MOOCs for Design Thinkers

I’m a big fan of MOOCs and there are a number of formats around innovation and Design Thinking now, each with its own take on the topic. This is a list of the ones that I came across, along with my personal thoughts on some of them:

“Design Thinking” (Macromedia University/Oliver Szasz)

This is maybe the first Design Thinking MOOC coming out of Germany and meant as a general introduction to the topic in four weeks.

My comment: I like that this MOOC brings in a number of different people to talk about their perspective on Design Thinking. Nevertheless the content feels very traditional and not very different from attending a university lecture except that most lecturers look really uncomfortable talking to the camera. There are few examples or stories, not really many practical tools or exercises and the content is very focused on explaining the Design Thinking process, leaving aside cultural aspects of Design Thinking.


Design Thinking for Business Innovation (University of Virginia/Jeanne Liedtka)

This four week course has the goal of demystifying Design Thinking as the driving force behind successful corporations and startups.

My comment: Jeanne Liedtka presents a well-structured and engaging MOOC that covers the basics of the Design Thinking process. I really like that she brings in a lot of experts from business, design, entrepreneurship who provide their perspective on design and innovation. The case studies are well told and succeed at illustrating the content, there is even a large section on culture & leadership based on Design Thinking. Unfortunately, there are no exercises that help students practice design tools. There is, for example, a lecture on visualization that emphasizes its importance but does not give any guidance on how to actually work more visually.


Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society (University of Pennsylvania/Karl Ulrich):

This eight week course, as the title suggests, is focusing on Design of objects and covers a number of design tools in theory and practice.

My comment: This is my absolute favorite MOOC ever. Karl Ulrich, who delivers most of the content from his own workshop is an incredibly hands-on and credible teacher. Most of the content in this class is actually based on design projects that he himself has been a part of and have turned into flourishing (and sometimes, but rarely, failing) companies. The design tools that he presents are very practical and the main course case study has actually turned into a real, successful product:


Innovation and Design Thinking (University of Cincinnati/Drew Boyd&Jim Tappel)

This course is described like this: “In this FREE seven-week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), students will master the tools necessary to generate new ideas and quickly transform those concepts into viable new products and services.”

My comment: I have to admit that this is one of the MOOCs that I totally missed and I hope if comes back to have a closer look. Based on the trailer, I think the focus is on innovation in consumer product companies.


U.Lab: Transforming Business, Society, and Self (MIT/Otto Scharmer):

Otto Scharmer’s class is a Lab that is meant to put Theory U into action, it’s not a Design Thinking class! The structure intends that you find a team and interact in regular peer coaching sessions.

My comment: I appreciate Theory U’s contribution to the innovation discourse with its emphasis on reflection and designing of self, but to me, this MOOC is not really much fun. Otto Scharmer is presented as the superior Übervater of the process and content is delivered almost exclusively through him. Explanations are quite theoretical and for my personal taste too esoteric. It feels like a mixture of psychotherapy and a yoga class.


Design Kit: The Course for Human-Centered Design (ACUMEN/IDEO.ORG) 

This is the description of this course: “The Course for Human-Centered Design is a seven-week curriculum that will introduce you to the concepts of human-centered design and how this approach can be used to create innovative, effective, and sustainable solutions for social change. This course has been created to reach those who are brand new to human-centered design, so no prior experience required.”

My comment: This course has a lot of collaborative elements and is meant to be attended with a project and a team in mind. The course offers a lot of resources to support teams in their weekly tasks, many of them based on the existing Design Kit, which is very well done. Video lectures are meant so set the corresponding mindset and highlight case studies. Most are quite short and I don’t find them so valuable, what I really like is the idea of providing workshop guides that team leaders can use in their sessions.


Innovation at Work (Stanford University/Perry Kleban&Jeremy Utley)

This course is directed at professionals who want to facilitate creative processes in their own work environment. It requires that you register with a team of colleagues and costs about $2000 per team.

My comment: I have not attended this class and can’t say much about the content. Nevertheless I find the general idea to get advice on transferring Design Thinking to your own workplace charming. In my own projects the contexts that people want to apply the methods in are so diverse that it’s hard to imagine them all following a standardized format. Then again – Perry and Jeremy are very experienced in what they’re doing and I’m sure they have some interesting content for participants.


Delft Design Approach (Delft University of Technology) 

This course is described as: DDA691x offers a college-level introduction to the Delft Design Approach through lectures and exercises on design fundamentals and 6 methods. You will understand basic models and concepts that underlie the Delft approach. You will also develop the capability to use 6 basic methods in a design context. You will do so by applying the methods to realistic design challenges and by reflecting on your own performance by comparing it to that of expert designers as well as through peer discussion.

My comment: I hope to be attending the next round of this class.


Intro to the Design of Everyday Things (Don Norman)

This course provides a summary of key concepts from the first two chapters of The Design of Everyday Things (Revised and Expanded Edition, November 2013) by Don Norman. It’s intended to be enjoyable and informative for anyone curious about design: everyday people, technical people, designers, and non-designers alike.

My comment: This is a fun course that focuses on what I would call “Design Design”, so the classical craft of shaping things around us. The fantastic thing is that the course material can be accessed anytime, you can study at your own pace and don’t have to wait for an official start date.


Ignite your Everyday Creativity (State University of New York) 

The desciption reads: “Creativity is an essential skill for the 21st Century that is innate in all people and can be nurtured. We constantly need new and better ideas for almost every aspect of our professional and personal lives. The goal of this course is to help you recognize, develop and act upon the creativity that you already possess.”

My comment: This is not a MOOC on design methods, but on creativity in general. Unfortunately, I feel like there is really only one message here, and that can be told in three words: YOU ARE CREATIVE! The class hammers that message home in different variations, making the program feel much like a motivation tape that you would listen to on your ride to work.

Note that all of these are very much my personal views. Did I miss any great MOOCs? Feel free to drop me a line!