Drivers and Enablers: Learning from Creative Thinking Experts


The notion of “learning to be creative” from design education is relatively new in business and entrepreneurial education, so what can we learn? Written by Kathryn Penaluna, Associate Professor, Director of the International Institute for Creative Entrepreneurial Development (UWTSD-IICED) and University’s Head of Enterprise, University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

Kathryn Penaluna

If we wish to move beyond business as usual, an entrepreneurial learning approach that encourages creativity and imagination is crucial, otherwise innovation or future oriented thinking will be scarce. The first source for creative expertise might be taken from educational approaches used in the arts or music, whose expertise is long standing. Design Thinking has also become a prevalent model in entrepreneurial education, but what if we think beyond that rather than simplistic interpretation and go to the roots of a discipline that has always created value for others through creative solution-finding?

In 2005 at UWTSD we reconsidered our approaches by looking at design education’s pedagogies and what it can offer in terms of learning, teaching and assessment of entrepreneurial learning. This was not quite as straightforward as you might imagine, not least because “Students and graduates in art, design and media are uncomfortable with the term ‘entrepreneur’.” (Boddington and Clews, 2007, 66), yet their survey demonstrated that many of the aspirations of entrepreneurial learning were already deeply embedded. Hence drivers and enablers such as culture, internal support structures and service alignment (ACEEU Standards of Dimension 3: Drivers and Enablers 1, 2 and 3), could inform what we were trying to achieve in interdisciplinary approaches to entrepreneurial learning, a position where being an interpreter of language and terminologies become a key role.

Lessons on assessment from design education

“Design students not only questioned everything I told them; they challenged the very way I thought about business education.”

Design students are taught to challenge norms and seek out new and innovative solutions, they don’t just test a poorly formed idea, they develop a multitude of ideas that enable them to flex and adapt as situations change. This wasn’t about ‘what’ they thought, it was ‘how’ they thought, and I suddenly realised this ability was what I had been seeking out when I was a bank manager yet had found difficult to articulate.

Over 20 years on, design education has continued to inspire me and influences the way that I work. Above all, the learning, teaching and assessment strategies seem to align with the goals of entrepreneurial education, so here are a few pointers to consider:

• Learner assessment in design education is authentic and constructively aligned (Biggs, 2003), with verbs such as ‘explain, analyse and apply’ featuring in earlier learning outcomes, these lead to reflect and hypothesize as projects evolve.
• It is the active solution-finding nature of the problem within learner evaluation that is critical, and that in turn relies on the educator being able to set believable and clearly relevant assignments (See: Tyler, 1949 for associated argumentation).
• There are no examinations in design education, and studio-based environments are used to develop authentic contextualised learning.

“You heard that right, there are no examinations in design education, when I first asked, I had a question back, ‘what kind of time-constrained short term memory recall do you need to test, and how will that help the students?’”

So how do designers assess learning, and how could their cultural understandings inform entrepreneurial learning development? Firstly, we need to understand that learning takes place through projects that progressively develop abilities as well as knowledge (See: Bandura, 2019). Initially these are simulated realities, so that confidence and expertise is gained before interacting with external clients and stakeholders.
Assessment is based on the learners’ process of thinking, not necessarily the final outcome. A well explained ‘glorious failure’ will receive a better grade than a well-executed but poorly considered solution. Progression is evidenced through increasingly complex reflection, which is aligned to portfolios of work. Students have to explain their concepts though maps and sketches that show how diverse and unusual the mental connections are that they made. The fewer the connections, the poorer the grade, and the more easily comparable their solutions are, the more criticism they receive.

Becoming flexible and adaptable are core concepts of design education, which traditionally moves from ‘scamps’ of very quickly executed and plentiful initial ideas through to ‘roughs’, where more successful likelihood (following research) narrows down the selection to more plausible proposals. This selection forms the basis of ‘visuals or what entrepreneurs might call minimal viable products. Assessment strategies mirror the need for many ideas prior to critical consideration, and formative peer reviews known as ‘crits’ include sessions on the thinking behind the current state of play. This embraces factors of change, because the learning environment is rarely static, and more ‘real worldly’ and an adaptive learning environment is the result. This mirrors the thoughts of Edströ (2008, 95), who when discussing excellence in educational practice stated that, “course evaluation should be regarded as a component of constructive alignment, together with the intended learning outcomes, learning activities and assessment”. As ACEEU Standards 7 and 10 indicate, these are important factors to consider.

In terms of impact when it comes to design beyond the classroom, the UK Design Council’s research is pretty convincing, as they do say that the simplicity with which design can be explained, necessitates complex thinking (See: Design Council, 2021).

What next?

So next time you use the word ‘design’ pause a moment and reflect on why you used that particular word, and ask if it is because you wish to imagine an alternative future? At UWTSD we have designed an entrepreneurial ecosystem based on a better understanding of how creative people think and how creative problem-solving works within future orientated approaches. Moreover, design education has become an integral aspect of high-quality entrepreneurial learning - as it teaches adaptability and abilities related to imaginative solution development for business, environmental and social impact.

While you are considering your use of the word design, why not learn more about how design educators teach creatives, and ask how they develop graduates who are confident when tasked to constantly come up with ideas that solve other peoples’ problems?

Note to Editor


Biggs, J. (2003), Teaching for Quality Learning at University: What the Student Does, 2nd ed, London: Open University Press.

Boddington, M and Clews, D (2007) Creating Entrepreneurship: Higher Education and the Creative Industries. Bournemouth: Higher Education Academy and National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts.

Bandera, C. Somers, M. Passerini, K Naatus MK and Pon, K (2019)

Disruptions as opportunities for new thinking: applying the studio model to business education. Knowledge Management Research & Practice. Volume 18, ISS. 1, 2020

Design Council (2021) Making life better by design: Communicating the value of Design. Online at:

Edström, K. (2008) Doing course evaluation as if learning matters most. Higher Education Research & Development, 27(2), 95 – 106.

Tyler, R.W. (1949) Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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