This is “Building Things and the Role of Learn-By-Doing in Developing Ideas for New Products and Services”, section 1.17 from the book Creating Services and Products (v. 1.0). For details on it (including licensing), click here.

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1.17 Building Things and the Role of Learn-By-Doing in Developing Ideas for New Products and Services

Learning-by-doingThe organization or entrepreneur makes and builds things, conducts experiments, and builds prototypes. means that the organization or entrepreneur makes and builds things, conducts experiments, and builds prototypes. R&D is essentially learning by doing. Individuals and organizations benefit from learning-by-doing because it builds up absorptive capacityThe result of having already developed insight in a particular domain. An individual or organization can understand, assimilate, transfer, and exploit new knowledge and then apply it to solving problems and developing commercially viable products..Cohen and Levinthal (1990). Absorptive capacity is the result of having already developed knowledge and insight in a particular domain, for example, in medicine, baseball, networking, or memory chips. Having absorptive capacity means that prior knowledge facilitates the learning of new knowledge. Developing absorptive capacity is synonymous with developing insight. It gives an individual or an organization the ability to understand, assimilate, transfer, and exploit new knowledge and new information as it becomes available and then to apply it to solving problems and developing commercially viable products. Learning-by-doing is essentially design and development.

The key activity for innovative activity is the learning-by-doing process. Learning-by-doing means that you make and build things, try experiments, and construct prototypes. Sometimes, there is a facilitator, such as a teacher, a project manager, colleagues, a fellow student, a book, or a YouTube video, to get you started on the path to creativity.

Roger Shank is a well-known expert on artificial intelligence, learning, and knowledge. He has been on a crusade to change the way kids are taught. He wants children to learn by doing and engage in more experimentation and reflection and spend less time on being tested on the so-called “body of knowledge that everyone must know.”Schank and Cleary (1995), p. 74.

If you want to learn to throw a football, drive a car, build a mouse trap, design a building, cook a stir fry, or be a management consultant, you must have a go at doing it. Throughout history, youths have been apprenticed to masters in order to learn a trade … Parents usually teach children in this way. They don’t give a series of lectures to their children to prepare them to walk, talk, climb, run, play a game, or learn how to behave. They just let their children do these things. If he throws poorly, he simply tries again. Parents tolerate sitting in the passenger seat while their teenager tries out the driver’s seat for the first time. It’s nerve-racking, but parents put up with it, because they know there’s no better way.… When it comes to school, however, instead of allowing students to learn by doing, we create courses of instruction to tell students about the theory of the task without concentrating on the doing of the task. It’s not easy to see how to apply apprenticeship to mass education. So in its place, we lecture.

R&D is essentially learning-by-doing. Individuals and organizations benefit from learning-by-doing in the context of R&D because it builds up absorptive capacity.Cohen and Levinthal (1990). Absorptive capacity is simply a function of having previously developed knowledge structures in a particular domain (e.g., domain knowledge in medicine, baseball, networking, or memory chips). It gives an individual or an organization the ability to understand, assimilate, transfer, and exploit new knowledge and information and then to apply it to solving problems and developing commercially viable products.