Ingredients for real world learning

When you accept a future where students solve problems for a real audience, what becomes the limiting factor is that connection to the world.

That connection is scarce because requires a few different elements:

A properly framed problem – A company, or government department says “We’re not sure where to locate this new building. We want close to highways, high population density, and in a high foot traffic area. Maybe some statistics students could help figure it out.”

The educational element – Solving a problem is a great, but it’s sometimes not obvious how it applies to core classes like english, history and math. The role of the educator in this model is to illuminate the learning. To layer on content and encourage reflection.

A personal connection – In order to iterate on solutions, you need at least one person who can give feedback throughout the process.

An audience ready to adopt – For anyone to feel like the work matters, there needs to be a group of people that will listen to solutions and potentially adopt a good one.

What is difficult is that all of those elements are hard to find. Especially for an educator who is already at capacity with their normal work. There’s no time to go out and find problems to solve, or find people to advise, or find ways to integrate learning in more open ended ways.

Everything about this model poses a challenge to what our system is currently optimized for. But, it seems like a change we need. Hands-on learning, creating engaged citizens solving community problems. What could be better for everyone involved?

The audience is the magic

Design thinking is a great thing to integrate into a classroom lesson, but if you don’t change the audience, the experience falls short. You can empathize with your classmates, sure. But it’s far more valuable to experience something new, empathize with strangers and hear stories you could have never imagined.

A real audience changes a learner’s posture. You don’t need to convince students to care when they own a project that will be presented to community leaders and business professionals.

The next frontier is the real audience. The next frontier means students are solving real world problems as part of their education. It makes it more real for everyone involved. The only thing left to complete that picture is deliberate reflection.

Real problems and audiences push students to try hard, but that doesn’t translate to learning unless someone is there to create the space for reflection.

Push for progress. Present to professionals. And create space for learning to emerge.

Picking yourself

It’s not about getting picked. It’s about picking yourself.

The world has changed. The gatekeepers are gone. The only thing standing between you and transformation is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of looking foolish. But why let that hold you back? You have a choice to make and I think it’s an obvious one.

Pick yourself. It’s time.

What do you do with wood?

I love learning as much as anyone. But most education is like wood.

You don’t want it thrown at you.

It’s also like wood because there are three big reasons you’d want wood: to keep a fire burning, to serve a purpose (think a table or chairs) or because it looks nice.

A well packaged, eloquent lecture is great if you have room for trinkets.

A well made useful lecture is great if you have use for it.

Any kind of lecture that keeps your fire burning is great. The problem is that most people are missing that spark. There’s no fire on which to throw the wood.

So before we bring out the wood, let’s make the spark.

James Dyson – Learning by doing

James Dyson wasn’t an engineer by trade, though he’s now known as one of the most famous inventors of our generation.

He studied as a furniture designer in school and wasn’t on a path to create a new kind of vacuum or a rotorless fan or a series of hand dryers. But when he graduated he got an apprenticeship under the inventor and entrepreneur, Jeremy Fry.

One of his first assignments for Fry was to design a boat. He’d never designed a boat, in fact he’d never designed anything using the material required to make a boat.

He learned everything by doing. He prototyped ideas, he experimented with tools and he became a master. The boat was a success and it was onto the next thing.

Many years, many failures and many successes later James Dyson is worth over $5 billion.

His story is one of persistence. He claims to have made over 5,000 prototypes of the Dyson vacuum and still works on new inventions to this day. It’s a brilliant example of the growth mindset and the human capability to acquire new skills.

Never stop tinkering.

Untapped possibility

Building a community is special.

But so is creating a shared moment with strangers.

The former makes you feel supported. Like you have a home base. The latter opens your eyes to the abundance of untapped magic in the universe.

The Power of Moments notes

From The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath.

There are 4 main ingredients in meaningful moments:

Elevation, Insight, Pride and Connection.


  • To increase elevation, build peaks

“Schools need to be so much more like sports” “in sports there’s a game and it’s in front of an audience. We run school like it’s a non stop practice. You never get a game.”

Elevate the positives > eliminate the negatives

It’s way more profitable from a business perspective to turn a 5 out 7 rating to a 7 out of 7 than it is to turn ALL the 2 out of 7s into the 5 out of 7 range. Happiest customers (7/7 rating) spend 8x more than the average customer. Reminds me of Seth Godin’s advice when I asked a question at his live event. He said 98% of your time should be spend on people who already get the joke.

Gene O’Kelley’s story about getting a terminal illness and creating as many “perfect moments” as possible in his last three months to live.

“This is the great trap of life: One day rolls into the next, and a year goes by and we still haven’t had that conversation we always meant to have. Still haven’t created that peak moment for our students. Still haven’t seen the northern lights. We walk a flat land that could have been a mountain range.”

  • To elevate a moment, break the script

The North Face and Jansport retreat when the employees arrived to a conference center and the room was filled with sofas and been bags, then, they all got off site and had unique experiences like cooking, surfing, climbing etc… To boost inspiration and collaboration.


  • Trip over truth

Make it so obvious that people realize the learning for themselves.

At the Course Design Institute, they took professors who taught boring classes and asked them to answer this question about their dream student, “3-5 years from now, my students still know____ Or they are still able to do ____. Or they still find value in ____.”

They all say high level things like “understanding the scientific process,” “collaborating with peers” and more. Then he asks them to pull out their syllabi for the course they are teaching and asks how much of the syllabus is dedicated to doing those things. It’s usually very little. That’s the trip over truth moment.

  • stretch for insight

Vocation Vacations, now called Pivot Planet, allows you to take a few days to shadow someone to test drive you “dream job.” Owning a bed and breakfast, running a winery or opening a bakery etc…

“Formula” / mentorship framework:

high standards and assurance+ direction and support = enhanced self insight

script: i have high expectations and I know you can do well

suggesting ways to improve and learn more



  • recognize others
  • multiply milestones
  • practice courage

Giving Voice to Values – The best way to speak up when you observe unethical behavior is to have practiced it before. Most people know WHAT to do, but don’t know HOW to speak up because they never practiced.


  • create shared meaning

Shared struggle creates deeper relationships.

People will choose to struggle if: The work means something to them, they have the autonomy to carry it out and it’s their choice to participate or not.

Purpose is’t discovered, it’s cultivated. Taking time to read stories of other people finding purpose in the work increased lifeguards sense of purpose.

  • deepen ties

Great relationships are built on “responsiveness”

There are three components:

Understanding – My partner knows how I see myself and what is important to me

Validation – My partner respects who I am and what I want

Caring – My partner takes active and supportive steps in helping me meet my needs

“Clinicians need to relinquish their role as the single, paternalistic authority and train to become more effective coaches or partners – learning how to ask “What matters to you? as well as “What’s the matter?”

  • making moments matter

Often times moments that matter are a built of many moments in the past and suddenly they make sense and there is an “A-ha!”

We have space, now we need a reason to meet there

To grow a community, we don’t need more spaces we need more contexts.

We have plenty of SPACE for people to meet, they just have no reason to come together in the same time and place.

The entrepreneurial community has many potential homes, now the hard work is getting people to overcome inertia. Not to go home at 5pm, but to come to an event. Not to be on their phones at an event, but to engage with humans.

That work is difficult, it’s risky and it doesn’t payoff in the short term.

It’s an investment in community that will pay dividends into the future.

It requires someone to stand up and say “we’re hosting an event at this time and place for people who___.” It requires that same person to face the music when three people RSVP and only two show up. It requires that person to try again, and again eventually creating some special and giving people a reason to spread the word.

Organizing the community isn’t easy, but before we spend more time and money on space, let’s think more about context.

Today is an opportunity

We have an amazing opportunity today. To teach, to learn, to empower, to help lightbulbs go off, but most importantly to listen, and make human beings feel heard.

Let that be our goal today and each day going forward.

The shipping muscle

At Dual School we’re exercising a different muscle

This isn’t a test

You can’t get a 100

No one is going to walk away with a perfect prototype

That’s not the point

The point is to learn

The point is to fail

Dual School is here to help you through that process

It’s not about what you start with or end with

It’s about what you’ve learned over the course of these 10 weeks

And the best way to learn is to put something out there

To try it

To send it before it’s ready

To be vulnerable and open to feedback

The faster you run toward human interactions the faster you will learn

Exercise that muscle

Put it out there before it’s polished

Prototype fast

Learn faster