Where Service-Learning Meets Design Thinking

Design for Change has recently partnered with our friends at the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) to create our first ever crosswalk program, where we analyzed the similarities between service-learning and design thinking.



Want to use our crosswalk to improve your teaching strategies? You can download a free copy here.


Let's get down to the main details.


What is Design Thinking?


Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process used to build empathy, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test.


What is Service-Learning?


Service-learning is an approach to teaching and learning in which students use academic and civic knowledge and skills to address genuine community needs.


How Do Design Thinking and Service-Learning Coincide?


Like service-learning, the design thinking process is not a linear process. It is often illustrated as a cycle that includes the steps of inspiration, ideation, and implementation -- with an emphasis on the empathy that grows out of human-centered design.


As Senior Innovation Officer at Youthprise Libby Rau says, the design thinking process informs not only work with external partners in finding solutions to issues, but also innovations for internal processes -- from staff meetings to program evaluation.


Both NYLC and DFC uphold the importance of youth voice in addressing real community needs that lead to social change, and both approaches frame community needs as local and global, using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a unifying framework. According to Tara Seibel, Co-Director at DFC: "Youth-led design thinking shifts traditional power dynamics as young people are positioned to drive intentional, purposeful, and aligned changes in their own communities.” Perhaps most importantly, practitioners of both approaches strive to address the root causes of persistent community issues.


How Can I Apply Both Design Thinking and Service-Learning to My Classes?


You can use a mix of design thinking and service-learning for your students' upcoming projects, or use just parts of one that work best for you. However, it is important to note that in both the design thinking process and service-learning process, reflection after a cumulative project is important to complete the learning experience.


For more information on the similarities and differences between design thinking and service-learning, download a free copy of the Design for Change and NYLC crosswalk here.


Get Access to the Design for Change & NYLC Crosswalk



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