Learning Does Not Happen Accidentally

When we opened our new Design Studio just over a year ago, it was the culmination of a prior year of planning, training, reading, travelling, brainstorming, and reaching out to others for ideas and help. We visited and studied Design Centres, Fab Labs, Makerspaces, Invention Studios, Hackerspaces and STEM Cells. We loved all of those names. We were fortunate to have a recent graduate, Joachim Horn, founder of SAM Labs, offer expert advice on the tools we needed, the layout of the design, and how the form and function of the space were related.

The most vital and critical ambition we had identified for our learners was to encourage them to become problem-finders, creators, and designers. We wanted STEAM, not just STEM. Of course, the end product is always fun and somewhat satisfying — whether it is a 3D printed prototype or a model from a Vacuum Former — but the real learning lies in the design process itself. The result is only as good as the process. That’s where the real learning resides. This is why we called our new space a Design Studio.


This minute attention to the semantics of a name might suggest an overly cautious or tentative approach to this venture. But the reality is that we took something of a deep dive into this new direction with a degree of blind faith and risk-taking. It was no accident that we had assembled a group of talented teachers who had prior experience in other fields that included: a software designer, an artist, a self-taught construction and computer expert, an electronic engineer, a mathematician and coder, a passionate student teacher, an ed tech thinker, and a medical doctor.

Last year, when a group of our students participated in a breakthrough event: the 3D printing, assembly, and distribution of prosthetic hands to local Belgian children in association with E-Nable, France, the importance of the individual components of our teachers — the parts that, together, made such an important team — became abundantly clear. This was a project that involved several failed attempts to produce a durable prosthetic hand before the iterative process led to success. Today, those first, “failed” attempts, along with many other early design prototypes, are proudly on display in a special cabinet. It’s not a collection of failures, it’s very much a learning gallery. The beliefs and culture that the group operated in were crucial to the success of this project that provided evidence that our deep dive was a success. These beliefs were best summed-up by the mantra that the team collaboratively designed with students and posted on the wall to represent our core philosophy.


At The International School of Brussels these beliefs are represented through our daily attempts to provide students with the learning environments they deserve and need. We endeavour to place innovation at the heart of our school for all students, at all ages. In March, we are hosting our first, international conference: a call to reimagine the way schools facilitate learning in a culture characterized by open knowledge systems, inclusive educational communities, and rapid social change. The title of our conference is Learning by Design. Design reflects not just the process of design thinking, where innovative ideas are born, but also the key to transformative learning — design as intentionality, a way of thinking, an ambition for students; a process, a mindset and methodology, a means of considering and creating possibilities beyond the limitations of convention and the here and now.

Learning does not happen accidentally: it happens by design.