Today, Ellen Shapiro published a thought provoking article summarizing the latest Designer’s Debate Club event. At issue was the statement, “Formal Design Education Is Necessary for Practicing Designers.” The attendees were polled on their agreement or disagreement, and after the debate, voted again to see if the debaters had managed to sway the audience members one way or the other.

I find the topic to be of interest not so much in debating the merits of self-taught vs. school-taught, but in what I can learn from it as an educator. There are a number of very interesting comments put forward by the ‘nay’ side that we need to listen to if we are to improve not only the optics of design education, but the applicability of the education itself. Sure, there were also a number of supportive comments, but instead of clapping ourselves on the back, we need to listen to the naysayers so that we can keep education viable.

A few of the quotes from the event were particularly telling, such as, “design school faculty are unprepared to teach the technological skills needed today”, and “digital design teachers really don’t know what they’re doing and can’t teach for the real world” (Shapiro, 2013). Comments like this indicate that it is time for design teachers to wake up to what is happening here. Personally, I’ve always worked primarily on the production side, so a big part of my life has been in keeping up with the technological skills needed today, and teaching students how to use them properly. So when I first read those statements, I thought, “whew, not me!” Then I started to think about my role not just as a singular teacher, but in being part of something bigger. As postsecondary educators, we need to look at what we are trying to accomplish, and change it for the better. Schools do benefit from the “face-to-face, collaborative experience in a real physical space” (Shapiro, 2013), but I believe they can also benefit from “your own school on your own time: Twitter, TED talks, YouTube videos” (Shapiro, 2013).

It has been posited by greater minds than mine, that we learn by assembling new information in relation to the knowledge we already possess. “Constructivism holds that people actively build knowledge and understanding by synthesizing the knowledge they already possess with new information” (Jordan, Carlile, & Stack, 2008, p. 55). The key word here being information. The information era is well upon us, and traditional lecturing in schools needs to be revised to fit a new paradigm. “Ideas are not fixed and immutable elements of thought but are formed and re·formed through experience”. (Kolb, 1984, p. 26). This experience can certainly be curated by oneself, through online community. But imagine a more powerful educational opportunity, the school that helps guide, create, and curate new experiences for the students with a deliberate constructivist epistemology. A school that blends community and technology to build robust experiences. A school that is led by teachers that have learned they don’t have to be boring lecturers, but dynamic facilitators.

In short, we need to construct modern educational options that take students well beyond what can be accomplished alone.


Jordan, A., Carlile, O., & Stack, A. (2008). Approaches to learning: A guide for teachers. Maidenhead, England: McGraw Hill/Open University Press.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Shapiro, E. (2013, February 21). Formal design education is necessary for practicing designers. Yay or nay? Imprint: Expanding the Design Conversation. Retrieved February 21, 2013, from