The Future of Design Education Research Paper

Why to Adopt Pedagogy Based on Digital Online Interactions with Students


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With the arrival of the digital age has come a shift in the way information is pursued, transacted, shared, discussed, obtained, and processed. Students who have grown up in the digital age are digital natives and are more comfortable using digital technology than being without it. For design educators who are used to the studio-based pedagogy that has been in use for a century, shifting to embrace a digital-based pedagogy can seem like a transition that is too great of a leap for them to welcome. After all, the pedagogy of the studio-based design education has its own special uniqueness that cannot be replicated in a digitalized format. However, what design educators need to realize is that it is not about replication but rather it is about improving the pedagogy by way of innovation. The pedagogy of the past had its place, but today there are new features in education that should be leveraged (Fleischmann, 2013). These features have been embraced in the professional world as well and if design educators want to know how to best prepare their design students for the professional world they should be incorporating the methods that the professional world itself expects graduates to be skilled in (Justice, 2019). This paper will show the arguments for why design educators should adopt pedagogy based on digital online interactions with students and what evidence in the literature is most convincing regarding the viability of online versus face to face studio education.

Arguments for Revamping the Pedagogy

While the studio system has numerous benefits, such as an open format that allows for direct interaction between the teacher and students, there are also numerous limitations and challenges that the studio based design pedagogy must face. These include the fact that design students must learn under a pedagogy that obliges them to “cope with uncertainty, ambiguity and the unknown” (Sims & Shreeve, 2012, p. 57). Even though Vaughan et al. (2008) indicate that the pedagogy of ambiguity is intentional and part of the learning by experiencing process that design educators want students to embrace, the fact remains that many students are simply not prepared to deal with such a pedagogy. They are digital natives and are used to exploring in a digital environment. Interacting with others in a face to face environment with limited resources is not their idea of a learning experience (Souleles, 2015). Students need more than just the opportunity to explore and experience in a studio based pedagogy. As digital natives they have grown up relying on the affordability of information that they have access to to an unlimited degree via the Internet. Indeed, digital online interactions allow students to obtain feedback well beyond the limitations of the crit that they receive in a studio based system.

Another argument for shifting to a digital based pedagogy is that it is the direction in which most universities are heading. More and more students expect to be served with some kind of digital based pedagogical approach in their college experience (Mayadas, Bourne & Bacsich, 2009). With the trend being towards distance learning it also opens up the opportunity for students to overcome time and space barriers and receive an education in design via an online platform. By providing students with the opportunity to engage in digital online interactions it allows design educators to give more students more chances to learn design.

Incorporating digital online interaction into the design pedagogy would also allow for students to obtain feedback from peers outside the classroom. In a studio only course, the students are limited to the feedback from peers and teachers in the classroom. But if students are given a digital online platform they can post work online and get into groups on social media to get even more feedback. This can actually facilitate them in their approach to the pedagogy of ambiguity because it gives them an increased arena or environment in which to explore the world of design (Fleischmann, 2013; Souleles, 2015; Vaughan et al., 2008). With the use of social media in design education comes the ability of students to get more eyes on their work and more meaningful communication from others in their field.

Finally, the use of digital online interaction helps to prepare design students for the professional realm where digital technology is now a necessary tool and professionals are expected to know how to use it (Fleischmann, 2013; Justice, 2019; Souleles, 2015). If design educators do not allow students the opportunity to use digital online interaction tools in their courses they are limiting the skill set that the student should be acquiring through the design learning process. The world is not the same as it was in the 1900s or even in the 1980s. A great deal of communication and interaction is now done online using mobile devices, and in the fast-paced professional world where design professionals are expected to interact with customers directly there is a need to know how to use digital communication tools in design. For that reason alone it is a good idea for design educators to shift to a pedagogy that incorporates digital online interactions and teaches students how to use this tool in relation with design objectives.

Evidence That is Most Convincing

First, there is the article by Fleischmann (2013) which shows that the time for innovation and change has arrived for design education. The technology now exists for design educators to teach their classes using online platforms where students can interact with one another, share information, upload works, and get feedback from peers, teachers, people in the marketplace and professionals. There are myriad opportunities awaiting for design education if teachers would simply stop trying to hold onto the traditional studio based pedagogy and accept the fact that the 21st century has arrived. This is the digital age and everyone from students to professionals to customers knows it. The old studio only system is merely nostalgic and outdated at this point. This is not to say it does not have its own select benefits but at the very least it should be incorporating online interaction tools into its pedagogy as Fleischmann (2013) indicates.

Secondly, there is Justice (2019) who points out that the future of design education is in digital technology. The reason for this is that “interior designers and virtual reality seem like a natural pair, along with specialties in voice activated software and products, or connected/heightened online retail” (Justice, 2019, p. 37). The digital world in other words has reshaped the way design works. Plus it embraces the diversity of the globalized world: “Rapidly shifting cultures, changing global government requirements, increased consumer demands for sustainability and fair wages, and a new look at ethics will challenge our design activities as well, and may affect the way we do research” (Justice, 2019, p. 33). Educators should be thinking about this reality as they develop their new pedagogical approaches to design. Otherwise, they are sorely missing out and neglecting their students’ needs. That is why Justice (2019) states that “enriched problem-solving requires diversity in team members” (p. 34). A digital online interactive platform allows students to obtain that diversity which can in turn enhance their ability to become solid problem solvers in design.

Thirdly, there is Mayadas et al. (2009) who state that online education is the mode of education for the future. They note that approximately 4 million students are enrolled in some form of online education course in the US, which is between one-fifth and one-fourth of all college students. It is the obvious trend in education in the US and that is for the very simple reason that it allows educators to work from home, students to access classes and class materials from anywhere so long as they have an Internet connection, and it essentially is more cost-efficient and eliminates time and space obstacles that traditional campus classes put up.

Fourthly, there is Souleles (2015) who states that elearning is the concept that design teachers really need to start focusing on. Design educators who are reluctant to abandon studio based pedagogies are under the wrong impression that online education represents “a contextual instructional dimension that is incompatible with elearning” (Soueles, 2013, p. 6659). The point that Souleles (2015) makes is that elearning is here whether design teachers like it or not and it is now being used everywhere as part of the learning process. If design educators do not embrace it they are going to be left behind as design students turn towards open source platforms for a king of digital “street” education in design. Thus, design educators need to get over their fears about elearning and begin paying attention to the benefits of how digital online interactions with students can actually improve their studio pedagogy. They do not need to replace the studio approach entirely—but they do need to offer some kind of online interaction. By applying a lens of functionalism, design educators should be able to see the utility of the online interactions with students, and the function of this interaction has a place in the form of design education.

Fifthly, there are Vaughan et al. (2008) who show that today’s students are not as enthusiastic about a pedagogy of ambiguity as design teachers think they should be. Education has become very expensive and for students to pay a great deal of money just to be told that they have to essentially teach themselves is likely to be confusing and offensive to them. They could pay no money and teach themselves via an open source platform that is community-driven. So why do teachers think that pedagogy of ambiguity is really going to be that relevant for students today? Design educators no longer control the flow of design information the way they did a century ago, so they must face that reality and adapt to the current environment and the needs of the students. Vaughan et al. (2008) show that students want direction and guidance and some feel they do not get it from the teacher in the studio pedagogy, which is why the turn to online interactions, where there is more meaningful discussion about design.


In conclusion, there is plenty of evidence that suggests design educators need to adapt their pedagogy and embrace the digital online interactions approach to design education. The arguments from the research are sufficient to show that students are digital natives and want education that embraces their digital awareness and allows them to utilize digital resources for interaction purposes. Teachers can benefit from this approach as well and provide more guidance and direction and facilitate the process of feedback in turn. It is an approach that educators should look into embracing sooner rather than later before students totally turn their backs on them.


Fleischmann, K. (2013). Big Bang Technology: What’s Next in Design Education, Radical Innovation or Incremental Change?. Journal of Learning Design, 6(3), 1-17.

Justice, L. (2019). The Future of Design Education. Design Management Review, 30(1), 33-37.

Mayadas, A. F., Bourne, J., & Bacsich, P. (2009). Online education today. Science, 323(5910), 85-89.

Souleles, N. (2015). Elearning in art and design: the elephant in the room. In 9th International Technology, Education and Development Conference (pp. 6659-6665).

Vaughan, S., Austerlitz, N., Blythman, M., Grove-White, A., Jones, B. A., Jones, C. A.,… & Shreeve, A. (2008). Mind the gap: Expectations, ambiguity and pedagogy within art and design higher education. In The student experience in art and design higher education: Drivers for change (pp. 125-148). Jill Rogers Associates Limited.



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