Failing to Learn: Design Thinking and the Development of a Growth Mindset in Undergraduate Marketing Classrooms


This study examines how design thinking practices can effect the development and resilience of a growth mindset and of failure tolerance within an undergraduate learning community. This research is generously supported by a Mount Royal University Essential SoTL Grant (2019 – 2020).

Design thinking is an interactive, student-centred pedagogical approach that has been recently recognized as a valuable strategy in higher education (Brown, 2008). Design thinking has been highlighted as a signature pedagogical approach in creative and studio-based education (Cross, 2012) and as a key driver in the development of growth mindsets (Dweck, 2008) and of failure tolerance among creative practitioners, including designers (Dorland, 2018). In the process of developing and implementing marketing courses at the Bissett School of Business, our research team has discovered that there is still a great deal of ambiguity with respect to how design thinking is applied toward the development of a growth mindset in undergraduate student learning outside the studio space, how practices of design thinking are extended by students into their creative and critical problem-solving work during their program of study, and the nature of undergraduate learning that design thinking enables – particularly in a marketing-focused postsecondary classroom context. We will use a multi-method case study approach to explore the complex, situated reality of the design thinking phenomenon as it is applied, expressed, interpreted, enacted and experienced by students who have completed MKTG 2150 courses at MRU.

The overarching purpose of our project is to better understand the phenomenon of design thinking, and the way that design thinking oriented learning strategies might contribute to the development of a growth mindset in undergraduate students. Can the use of design thinking oriented learning strategies in an undergraduate marketing class contribute to the development of a growth mindset in the learning community? Specifically, we aim to answer the following questions:

1. How do students in a design-thinking focused section of MKTG 2150 describe their orientation toward a growth mindset before and a design thinking-based learning experience? How does their orientation differ from that described by learners in a standard section of MKTG 2150?

2. How do students in a design-thinking focused section of MKTG 2150 characterize the role of failure in creative problem-solving work before and a design thinking-based learning experience? How does that differ from the role of failure characterized by learners in a standard section of MKTG 2150?