In “Assessing d.learning: Capturing the Journey of Becoming a Design Thinker” , Goldman et al. (2012) introduced various prototypes they had developed in order to be able to assess the learning and development that occurs within a design thinking process. They justified the need for this research by identifying the need for learners to emerge from school with the ‘21st century skills’ of problem solving, critical thinking and entrepreneurship (Obama, 2009). Through their research, they were able to illustrate how their prototype assessment solutions were conducive to determining the presence of human-centered learning in individuals who were faced with design challenges. However, a gap exists in their research. They did not identify if 21st century competencies can be adequately assessed when developing those competencies isn’t the main goal of the design challenge. Are content-specific learning outcomes sacrificed when trying to simultaneously teach curriculum while developing design thinking behaviors?

There could be tension in the depth of assessment possible when trying to equally measure design thinking mindsets and subject matter competence (unless the curriculum is indeed the design thinking process itself). In order to elicit design thinking behaviors in one of their assessment prototypes, Goldman et al. presented a design challenge to the students that was vague and seemingly arbitrary in it’s purpose. They described how the focus wasn’t on the actual solutions the students would produce, but rather on how the student’s design thinking developed throughout the process (Goldman et al., 2012). While they discovered how complex and multi-faceted of a task it is to measure design-thinking benchmarks or behaviors which was meaningful finding in the context of their study, there is still a gap for those who might apply their findings or use them as a basis for further research. What would happen if the design challenge presented was a real-world problem that required solving? Or, what if the problem could only be solved by someone with a specific skill-set or knowledge base, and acquiring that knowledge or learning the skill was the curricular learning outcome? Is it possible for the content-specific learning to be assessed robustly within the context of the design challenge while still assessing progress towards a design-thinking mindset? Is a design challenge an appropriate strategy to employ, when design thinking isn’t the main outcome?

Do you have another perspective to share on why a design challenge would be an appropriate instructional strategy for curricular outcomes other than those centered around design?


Goldman, S. et al. (2012). Assessing d.learning: Capturing the journey of becoming a design thinker. In H. Plattner, C. Meinel & L. Leifer (eds). Design thinking research: Understanding innovation. (pp. 13-33). Berlin: Springer.

Obama, B. (2009). Assessment: measure what matters. Address to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from