When many people think of R&D units, their first image is a Fortune 500 company devoting millions of dollars to some unit of researchers and innovators who are trying to create the next great product. They might picture some carefully protected area filled with one or more teams that are partly or fully isolated from the rest of the organization as they secretly experiment, innovate, research, build prototypes, test, and continue this process until they find something of promise.

This is one powerful type of reserach and development, but R&D it is definitely broader, and it is entirely available and accessible to organizations of all sizes and types. In fact, we are now seeing a rapid growth of R&D in both P-12 and higher education.

As Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, once noted, there are three types of learning organizations. There are the elite institutions with massive financial reserves that are partly insulated from immediate disruption. There are Industrial Age schools that are stuck in increasingly outdated models and practices, desperately in need of exemplars. Then there are the innovative schools, which are quickly breaking away from the pack. More schools in all three of these categories are recognizing that a strategic investment in R&D is not some value added or nicety, but it is an essential component to living out their mission in the present and future.

Apart from a small number of education companies, most people don’t think of R&D in education, but it is unquestionably on the rise, and already producing intriguing results.

Schools are using traditional, newer, an experimental approaches to reserach and development to better understand and improve what they are doing now, to grow and build into new offerings, and to experiment with potentially disruptive possibilities for their future. In this era of rapid change and uncertainty in education, more schools and leaders recognize the importance of stragically and intentionally positioning themselves to live out and express their mission in new ways, and building a R&D component to their work is a key part of such future thinking and planning.

Birdhouse Learning Labs was created to help with this opportunity. We are committed to bringing the ingenuity, inspiration, and impact of Thomas Edison’s Menolo Labs to education, doing it in 5 main ways.

  1. For those schools (or other organizations with an education mission) seeking to build a foundation for research and development, BLL provides custom and more general training and consulting on education R&D, leading change, designing innovation teams, and much more. We specialize in helping people learn how to create a plan for R&D; how to build individual and collective capacity for mission-minded reserach, development, and innovation; and how to frame key R&D questions and approaches that drive them toward new and promising possibilies.
  2. In the corporate world, R&D is not always done in-house. It is often outsourced or done in partnership with another organization that has the expertise to help or lead the effort. This is quite often an excellent option for many schools and learning organizations. As such, BLL is ready and willing to provide that service or explore any number of possible partnerships. We can even help facilitate or coordinate shared R&D units across multiple schools and/or organizations.
  3. Simiarly, sometimes a school has an emerging R&D team but is looking to supplement or enhance the work of that team. We are ready and excited to aid in those situations, amplifying the good work that you already have underway.
  4. We also offer school leaders and executives with ongoing coaching and mentoring in the area of educational innovation, reserach, and development.
  5. Finally, we run and lead our own independent R&D teams, each one self-funded, consisting of a 3+ team members with expertise in a given area. This work results in education products and services that we sell, share, or sometimes give away to other individuals or organizations.

In this Wild West era of education, things are changing, and they are changing quickly. For some this is a source of anxiety, but for others, it is an equal or greater source of excitement and exhilaration. It is a time to explore, lean into, understand, and pursue the current and emerging possibilities for creating a better, more hopeful, more engaging, more humane education system. It starts with you. Education R&D is a promising means of creating such a future, and BLL is ready to help you and your organization make that happen.