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Assumption reversal is an approach to thinking which seeks to develop creative solutions to problems.


The approach was first developed by Michael Michalko, a former US army officer and has been used to foster creative thinking in many spheres of life.


There are three steps to Assumption Reversal:


  • First, list all of the assumptions that you have about a particular subject.


  • Second, choose one of these assumptions and reverse it.


  • Finally, try to find ways to make this reversal work.


New digital technologies have often used this strategy and applied it to traditional industries. Take for example the taxi business, where a key assumption has always been that ‘taxi companies own cars’. Once this notion is flipped on its head you have a very new assumption, ‘taxi companies do not own cars’. From this thought a very successful idea has been born: self-employed drivers should be hired by firms such as Uber on a ride-by-ride basis.


Applying Assumption Reversal to Education

This method of thinking can be applied to education in different ways:


Soft Skills

 Traditionally a classroom has seen a teacher (an active agent) imparting knowledge to the learner (a passive agent). However with the rise of the internet, essentially all of the shared knowledge of humankind is practically free at the point of use (barring the costs of acquiring and owning a device capable of accessing the web, but then even this is getting cheaper and faster).


So in this light, the most efficient use of a child’s time in school may not be to receive knowledge.


If we take this basic assumption and flip it on its head, we have: ‘children do not receive knowledge in schools’. In order to make this assumption work we may then say, ‘what if we give children skills instead and teach them how to find knowledge for themselves and use it in interesting ways?’.


Here we arrive at the teaching of soft skills in education - skills which can be transferred and applied to all spheres of life.


Four of these skills of particular note are the so-called ‘4Cs of 21st Century Learning’ - touted as the skills needed for the workplace of the future. They are: critical thinking (analysing information), collaboration (being able to work on joint projects), communication (listening to and sharing ideas) and creativity (solving problems in inventive ways).

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