Co-creating new skills on three levels

The students we are teaching today will still be working in 2060, and even current middle-aged workers still have a good few decades to go before retirement. As the world is changing exponentially, we know very little of the knowledge and skills that will be useful for the organizations, technologies, and societies that will exist by that time. However, the future is not something blindly imposed on us. Rather, we all play a part in co-creating it.
Tua Björklund's keynote speech
Mixing students and professionals - Tua Björklund opening the Design+Community event at the Design Factory

Aalto University was formed to break down boundaries and become an innovation university in a world where the role of universities is changing. We need to prepare our students for taking an active role in creating the work, organizations, and the world they want to live in. To create an education that equips learners to champion and smuggle state-of-the-art disciplinary practices into the organizations they join and create, we need to cultivate co-creation on three levels:

1. Joining forces with students to design learning with an impact

The ultimate test of learning is whether it affects our subsequent behavior. Sadly, much teaching falls short of this. Applying new knowledge already during courses can help here, but students may fail to recognize their improvement in active learning compared to traditional lectures. This is bad news for persistence and retention, as small wins and seeing progress are the best predictors of the vigor of further development activities. We need to design curricula where there are opportunities to both put new knowledge to use and recognize the effect that each step of learning brings with it. Giving students a seat at the table and gathering meaningful feedback will increase our odds for making this happen.

2. Co-teaching with new colleagues

The second form of co-creation we need to cultivate is co-teaching. Looking at newer institutions that have risen to the top in, for example, engineering education, collaborative development of teaching sets them apart from the crowd. Making co-teaching a norm requires developing ways of test-driving relationships – flexible first dates before asking for longer commitments for collaboration. While visiting lectures are standard practice, these put one or the other teacher clearly in the lead (and do not necessarily entail much integration of content). For example, short pop-in classes or courses can offer opportunities to try out new teaching concepts on a more equal footing. Coherent curricula and knowledge creation require new connections.  

3. Flexing boundaries between universities and work life

Finally, we need new ways of collaborating beyond the lines of our campus: company cases, project-based courses, research projects, executive education, etc. While these tried-and-tested forms of interaction are a good start, traditionally they have been built on the rather one-directional exchange of skills. Can we co-create forms of learning where degree students and for example, alumni learn together, better than they would have separately? Recent changes to university legislation here in Finland open up new possibilities to experiment with. Pursuing this opportunity will be key in answering the call for meaningful work, successful organizations, and thriving societies.

Working together with others is not always quick, easy, or within our comfort zone. However, innovation is unlikely without it. With the help of co-creation, our universities can act as learning laboratories that benefit everyone involved.


Tua Björklund

Professori (Professor of Practice)

Dr. Tua Björklund is a professor of practice at Aalto University Design Factory and the School of Engineering. As a platform for experimentation, Design Factory brings people together to co-create new forms of teaching, research, and practice in design and development.

The article was first published on 23 May, 2019.

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