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Thoughts on Defining Innovation in Education

December 12, 2013


I’ve been doing some thinking about how to best define innovation in education.  I’ve been reading a lot of mission statements lately for schools and districts and keep finding the word “innovative” used, yet little sign of practices in the objectives, tactics and goals to back this up. The tactics  and action plan seem to be oriented towards producing test scores and the practices seem 20th century at best.

If Business Innovation is defined this way:

The process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.

…does this definition for education innovation follow?

Implementation of a new design, process, idea, or learning environment that increases an individual student or group of students’ ability to learn, as evidenced by their ability to make meaning and transfer.

Then I started translating additional parts of the business innovation definition for education this way:

Business: Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative in deriving greater or different values from resources, and includes all processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products.


Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative in deriving greater or different values from resources

This could be resources of time or people as well as money.

In business, innovation often results when ideas are applied by the company in order to further satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers.

In education, innovation often results when ideas are applied to satisfy the needs and expectations of the students.

CC Photo by Brad Flickinger. Available

CC Photo by Brad Flickinger. Available

This is a powerful statement when you think about it –do we intentionally design and plan for the needs of the students? The individual student? How do we know what those needs are?  Do we go beyond test scores and consider the whole child when determining those needs? Their learning style? Their 21st century skills? At what point do we address the individual student needs in the backwards planning process? There is an obvious connection to personalized learning here.  Universal Design for Learning offers a framework that provides one possible approach.

I continued reading and translating the Business article for education:

In education, innovation helps create new methods for collaboration, interdisciplinary learning, flexible time ,  and flexible learning environments.  Innovations are divided into two broad categories:

  1. Evolutionary innovations) that are brought about by many incremental advances in technology or processes and
  2. Revolutionary innovations which are often disruptive and new.

risk takerInnovation is synonymous with risk-taking and organizations that create revolutionary changes in services and learning environments take on the greatest risk.

Given this definition, is your classroom, school, or district innovative?

December 12, 2013 at 11:58 am

It would be great if adults were applying the ideas of learning and innovation in their efforts to prepare their kids for their own adult roles and responsibilities.

The only thing I’d add to what you wrote would be:

a) are we learning from all of the resources that are available to us?

b) are we thinking of delivery system that reaches youth in non school hours and via the Internet and which includes a wide range of adults beyond the parent and teacher?

c) are we holding ourselves accountable to the learning system we build and how we keep improving it from year to year?

Good luck to you.

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