Process Modelling: Where might innovation learning come from?


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Process modelling has been defined as a method of explicitly illustrating reality in order to support complex design activities. By developing and reviewing process models of education, we can identify where and how a user of the education system–our students or our educators–interact with the system in order to teach or to learn. 

I sought out government reports and other literature that discussed the provincial education system’s components and learning outcomes for data with which to populate the following models. Beginning with the structure detailed by the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials, I modelled the base stages that a student will likely take throughout their education and career (primary, elementary, intermediate, and secondary school, then career and work) and adding a variety of other activities they might engage in along the way: sports and recreation, hobbies, after school programs, self-directed learning, volunteer and extracurricular work, governance and leadership roles, university programs, and college. You can explore these activities in the map below.

I then used public curriculum guides and learning frameworks to map these activities with their expected learning outcomes, where those learning outcomes intersected with the constructs and domains identified in Innovation Education.

Unfortunately, no database, strategy, or report offered insight for many of the activities I mapped, leaving only a sound articulation of the expected outcomes for the public K-12 school system, the College, and the University. Other potential sources were removed from the map.

Another difficulty was found in mapping the complicated pathways of university education. The University’s program offerings are quite comprehensive, and there is substantial versatility in many of these programs through different mixes of majors, minors, electives, and so on. Thus, I did not attempt to map expected learning outcomes for specific programs, and indexed only the University’s Teaching & Learning Framework graduate outcomes.

Finally, I indexed these outcomes, searching for concepts that related to the innovation education framework. The result was an interactive map that showcases where the system was programmed to offer innovation education according to the different domains and learning constructs I have identified.

This interactive map can be explored by clicking the "Explore the Process Model" button.


About the system

As noted previously, the Canadian education system is not governed federally. The provinces have ultimate jurisdiction over how their school systems work, and while differences exist between the provinces and the territories, the systems are generally similar. The Canadian education system is often defined in terms of three major components: K-12, post-secondary, and adult learning. K-12 and post-secondary education can be further subdivided: K-12 into primary, secondary, intermediate, and high school in the NL system (grades K-3, 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12, respectively) and post-secondary into a variety of different degree types depending on the length and intensity of study. Exactly what subjects are taught when, at which age(s) students attend which grades, and other differences exist between the provinces.

Exploring those differences and mapping separate systems would be an ambitious pursuit, falling outside of the scope of the present study. Instead, I focused only on the Newfoundland and Labrador English public system. The way students flow through the NL system, in terms of a process model and duration of study, is paralleled almost exactly in 9 other provinces and territories.

The nature of the NL system makes it simpler than most other provinces: NL has only one public University, one public College, and one English School Board. In addition to NL’s public education system, I hypothesized that students learn innovation skills and competencies from other sources as well. However, no research seemed to exist on what these sources might be and how they contribute to innovation education. Thus, this study focused on the public education system and the learning outcomes articulated within that system.

Sources of innovation learning

The notion of innovation itself as a learning outcome appears rarely throughout the public system. This is not surprising: as I have discovered, innovation is quite complex. That few parts of the system suggest otherwise could indicate several things: this complexity is recognized implicitly by educators in the province, innovation is not valued as an education outcome, or that instructional design for teaching and assessing innovation learning is not available. Still, the term itself appears in a few places: as an outcome of the high school physical education program, the high school enterprise education program (not surprising, considering the common conflation of entrepreneurship and innovation), and in the University’s values. The latter, notably, asserts that the University itself is innovative–not that every student is. 

The process model allows the user to showcase where in the system different domains and learning constructs are taught.

The discernment reveals some concerning discoveries.

1. While the map looks populous before showcasing, focusing on any given domain of innovation skill reveals sparsity. This indicates that our system does offer some deliberate innovation learning, but it is not a dedicated effort.

2. Of the 47 learning constructs included in the model of innovation education developed in part three, five are not taught at all: meta-innovation, cultural and political savviness, management of complexity and systems thinking, ethnography and human factors, and scenario development. Are these constructs absolutely necessary for innovation? Probably not, but it is easy to imagine how students’ capacity to broker new partnerships might be strengthened if we taught more about how to navigate cultural and political nuances (for example). 

3. Three domains–foresight and scanning, vision and purpose, and adaptability and resilience–are each connected to only two learning outcomes in the public system.

The lack of futures thinking is echoed by a previous author in the Strategic Foresight and Innovation program at OCAD U, Amy Satterthwaite.

This may have a direct impact on students’ innovation capacity–by hampering their ability to take advantage of Drucker’s sources of innovation through scanning, for instance. Likewise, an absence of education on developing and pursuing vision and purpose relates directly to whether students discover innovation prompts (the first stage of the innovation process defined in part 2) or can envision and plan for long-term, complex goals. Further, if our students are not capable of adapting or resolutely pursuing their purpose, they may undertake the innovation process only to give up when they inevitably encounter barriers.

Learning outcomes corresponding to the management domain are mostly found in the college curricula–particularly under programs in the area of business. Doubtlessly some aspects of management are taught throughout specific University programs as well. Either way, this implies that most students in the province fail to learn much about the management learning constructs unless they enrol in post-secondary studies. Even then, they may only pick up these competencies if they undertake specific programs. 

Process mapping also reveals several important–but under-researched–potential sources of innovation education. These include school and sports programs, hobbies, volunteer work and governance roles, and self-directed learning. These sources must contribute to innovation learning somehow, but exactly how is not obvious. Still, they offer potential fulcra for levers of change: should I identify particular hobbies or recreation programs that foster learning in the domains of innovation skills, for instance, policymakers might offer incentives for parents to enrol their kids in them. Thus, these arenas of education deserve more scrutiny in future research.

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