Derek William Nicoll

Hi – My name is Derek Nicoll and I was raised in Arbroath, a small east coast fishing town on the north-east coast of Scotland which looks out on the North Sea. The Scottish Declaration of Independence was signed there in 1320:

“…for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

After a period of travel and adventure round most of Europe and North Africa and dalliances with the music industry I moved to London in the early 1980s to pursue my art.

I lived in Stoke Newington and Dalston Kingsland. From there I spent a period living in Melbourne, this was at the time of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the ‘end of history’.  I lived in Edinburgh during most of the 1990s.

In 2002 I relocated to South East Asia and lived in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia. I currently rent in Sihanoukville, which is on the coast of Cambodia which looks out on the Gulf of Thailand. From 2008-2010 I was resident in Maseru, Lesotho, a sovereign nation land-locked within South Africa. I have also lived for various times in Mae Sai, Gaborone,  Melbourne, London,  and Kuala Lumpur.

Over the last 30 odd years I have had a fair old international exposure and have been working mainly in the creative industries and education, with departures into consulting (digital media and education). As an business person, an entrepreneur and practitioner I have engaged in many diverse projects and ventures (record company, interiors and building construction, restaurants, and media/internet). I have also staged and managed events on New Media and acted as an editor (arts editor and technology). I have used integrated design thinking in all my projects.

My research interests are education, design, science and technology, media, culture, new business models, globalisation and how they go into the melting pot, to create good and bad tastes, positive and contentious outcomes. I believe I can join the dots.

Most importantly I have taught people now at all ages, from early years to mature, poor people through to corporate and government elites, at all levels to doctorate.

Over the last 10 years in particular, I have become deeply interested in how education can best globalise and localise, and conversely, how the global and local can best come to global education. My most recent project has been an early years experiment in Cambodia. I typically teach and interpolate subjects like sociology of design, self-centred design, contextual design, organisational behaviour, strategic and innovation management to create new castles in the sky, although I have also trained children and adults in rugby (Edinburgh Acedemicals), IT, cuisine preparation and social science research methods. As above, so below, and so earthy things.

In order to understand this better I live a deliberate and modest existence, engage in as little consumption as possible, helping people generally but especially to readjust their learning institutions to cater for rapidly changing and uncertain futures. I taught and advised on education excellence, built curriculum and management processes, and more recently home school my 6-year-old son and any of his pals that want to learn about science, particularly how simple ideas lead to discovery [they are learning how maths and English connect to all this at the experimental school].

Can education accelerate development in emerging economies? What factors keep it back or on track? What experiences can be drawn from emerging economies, the South and East, to offer developed nations inhabitants with respect to living more sustainable, responsible lifestyles? I am not alone in this, not at all, see here for a very relevant discussion.

This digital culture we move within is a textual and re-mix culture, I am not sure the implications of this yet as it plays out globally in learning. I do know this much though, digital is mixing with biological and this has unimaginable implications, so does massive global shifts in economic power, so does terrible catastrophes, human created or natural, epidemics, chain reactions and unintended consequences. It sort of dwarfs our concerns, and even our wars. Ray Bradbury stated in Zen in the Art of Writing (1992)

“Ours is a culture and a time immensely rich in trash as it is in treasures.”

This strikes me as an essential commentary on learning and the digital medium – that as the access to learning becomes more available and open source and (with cheaper devices and internet access and massive open online courses and simulations), with data and class work (MIT, Kahn Academy,, Coursera, and basic research papers. As the cost approaches zero, the knowledge of an individual only becomes limited by his/her interests and ability to decode, understand, assimilate, curate, re-mix and use. The problem then for teachers is that as Jacques Derrida said: “Meaning is context-bound, but context is boundless.” inductive approaches to teaching is mastery of the meta-level where instructors use context, with a subliminal and ambient attitude.

I am particularly interested in how design thinking, business modelling, meta-learning, experience design and social entrepreneurialism can form the core or even part of a curriculum preparing young people, in any country, for tomorrow’s shifting fortunes and realities. I am also very passionate indeed regarding student-centred and managed approaches, personalised and customised approaches, and of course to technology mediated approaches to learning – as Salman Khan rightfully stated, “YouTube is not just for cats playing the piano.”

I’d love to open and offer dialogue with anybody on any of these issues.

 A copy of my Ph.D. thesis can be found here 

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