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Thought Leadership in Education.

Prof. Manu Kapur from ETH Zürich, who is also director of their Future Learning Initiative, gave a presentation to the EADL annual conference in Copenhagen in May. Undoubtedly a thought leader in his field, his contribution generated a lot of interest, debate and controversy.

His thesis was this: if you show a student how to do something, they will follow your instructions and learn. But, if you give a student the elements or the query or the tools without also giving them the solution, you encourage them to think outside the box and try to find a solution which might not be what you were looking for, but might open the door to new ways to resolve the issue that you presented the student with.

He believes that you should allow a student to (in most cases) fail on their first attempt. It challenges them to find a solution from within their own skillset and knowledge base, and you can then present them with the solution which they can learn. 


As a trainer and educator, I could see the value but also the danger in this strategy. The value is that, if you present information in this way to a confident, established practitioner/middle-manager, they will rise to the challenge and quite enjoy the fact that they have not been given the solution. They are confident in their own skills and abilities, and not afraid of failure.

If, on the other hand, you present this to less confident, less well-established students, in particular students who might be returning to education for the first time, or students who are really challenged to grasp concepts that others regard as basic or simple, then those students will not thrive.

In fact, you might well convince them, in their own minds, that they are doomed to failure. Their previous experience of learning was a struggle, and this newest challenge might serve to reinforce their negative beliefs about themselves and possibly harm their self-esteem and limit their career vision for the future.

In conclusion

There are many pros and cons to Prof Kapur’s thesis. The wonderful thing about listening to thought leaders is that they present you with a vision or a challenge from an angle that you had not previously considered. Plenty of food for thought In Prof Kapur’s presentation.

Harnessing the power of Technology - Creating the Thought Leaders of Tomorrow