Making Skills Everyone’s Business through Ideation and Innovation

By Heidi Silver-Pacuilla, Team Leader at the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

“How might we solve…?” Is the question that sparked nearly 100 educators in an early morning design session on the final day of the National College Transition Network’s annual conference.

“How might we…?” questions for participants in the Design Workshop at the NCTN 2015 Conference.

Attendees brainstormed solutions to challenges faced by adult learners connected to the strategies embedded in the report, Making Skills Everyone’s Business (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE), 2015).

Heidi Silver-Pacuilla, Team Leader, and Lul Tesfai, Senior Policy Advisor, from OCTAE, led the group through the 90-minute sprint. The session used the Stanford Design School‘s freely available toolkit which organizes the process around five stages:

  • Empathy
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test



Video stories of adult learners, drawn from the KET series, Dropping Back In, grounded the effort in human-centered design thinking. Real stories from students they know spurred attendees to think outside the box to likely and unlikely partners who have assets to leverage.

By the end of the session, groups had articulated and prototyped new solutions to existing challenges. And they had experienced the power of design thinking to shake up old assumptions and move beyond “we can’t because…” to “how might we…?”