By: Ilya Pavlov
Companies and non-profit organizations, at some stage of their development, experience a need for innovation. Educational institutions are no exception, and given the amount of technological development and research conducted on educational innovation, they should rightfully be on the frontier of implementing new ideas and approaches to teaching and learning. This article presents three types of innovations: business model innovation, product innovation, and problem-driven innovation. In addition, the article includes examples of each kind of innovation and research evidence, where available.
Business model innovation:
Business model innovations refer to organizational innovations that involve a model in which the organization operates, attracts or charges customers, or delivers their goods or services. An example of an educational company that pioneered in the field of university admissions is ApplyBoard. ApplyBoard positions itself as a mediating tool between university applicants and educational institutions that helps applicants find the most suitable place to study according to their interests, abilities, and career goals. Although being a middle man is not an innovative business model, the market demand had not been met before ApplyBoard appeared on the scene. However, they proved to be helpful by targeting and adding value to both the applicants and the educational institutions, which was a new approach to the admission process. Another example is an Estonian start-up codesters; a club that teaches programming and digital product creation to high-school students. Their work methods with youth are based on research on the effectiveness of teamwork conducted by the Buck Institute for Education (Yancey-Siegel).
As a general business term, product innovation implies improving an existing product based on its functions, design, user experience, or additional features. In most cases, these innovations are backed up by the company's research and development team, market demand, competitor analysis, or visionary leadership. Product innovation in education most commonly takes a form of an educational app, website, or a physical item, e.g., an interactive board, 3D printing, or virtual/augmented reality glasses. Canvas, a free learning management system, stands out from the crowd of similar applications because of its user-friendly design—especially compared to Moodle—and free financial model that allows organizations on a tight budget to utilize its services to benefit the students and easiness of the teaching process.
Problem-driven innovations are the innovations that are forced to come into this world by unfortunate events, e.g., natural disasters, or they are meant to solve a problem that has not been solved before. An example of a problem-driven innovation in education is a Swiss forest kindergarten (Korbey). There, children spend most of the time playing in a forest to focus on their emotional well-being and developing social skills instead of traditional kindergartens that hold most of their activities inside with school-like activities. Although this idea seems incredibly simple—if not primitive— it has been adopted by several American kindergartens that support their activities with scientific evidence. According to one of the CDC studies, "American young people are becoming more physically unfit with each passing year" (Reynolds) which presumably starts in their early years. Furthermore, a pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom states that children who come to school lack balance and strength, which they need to study for hours and pay attention to their studies (Strauss). Besides, a study conducted by psychologists at the University of Colorado suggests that "The more time that children spent in less-structured activities, the better their self-directed executive functioning" (Barker), which includes body strength and balance that is necessary for further school studies.
As seen from the examples above, various educational institutions implement different types of innovation. What unites them all is the willpower of the people in charge to look at the market and their job from a new angle, analyze the research conducted in their field, and take a risk to implement the necessary changes. Looking at a broader picture of the modern changes in education, it may be fair to say that most of them are related either to technology or teaching methods and group dynamics when the teacher loses the role of the all-knowing master of the young minds. These changes slowly infiltrate into educational institutions and are sped up with extraordinary events, e.g., COVID-19. The author hopes that the positive changes in education will eventually be adopted not due to catastrophic events but a desire to benefit students.
Barker, Jane E., et al. “Less-Structured Time in Children's Daily Lives Predicts Self-Directed Executive Functioning.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 27 May 2014, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00593/full.
Korbey, Holly. “Let 'Em Out! The Many Benefits of Outdoor Play In Kindergarten.” KQED, 23 July 2014, www.kqed.org/mindshift/36858/let-em-out-the-many-benefits-of-outdoor-play-in-kindergarten.
Reynolds, Gretchen. “This Is Our Youth.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 July 2014, well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/09/young-and-unfit/?_php=true.
Strauss, Valerie. “Why so Many Kids Can't Sit Still in School Today.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 8 July 2014, www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/07/08/why-so-many-kids-cant-sit-still-in-school-today/?arc404=true.
Yancey-Siegel, Weezie, et al. “Project-Based Learning: A Real World Solution.” InformED, 1 Mar. 2017, www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/project-based-learning-a-real-world-solution/.