A different approach to web design education

Paul Boag

A friend of mine is a mechanic. Recently he took on a new job working with young people who have failed to fit into the normal educational system.

He has little in the way of curriculum. His objective is a simple one. He is to engage with these young people and get them excited about mechanics in whatever way works best.

His solution to this challenge is an elegant one. He makes use of his students natural curiosity, following it wherever it takes them. If they want to learn about bikes, he works on bikes. If they want to understand how an engine works, they take one apart.

He combines this with real world experience. If they repair a car and make some money from it (within the limits of being unqualified), they get to keep the cash.

This struck me as a great strategy for kids that just didn’t respond to our traditional and extremely inflexible education experience.

Learning from medical schools

This combination of curiosity and real world business experience was further reinforced by a book I am reading called Brain Rules. In this book the author John Medina points to Medical Schools as an alternative and potentially better way to learn.

Medical schools combine traditional academic teaching with real world patient care. They often have a strong research wing that allows the curiosity ignited in the learning process to flourish into new areas of research.

The answer to web design education?

It strikes me that maybe this is the answer to the education problems we are seeing in web design. Although there are certainly some good courses out there, many are teaching hopelessly out of date techniques. As web design employers we often claim that new graduates are not equipped with the real world skills we need. Equally many graduates find it hard to get a job because they don’t have the experience many employers demand.

What if we took a page out of the medical school book? What if web design courses were effectively run as web design agencies? They would take on real clients with projects run by seasoned professionals and developed by students.

These professionals would also teach more academic classes based on their real experience of working with clients, unlike many traditional lecturers who have little in the way of current industry experience.

Money earned from working with commercial clients could be used to help reduce course fees, so making the course accessible to more students.

Finally in much the same way Google provide 20% time, these courses could leave room for personal projects and research. This would introduce the much needed innovation that is the lifeblood of our industry.

I am the first to admit I know nothing about web design education. There was no such thing when I attended university. However, it strikes me that a combination of real world experience and giving students time to explore their own curiosity (in terms of personal projects) could produce the next generation of web designers to carry innovation forward.

So would it work or am I being naive? Are you a lecturer, if so what are the problems? Are you an employer, do you think it would help the skill deficit? Are you a student, would you go on a course like this? Are you a client, would you employ a web design school? Let me know in the comments below.