Innovation and Learning: Whether the Twain Shall Meet


“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”  –Mahatma Gandhi

Welcome to our Saint Leo University Learning Innovation site!  I hope that the blogs, resources, stories, and other feeds provide you with some solid references for trends, initiatives, and other aspects of innovation in a teaching and learning context.

You might notice our new Learning Innovation logo.  If I were in your shoes, I might wonder why an invention that was surely innovative 100 years ago, but is ubiquitous today was chosen.  And while the mortar board may make a light bulb look more ‘educational,’ it doesn’t change time!

Drawing of gears floating into a brainLet me tell you why I chose this design, over some other really clever logos.  Escher-like boxes that ate each other up and gears emerging from human heads started to capture what we are after here, but I still went with the light bulb.  Why?  Because to me, it represents learning innovation quite well.

Christenson has posited (The Innovators Dilemma, Disrupting Class and The Innovative University) that it is easier to change a culture like higher education from the outside, rather than from within.  Why?  Because tradition will always trump innovation.   And the fallacy of tradition – “we should do X because we’ve always done X” – is seen by most leaders as one of the top business and organization killers.  Jack Welch, GE CEO for years, notably said, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”  Yet, it was also Welch who guides, “Control your own destiny or somebody else will!”

So, to come to an education organization as the Chief Innovation Officer, is a bit…intimidating.  To start touting “learning innovation” seems overly ambitious through those filters.  But as I consider what learning innovation is, the filter of the light bulb seems quite fitting.

Who invented the light bulb?  Well now I’ve gone and done it.  See, that question is one of the sticky-wickets of history.  It’s the “Who Shot J.R.” of illumination past!  Ask any 10 year old American and you’re likely to hear Edison’s name.  After all, history books like nice, neat answers to every question and since he obtained a patent in 1879, then there is your answer.  But not so fast…

What about Davy’s light (and battery for that matter) shown in 1802 in Great Britain?  Or what about Scottish Lindsay’s electric light used in 1835 to illuminate a town meeting?  What about the American John Starr who patented a carbon filament light bulb only to die before ever bringing it to market in 1845?  What about Swan, Maxim, Gobel, and Lodygin?  What about reports of arc lights in China one hundred years before Edison was born?

The light bulb, at least to me, represents innovation perfectly.  So, I guess I should include a definition here.  What is learning innovation?  (I realize that I am setting myself up for trouble, of course.  There is no, single definition of learning that everyone will agree on.  To that point, there is likely some academic reading this right now who is writing a very convincing rebuttal thereby showing how poor my definition is.  So please take this in its intended spirit, not as semantic doctrine.)

Learning, to me, is the replacement of an old way of thinking or doing with a new AND better way of thinking or doing.

Let’s unpack that for a sec:  An old way might be no way at all.  For instance, perhaps you didn’t know there was a tool that could increase your retention of information through automatic reminders.  But, an old way might also be just that.  It was eye opening to me to find out that multiplication was a faster way to deal with addition.  So, even though multiplying is based on adding, it replaced the longer method.  The word ‘better’ is also important.  This is as much about perception as anything else.  But just because someone believes it to be better does not make it so.  I remember my mom’s blood type diet.  The information was indeed new, but it was only perceived as better.  She lost zero pounds on that diet.  But either way, she learned (and quickly forgot) a whole new way to eat.

Innovation, on the other hand, is the juxtaposition or remixing of old and new to create a better process, product, service, or situation.

To me, the last part of that statement is where creativity and innovation part ways.  Creativity can come out in purely aesthetic ways, whereas innovation – again, to me – is about function.  But ultimately, building on the old, to create something better is innovation.  So, let’s put the two together:

Learning innovation is the juxtaposition or remixing of old and new methods, philosophies, and contexts to create better ways by which to replace old ways of thinking and doing with new, better ways.

So back to the original question. Why a light bulb with a mortar board?  Because the light bulb was not as much invented as it was innovated.  Did those inventors create the light bulb without any knowledge whatsoever of the other inventors or lights out there?  No.  They simply added to or remixed them in a new and meaningful way.  Will our Learning Innovation Incubator create a completely new way of learning that has never been presented or discussed previously?  I very much doubt it.  We will instead build on the old until it becomes new and replaces the old.  We will look to other disciplines and contexts of life to see how they do things, then bring them to education.  We will add nuances, new tools, and new paradigms together to remix critical thinking, neural processing, and educational outputs.

So I hope you check back often.  This site is dedicated to learning innovation, at scale.  This site hopes to remix and juxtapose the old with the new to create the better.

Good luck and good teaching.

Dr. Jeff D Borden
Chief Innovation Officer
Saint Leo University

About Jeff Borden

My title at work is ‘Chief Innovation Officer.’ So I'm trying to transform teaching and learning at scale. How do I do that? Through my "life" jobs. Primarily, I'm a dad and husband. But I'm also a professor, writer, professional speaker, comedian, researcher, lifelong learner, musician, dog-owner, and even a ranked disc golfer... I've spoken to, trained, or consulted with hundreds of thousands of educators at all levels, in numerous countries, K-20, about how to teach and learn effectively in the 21st Century.

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