How Social and Behavioral Design for Education can Make Classes More Useful
Published in the December issue of The Grokkers New School and Research Newsletter
Macroeconomics, the rule of thumb for how much something costs, has become the dominant assessment for everyone from Hollywood to Fortune 500 companies.
But good design–thinking about products, people, spaces, products, and spaces, can alter a cost calculation. Take many school spaces. They are broken down into three large parts: space, activity, and time. In order to make things “free” and “useful,” the space has to fit within these categories. To take one standard way of measuring the cost of space: the $3 in a classroom for a high chair and a bed, followed by a standard coffee cup (four dollars) and the overhead vacuum cleaner (one dollar). Then there’s the janitorial budget. So much money is wasted on school sites that most schools simply don’t complete the important tasks of building a collection of usable spaces. One architect spent a decade trying to carve out of her client’s schedule the right amount of time to schedule meetings. At one school site, that required 38 different meetings, usually held in her own home.
Macroeconomics has been interpreted to mean that the right amount of cost is necessary to produce a good product, and so designers look for cost-effectiveness in every interaction. But that narrow definition of cost ignores the possibilities of a little motion. Behavioral psychologist Martin Seligman calls this movement or disruption. In the classroom he called it “risk mitigation.” Risk-mitigation can take many forms, from obstacles placed in the way of studies to thoughtful design that brings students and teachers closer together.
Could the classroom be a little more horizontal? Could it be a little more vertical? Could the surface be more wide or narrower? Macros can just get out of the way. All of these design decisions can build or break the learning experience.
While it’s easy to say, “Leave people alone,” this quote from The Commons by Joel Kotkin really resonates: “The most dangerous thought in history was not the thought of the enemy, but the thought of staying with what was known.”