that in the last few years, design thinking has become an interesting area for exploration in the context of curriculum and learning design in Higher Education (HE) and is often used as an approach to initiate and boost transformative ways to design curricula and learning experiences (Grabill, Gretter and Skogsberg, 2022; Morgan and Jaspersen, 2022). Bene and McNeilly (2020, 55) highlight “the potential for design thinking to nurture collaboration among team members and the use of radical collaboration to encourage students to step outside their comfort zones to gain new perspectives warrants further study.” However, whilst the awareness of design thinking in the context of curriculum design and learning design have increased, the use of such approaches in practice may have not been curated widely and the inclusion of students in this process seems to remain largely aspirational (MacNeill and Beetham, 2022).

This special issue is a timely opportunity to curate design thinking interventions and studies at practitioner, programme, faculty and institution level more widely. We are also interested in the design frameworks that are used and how students as partners and co-designers contribute in such processes together with other stakeholders. There is a need to carry out further research into the benefits and potential challenges and barriers offered by design thinking in the context of curriculum and learning design in higher education. More and more academics and other professionals who teach or support learning in these settings as well as learning technologists and academic developers are often intrigued to find out more about the potential design thinking offers for their practice, to transform the way they design for learning as a radical collaborative endeavour to co-create stimulating learning experiences in a range of settings and modes.

Example 1: Designing a new academic programme in collaboration and in partnership with students and industry that is responsive to the needs, flexible, evidence-based and drives innovation.

Example 2: Using specific design thinking tools, frameworks and models within curriculum conversations and design sprints to review and transform students experiences.

This Special Issue aims to go deeper into exploring the potential uses of design thinking in the context of curriculum and learning design and implications for practice in the context of HE and showcase the emerging work and research in this area from around the world.

We share the following provocations around design thinking as triggers to explore the current status-quo and the opportunities for change in HE.

  • HE mostly values thinking. The culture in HE puts a strong emphasis on conversations and discussions, with an emphasis on thorough thinking with a host moderating the meeting. However, in a design process, we talk about a facilitator that designs conversations, people centred design puts emphasis on doing, visualising those conversations as a means to facilitate the connections, making them tangible and bringing rhythm. The question is: Is it possible to move from a meeting-based culture to a designed, visual and actionable way of working? What does that mean in practical terms?
  • Collaboration or individualism. Design thinking requires transparency, trust and collaboration. An openness to ideas that differ from our own. It is not possible to apply the process in a context with a strong individual mindset that protects itself and is judgemental. In a context where promotion for example is dependent on the narrative connected to the individual contribution, how can we bring a design approach to HE? Design is a deeply collaborative process and requires open sharing of diverse and often contradicting ideas, a safe and none-judgemental space that will help ideas develop and grow and become something useful for the design team. How can we recognise contributions collectively?
  • Embracing uncertainty and error. Design thinking requires the openness to play with initiatives that might not work. The university is used to long pilots with associated evaluation models that require strong investment in resources to evaluate. The more invested we are and time dedicated, the more likely the initiatives we define will be safe. Design thinking encourages experimentation, which means designing small prototypes of our initiatives to get quick, more informal feedback to adjust or completely discard our trial. In a context where people might be strongly attached to their own initiatives and with fear of failure, how can we bring a culture of trial and error?
  • Contextual insight and academic insight. One of the key values of people centred design is that it starts by framing the challenges from a contextual perspective. What do students, academics, employers perceive their opportunities and challenges are in this specific school or programme, in relation to a specific topic or goal? However, from an academic perspective, one could ask: why do we need to learn about their experiences when we already know from the literature what works and doesn’t work? In HE we need to explore the effective integration between the lived experience of people in a particular context (in a particular school, faculty, programme) with the extensive academic literature on the topic. How can we effectively integrate both worlds?

We are interested not only in the application of people centred design in HE, but on the overcoming the cultural barriers or considering the cultural challenges that HE has in harnessing the potential it presents for curriculum and learning design.

We welcome articles from new and more experienced academic writers, practitioners and researchers who have been using design thinking principles, practices and processes across the disciplines and professional areas as well as students, who are using design for their learning at undergraduate, postgraduate or doctoral level, from around the world and would like to share their work with a wider audience through an open access issue and help us all gain new insights and deepen our understandings in this area further.

We will consider the following types of contributions:
• Reflective papers (1000-3000 words*)
• Research papers (3000-5000 words)
• Viewpoints (2000-3000 words)
• Innovative practice papers (3000-4000 words)
Note: The word count is indicative rather than prescriptive.

The deadline to submit your article is 1 June 2023. We welcome contributors to also act as reviewers. Please indicate when you submit and article, if you would be willing to also act as a reviewer. This Special Issue will be published on the 5 September 2023.

Contact Info: 

Papers must be original work not published elsewhere. The Journal has a preferred publication style ( http://ijmar.org/authors.html#6 ). Please submit your paper as an email attachment.

Early submissions are encouraged and will be published ahead of the deadline as part A of the special issue, with Part B following the designated timescale.

All papers will go through the double blind review process.

Contact Email: