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Embedded creativity: teaching design thinking via distance education


This paper shows how the design thinking skills of students learning at a distance can be consciously developed, and deliberately applied outside of the creative industries in what are termed ‘embedded’ contexts. The distance learning model of education pioneered by The Open University is briefly described before the technological innovations—which feature a fully integrated web 2.0 learning environment and design studio—and concepts behind a new course in Design Thinking are explained in detail. In teaching the more generic skills of design and developing experiential knowledge in students, the paper also explores the changing role of designers in becoming less problem-focussed and more socially engaged through the construction of design process. The paper ends by presenting the results of an extensive student and tutor survey as part of an ongoing longitudinal study which indicate that this new approach to teaching design has been successful.

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  1. In contrast with other institutions where ‘courses’ means degree qualifications, The Open University, until very recently, referred to the modules that form a degree qualification as courses. ‘Courses’, in this sense, were what students paid for when they studied with The Open University. Recently however nomenclature has been brought in line with other UK universities, and Open University courses are now referred to as ‘modules’. The word ‘course’, however, has been preserved for this paper as U101 was developed as a ‘course’.

  2. See footnote 1.

  3. Samples of U101 course material can be viewed at: (accessed May 2012).

  4. For further details see:!/?id=418 (accessed March 2012).

  5. The full Compendium software has been used by businesses and universities in projects worldwide. For further details see: (accessed March 2012).

  6. For the purposes of this comparison the retention rate is, for each tutor, the number of students submitting their final assignment as a proportion to those starting the course. Student retention rates are one of the key ways in which Open University courses are evaluated through what are termed ‘Z-scores’. Essentially a Z-score is formulated by comparing the actual number of students passing the course to a prediction of the likely number of students that will pass the course, calculated from a number of factors including, for example, location, age, previous study, and social and economic background. A high positive or negative Z-score indicates to the university possible areas of good practice or possible problems respectively.


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Correspondence to Peter Lloyd.

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Lloyd, P. Embedded creativity: teaching design thinking via distance education. Int J Technol Des Educ 23, 749–765 (2013).

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  • Design thinking
  • Embedded creativity
  • Virtual design studio
  • Distance education
  • Reflective practice
  • Integrated learning environment