Published on 2013/06/10

Innovation Instruction Critical for Higher Education Institutions

Innovation Instruction Critical for Higher Education Institutions
As increasing numbers of institutions and providers enter the higher education marketplace, the college or university that can best prepare graduates to succeed and innovate in the labor market will be the institution that comes out on top.

Our country is emerging from a period of economic uncertainty, but once again, turning to innovation appears to the key element to ensure a prosperous future. If this is true, are our institutions of higher learning adequately preparing the next generation with workforce-readiness skills and the ability to innovate? If you didn’t get the memo, industry is already taking a lead on this effort; they can’t afford to wait.

Just like industry, higher education institutions must differentiate themselves from others in an ever-changing and competitive market. So why are some institutions consistently good at innovating and/or adapting while others seem to be blindsided by change? Is it because of their disciplined innovation process or the knowledge and skills of their faculty and staff? Or is it their determination to build a culture where challenging assumptions is not only encouraged, but expected?

In an overcrowded higher education market, in order to attract high-caliber students, enable graduates to transition into quality careers with a competitive skill-set edge and differentiate themselves, institutions must focus on teaching creativity and innovation.

In a recent study, The Conference Board found that American employers think creativity and innovation are becoming increasingly important in the workforce, and rate finding new hires with these skills to be among the most significant challenges facing CEOs. [1]Industry is not waiting on research to emerge from higher education; again, they can’t wait.

Leading-edge organizations can only succeed in today’s marketplaces and stoke innovation within their business models, products and services with employees who are creative leaders. [2] [3]

Innovation and creativity are at the leading edge of the most significant successes American businesses have enjoyed over the past century. Apple, for example, took an mp3 player, injected artistry and came out with the iPod leading to the rebirth of the corporation and the creation of a new consumer culture. Artistry and imagination are at the core of allowing a technology to transcend the status of “product”.

This creativity, artistry and passion are evident in higher education classrooms across the country. Students experiment in new fields, hone their craft over countless hours and test and re-test their ideas to fully integrate themselves into their fields. These students are taking technologies and injecting the necessary ingredients to breed innovation.

Just like the interplay of the right and left brain, industry is embracing the linkage between creative divergent thinking with convergent linear thinking in the workplace.  IBM3 found in a recent study that “innovation has often been thought of as synonymous with invention — technicians in white coats working in labs producing new and unusual outcomes. However, innovation is not invention — it is conceptually much broader.” In their findings, innovation that does not add value is generally futile.

Industry continues to evolve and build on the innovative approach embraced by Apple and IBM. Higher education would be well served to evolve with this mindset as well. Further research and discussion about innovation is needed, but there is insufficient progress in developing innovation training in organizations around the world. This is an opportunity for higher education and, specifically, continuing education professionals to meet this demand.

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[1] “Innovation Begins with Creative Employees,” The Conference Board, June 22, 2010.

[2] “Cultivating organizational creativity in the age of complexity,” IBM, 2010.

[3] IBM, “Enterprise innovation accelerator: Creating opportunities for sustainable growth through innovation,” 2012, available from

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Readers Comments

Frank Gowen 2013/06/10 at 11:10 am

Some institutions are beginning to encourage this type of ‘innovation instruction’ by partnering with businesses to offer students the opportunity to work on real-world problems and solutions. In these partnerships, businesses provide resources for students, or perhaps just the scenarios for them to work on, and this creates an opportunity for innovation.

Ursula V.F. 2013/06/11 at 7:36 am

Abeyta makes a good point about the need for more innovation instruction in higher education institutions. However, a major difference between Apple and most schools is the availability of funding. Although there are instances where innovation could be about doing more with less, or working creatively in an under-resourced environment, innovation most often requires robust resources. How many institutions have access to that?

Caitlin 2013/06/21 at 3:36 pm

I think that this is EXACTLY why STEM education is important. It’s not just about the ability to regurgitate spoon fed facts rather, it’s about learning to think through challenges, innovate, and solve problems.

Higher ed shouldn’t teach students how to preform certain industry jobs-things evolve and change too quickly but they can teach you how to think systematically to attack problems.

Kristin Cleveland 2013/06/21 at 6:59 pm

This article talks about the important parts about how having different ideas about topics can change higher education. As the years go on, we are going to need people who can bring brighter and different ideas to converstaions and that is how students can help, just by using their imagination.

Ashley Maskovitz 2013/06/21 at 7:54 pm

Innovation and Creativity are the key elements we need to foster in our education system. Art programs have been slashed in our schools which has an impact on our ability to foster the creative side of the brain. This is a call for change!

D Williams 2013/06/22 at 5:41 pm

As an educator at both the elementary and college levels, I believe STEAM education is vital from the start of one’s academic career. While many schools are shifting to this, many are still in the reading and math only focus, which leaves these students ill-prepared or not interested in these fields by the time they go into higher education. We have to provide students the opportunity to learn by doing, and problem solve through hands-on and minds-on activities; this engages them and teaches them much more than a basic lecture or chapter in a textbook ever could. We need to not only create that spark to interest them, but also keep that fire going to encourage them to pursue those career fields and be well-prepared for them. Integrating the arts aspect allows yet another way to present material that is more engaging and appeals to learners. That student who likes to draw can hone his or her skills and creativity into something more than just a pretty picture; that student has the potential to design the next innovative product of tomorrow.

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