The ‘5 Whys’: Teaching critical thinking to the click-bait news generation

When discussing Covid-19 with the Digital Innovators’ students before Boris Johnson’s school closure announcement, there were some wild statements flung around the room: everything from conspiracy theories to the most recent celebrity to contract the virus. In a time when we are increasingly glued to our news feeds while all being drawn to the same news, our use of critical thinking has never been more necessary.

Within the Digital Innovators programme, we use the simple activity of the ‘5 Whys‘ to allow students to think more deeply about a seemingly straightforward issue. We can all imagine that annoying child who, time and time again, hounds his parents with “but why?”. That parent may not have time to discuss the sociocultural reasons that explain why little Timmy can’t stay up past midnight on a school night, however, when investigating practical or intellectual problems, it is a method that can explore the root cause of an issue and unlock a plausible solution. After all, effect follows cause.

When talking with the students a week ago about the individuals that aren’t social distancing correctly, it was a perfect time to initiate this dialogue.

Student’s Statement: “These people going out are just stupid.”


Reason: They’re being selfish and don’t see what harm they could do.


Reason: Because they don’t know the impact they could have.


Reason: They have been told contrasting and changing information.


Reason: Because the government hasn’t provided clear messaging.


Reason: They want to keep a consistent message and not change things too quickly.

Solution: There needs to be a concise and clear message, communicated effectively by the government in order for people to understand the impact they could have.

This need for critical thinking is exponentially growing in the era of click-bait news, in which an individual’s opinion is masqueraded as fact. The use of the 5 Whys method can be an easy way of avoiding getting lost in the detail. Granted, some statements may be a lot more complex. However, the 5 Whys is not fixed at 5; this method can be increased or even reduced until a clear solution is identified.

Next time you read an article in your PJs , discuss the latest headline over Houseparty, or are faced with a problematic statement on Teams, you can start to look for holes within an argument. Through the 5 Whys, we can begin to question who benefits from this statement and why are they encouraging it? Additionally, we can question the source effectively. This may involve tracking down where it originally came from before you form an opinion. Finally, using the 5 Whys, we can begin to identify and separate the truth from subjective or false statements; it is common to formulate an argument based on information when the majority is true. It is easy to miss the non-sequitur because you agree with the majority of the statement, e.g.: “So, I think we can all agree that the grass is green, 1+1=2, ice is cold and that Apple makes the best computers”. Statements and arguments can be misleading; within the business world, it can cost thousands of pounds, within the world at the moment, it can cost lives. It is at this time that we can all benefit from initiating and practising our critical thinking skills in order to benefit ourselves, our families and our society as a whole.

Through use of the 5 Whys, we can really unpick statements and pay attention to the kinds of detail that will sharpen our critical thinking and perceptions of the world around us. At Digital Innovators, we believe this is of the upmost importance in order to unlock the potential of the digital generation.

Welcome to the new Digital Innovators website

Mick Westman, Founder

I’m thrilled to welcome visitors to our new Digital Innovators website (and blog).

The last 12 months or so have been a whirlwind of activity for our team. What started (in 2016) as a pilot project to help young people that had struggled to reach their full potential through traditional academic routes, has since blossomed into a full blown course benefitting hundreds of students – and we couldn’t be more pleased.

Our work to date has seen us develop relationships with colleges, universities, local authorities and employers, all of whom want to help young people unlock their potential. Feedback from our students and partners suggests we really are changing lives – not just by giving students the skills they need to excel in the workplace, but by giving them the confidence in their own ability to succeed.

Take a look at the unique way that we work with young people in further education, and the exciting projects the students are engaged in with our local employers. Projects that make a real difference.

None of our work would be possible without the considerable support of our partners, employers and supporters. Thanks to generous support, we are starting to expand what we do and look forward to sharing some announcements about this soon.

As well as our latest news, our blog contains insights into our ground breaking work, and our thinking on topics such as apprenticeships, the future digital workforce and what being being “digital” means.

This is also where we’ll keep you updated with our latest news, tell you about events and courses we are running and also publish informative posts on the digital world we all live in.

We have gone through a re-branding exercise managed by our Associate Communications Director, Catherine Martin, and have a great new logo and look that reflects our belief that we truly do “Unlock Potential”.

We’re excited about the future and look forward to working with existing and new partners to enable more young people to find the right path to their chosen career.

Knife Crime Project

Supporting efforts to tackle knife crime

Meet the Knife Crime team: Eve, Kiel, Yasin, Kay and Marty are teenagers from Solihull College & University Centre, working alongside West Midlands Police to try to tackle the crime rate in Solihull, specifically knife crime amongst young people. As the project manager Eve puts it;  “Our aim is to support young people and change misconceptions around knife crime.”

The Digital Innovators’ student project team is doing this by planning and building a website to help young people find support, information and other activities tackling knife crime. The website will also help parents by providing advice on raising the subject with their children and educating them about knife crime.

There will be a range of different components to the website to give young people a selection of different things to look at, for instance, a map which can be used to find local projects in your area and a blog which will allow for regular updates on useful information, statements from people who have had experience with knife crime, advice for youth and videos etc. 

The project team is hoping that by creating a website, they will help those that are being affected by knife crime by giving them resources, information and youth-to-youth support and advice on how to combat it effectively. 

Working on the knife crime project has allowed for the five Digital Innovators’ students to learn new skills, build their confidence and work on their communication skills. They have been given the opportunity to attend important events with the West Midlands Police along with meeting and talking to people they wouldn’t normally have the chance of encountering. 

The students pitched their project to Princes Trust which resulted in them being given funding. This will be put towards the development of the website and other aspects of their project. 

The Knife Crime project has been very beneficial to the five students as it is giving them the chance to learn new practical skills and strengthen existing knowledge that is needed in the workplace. It has also given them experience that will help them towards gaining skills companies look for when recruiting apprentices.

“When I first joined Digital Innovators and joined the project, I didn’t exactly know what to do. Everything seemed confusing and I didn’t know where to start. So I spoke with the Digital Innovators’ staff and got some advice on where to begin. Now I’m better than ever and I’m feeling quite confident with my project,” expressed team-member, Eve. “Digital Innovators is amazing for providing young people with advice when it comes to themselves, work and their future.” she added. 

We can’t wait to see what amazing things these five students will do in the future and how helpful and educational their website will be for young people.

Coronavirus: Adapting our work

At Digital Innovators, we are monitoring the ongoing Covid-19 situation closely. The wellbeing of our students, staff, business partners and stakeholders remains our upmost priority. 

Solihull College is currently closed and our team is working remotely.

In response to the Government’s most recent recommendations, and advice from our partner employers and key stakeholders, we have suspended all direct contact between students, employers and Digital Innovators until the foreseeable future. We have been hugely encouraged by how many of the students have asked if they can try and complete their work placement projects despite these restrictions – their enthusiasm is a credit to them and to our partners for igniting such interest in these projects. 

As a digital company we will continue to support our students remotely and enable them to complete the projects they have started, where possible. We will be working hard to ensure the work done to date continues where it can or is merely paused, not lost. 

Our management team is actively working with new partners to explore opportunities to expand the Digital Innovators programme when circumstances allow, and we look forward to making announcements about this in due course.

In the meantime, stay home, stay safe and we look forward to connecting in person once restrictions are lifted.

Showcase success!

Businesses, parents and students across the West Midlands were invited to the premier Digital INnov8ors Showcase on 27th January. An event that showcased the innovative projects and talent of Solihull College & University centre students engaged on a unique program delivered by Digital INnov8ors working with local employers. The event highlighted potential changes in technical education and discussed the influence that new technology will have within businesses.

The future of employment, the need for collaboration between education and business, and the impact of technology on the economy were all discussed through guest seminars from John Callaghan, (Principal of Solihull College), Robert Elliot, (President of Solihull Chamber of Commerce) Andy Smith, (Chairman of Bright Bricks) Tejinder Kaur (Content Editor at ITV Central) and Taran Singh (Founder of Taran 3D).

The centre-piece of the showcase however was not the inspiring stories and questions raised within the guest seminars but was the 80 students exhibiting the projects they are completing for their respective clients.

Over 100 businesses, Solihull College & University Centre students and parents attended the event in which students on the Digital INnov8ors programme showcased their digital skills that they have been harnessing over the past 5 months. 16 ongoing projects were all exhibited at the College Conference Centre. Employer Projects were sponsored by Prime Accounting, CCL, National Grid, West Midlands Police, the Ministry of Justice and the NHS. 

Working with Solihull College & University centre the Digital INnov8ors mission is to create parity between vocational and academic learning that “provides alternative pathways to employment” that employers value and which develops confident learners. If the outcomes of the Showcase are anything to go by then the value of these projects for both students and employers will certainly be proven.

What is talent?

 In many cases, it might be a synonym for “intelligence” or in other domains it might mean “athleticism.” At Digital Innovators it means much more. We consider Talent to be an individual’s unique capabilities and their ability to apply them in different situations. The ability to be flexible, resilient and creative. We consider Talent to be more than just excellence at one specific discipline.

This definition of talent also helps people grow. For example, if we are trying to improve in some domain and have high aspirations, we are continually reaching the edge of our current skills. Whenever we sense we are at this “edge,” and our performance is judged relative to others, we can interpret the relative feedback as evidence for a lack of talent.

Instead Digital Innovators think the measure of talent as an individual’s rate of improvement, self-belief and confidence. The latter interpretation helps learners persist, while still allowing for talent differences. It is the classic tortoise and the hare story—others may be speeding rabbits in our domain, but given that we aspire to excel, we may plod along like the tortoise, eventually reaching our goals with deliberate effort.

Digital INnov8ors Showcase 2020

Just two weeks until our first ever Digital INnov8ors Showcase in association with Solihull College & University Centre! Bringing together local educators, businesses and students.

The future of employment, the need for collaboration between education and business, and the impact of technology on the economy shall all be discussed alongside Digital INnov8ors students showcasing their progress on their own pathways into employment.

In addition to meeting the various contributors to the Digital INnov8ors Community, attendees will also benefit from:

  • Building your business network
  • Understanding the impact of technology on your business and the future of employment
  • Understanding the Digital INnov8ors approach to developing skilled future employees
  • Learn how Digital INnov8ors and Solihull College & University Centre can benefit your business
  • Meeting other like-minded local business people

Register now at:

Announcing Digital INnov8ors Showcase 2020

We are pleased to announce the first ever Digital INnov8ors Showcase. On the 27th January, we’ll be bringing together local educators, businesses and students to showcase what the Digital Innov8ors Programme is all about and how you can get involved.

We’re excited to be welcoming an impressive line-up of guest speakers, who will besmearing their experiences and insight into what employers need and how young people can get a head start on their career. Our speakers include:

  • Robert Elliot, President of Solihull Chamber of Commerce – Collaboration between Business and Education
  • Tejinder Kaur, Content Editor at ITV Central – The Influence of Technology on the Media Sector
  • John Callaghan, Principal of Solihull College – The Challenges Facing Education in 2020
  • Taran Singh, Founder of Taran 3D – The Introduction of New Tech to Your Business

Our students will also be presenting some of their current projects which are being run in collaboration with organisations such as Solihull Police, the NHS, BNP Paribas and CCL Group.

Open to businesses, students, educational establishments and other interested parties, there will also be informal networking and light refreshments.

The free Showcase is on the 27th January at Solihull College from 2-6pm (drop in when you can or stay all day). To register click here.

Innovation Lab – Capturing imaginations

Kids can get bored easily – particularly when there’s a long summer holiday stretching ahead of them. According to the parents I’ve spoken to, one of the frustrations can be finding suitable activities to keep busy minds occupied. There tend to be lots of sports activities around for children of different ages, but opportunity to exercise the mind seem harder to come by.

That’s why we launched our Innovation Lab in 2019. For the first time, we took Digital Innov8ors to Touchwood Shopping Centre and sought out children (and parents) who were looking for a new challenge.

Over a number of weeks, students that had completed our Digital Innov8ors Programme at college were encouraged to design and run creative design and engineering activities with children from 8-12. The results were incredible. We had children as young as eight coming up with credible ideas to help tackle climate change, and saw shy youngsters quickly find their confidence with the help of some of the techniques we use with our own students.

Parents were treated to a presentation at the end of each day and many were surprised to see just how much the children had accomplished in a day – and without the help of a screen!

We’re hoping to run Innovation Labs again in 2020. To find out more or to register your interest, contact us on

Inspiring the digitally innate

There is a need to address the Digital skills shortage by creating career pathways to future employment for today’s 16-25-year olds. A model that is a fusion between education providers, businesses and learners – demand-led education, Learners develop their unique talents whilst applying digital skills to solve employer problems.

The current generation of learners are more digitally enabled than any generation before them. Digital is in their DNA. We believe that employers are struggling on two fronts;

(1) They lack the digital skills required to help them be competitive in the market place and grow

(2) Their ability to find recruits with the skills they need that would make them effective employees. Often sighting over qualification and low real-world experience.

An important aspect of our approach is recognising that being ‘innately digital’ crosses all segments of society – digital disruption should be used as a democratising tool – and offers new opportunities to the 55% of learners not destined for tertiary education.

It’s time to recognise that lean-back classroom, abstract teaching, does not work for everyone.

It’s time to recognise that lean-back classroom, abstract teaching, does not work for everyone. The aim is to ensure that less academically orientated talent is sufficiently inspired and ambitious to grasp employment opportunities. This inclusive approach broadens the region’s talent pool by tapping into a segment of the prospective workforce previously significantly ignored by the tech-led sectors. It is shaped to engage those that are hard to reach because they have been disenfranchised by the education system but are either continuing to struggle within the system, or are now not in employment, education or training (‘NEETS’).

This will enable us to spread the opportunities offered by tomorrow’s smart city to the largest possible number of citizens. It will also support a largely ignored source of innovators and entrepreneurs, again helping drive wider inclusion and hence a richer pool of innovators to drive the economy.  It plays, at several levels, to the local engineering heritage that drove the ‘work shop of the world’, which has to potential to do so again in this 4th Industrial Revolution.

The Apprentice Training Agencies (ATA’s) model offers a unique approach to the recruitment of apprentices and could be used to enable such an approach.

ATA’s are specifically designed to support employers who wish to take on an apprentice but are unable to in the current economic climate. They can support employers whose order book will not currently allow them to commit to employing an apprentice for the full period of the Apprenticeship but know that they will need fully trained employees when the economy picks up.

The distinctive feature of the ATA model is that it is the ATA who “acts as” the apprentice employer and who places them with a host employer. The host employer pays the ATA a fee for the apprentices’ services; this fee being based on the wage agreed with the host and the ATA management fee.

The ATA model offers other benefits for the employer. These include;

The ATA could specialise in the provision of Digital Skills,

Support with recruitment – finding the right apprentice to meet the employers’ needs,

Supervision of the apprentice during the Apprenticeship period,

Links with an approved training provider and support to both the apprentice and host employer throughout the Apprenticeship.

For the young person the ATA gives another route into an Apprenticeship which can offer them the opportunity to experience a range of employers and increased security around the continuation of their Apprenticeship.

The Apprenticeship Training Agency model is being developed to contribute to the success of Apprenticeships by giving access for a greater number of employers and young people.

This article was originally written for Digital Leaders and can be viewed here