Archive for the ‘Learning Design’ Category

I love everything about design. I love the design of buildings. I love the design of photographs. I love the design of a good meal. I just like how things are put together. Maybe that’s why I love being an instructional designer. But it’s hard sometimes to explain to other people exactly what I do & more importantly what I can do for you if you want to teach online.

What do I do? Well, I help make things simple. I help make things visual. I help structure things so that the path for learners is clear and meaningful and engaging. I help people move to a style of teaching that works when they can see people to one that works better when they can’t see people, from a style that works well when you all learn at the same time to one that works well when everyone chooses when they want to learn (which, if you look at our server stats, is usually somewhere between 4 pm to midnight). As I was wondering around the web this beautiful Sunday morning, I came across a wonderful quote from George Nelson. While Nelson is an architect, I like his definition: a designer is someone who “gives form to the essense of something”.

What’s the essence of what you do as a teacher? And what form will that take online? As an instructional designer, everything I do boils down to helping you answer those two questions.

Hmmm …. I wonder if that’s any clearer.  🙂  Let me know what you think.

what do we want to work on

(Photo, What do we want to work on? by Nancy White)


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baby DylanThis weekend, my 16 year-old daughter brought home a school project – a baby. It wasn’t a real baby. It was a plastic one. But it cried and burped and needed to be changed just like a real baby. Her exhaustion by the end of the weekend reminded me of what our lives were like when she first came into our world.

This weekend has been one of the richest learning experiences my daughter has had during school. Think of how she MIGHT have learned about parenting. She could have read an article. She might have done some research and a project. She might have interviewed an expert, like … er … maybe her dear ol’ ma. But nothing prepares you more than having to immerse yourself in the experience of being a parent by actually caring for a child and then stepping back to reflect on that experience. That’s been her weekend. It’s been a crash course in nighttime feedings and frequent diaper changes.

I wonder. How could we create learning experiences that are more like the way we learned to be parents? And what would that mean for how we view ourselves as educators?

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Clive Shepherd on instructional design:

under construction“Those who work in the classroom can teach instructional designers a thing or two; they don’t spend endless hours in analysis paralysis trying to predict exactly what will happen at every point in their face-to-face workshops – they put together a quick and dirty design, give it a go and see what happens. The first offering will probably be a little shaky, with some ideas working and others not. No problem, because next time the design can be tweaked, and the next time and the time after that.”

(Photo, | under construction |, by Emi Yanez)

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Radical idea.  Mostly because I may be talking myself out of a job.  🙂

Participatory design is not new.  In fact, it’s an incredibly successful model for the web.  The whole idea behind sites like Ebay or Amazon is that much of the site is built by the people who use it.   Wikipedia is a collection of content built from the ground up by an army of contributors some of whom may be experts but most are not.  If collective intelligence is a successful model in other places on the web, why not with course design?  Do we really need courses to be designed by experts? 

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Gilly Salmon’s book on designing e-tivities is one of those old stand-bys I keep on my night table. What I like about Salmon is, even though she’s been engaged in elearning for a while, she’s always fresh and insightful. Here she is talking about designing elearning …

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contactsA couple of months ago I came across an article taken from ‘s book, Cultivating Communities of Practice. The article offers some design principles for creating communities. Its central question has been sitting in my head ever since. “How do you design for aliveness?”

The nice thing about thinking about communities is that there are so many different kinds and so many different ways that communities support people. For example, a community approach might support faculty development. It might support the work of a project team. It might help us coordinate learners as they navigate their own personal learning environment. It might help a facilitator develop a more flexible and creative approach to teaching. It might be a way to support distance or mobile learners. As a friend of mine says, learners aren’t looking for the kind of learning environments we’re used to. They’re looking for convenience, mobility and flexibility. How does a community approach get us there? How do we design in a way that opens up these possibilities? How do we design for aliveness?

Wenger, McDermott and Snyder offer seven principles for design:

First, design for natural evolution. Start out with less than you would traditionally. Communities are more organic and self-directed. For example, you might start with something simple like a schedule of weekly meetings. If the community is supporting a credit course or a research project, you might also start out with a set of outcomes or competencies so that the community has a general focus or goal. Your role isn’t to develop a structure or a process, but to help a community develop its own character, energy and sense of direction.

Second, open a dialogue between outside and inside perspectives. The collective experiences of the group need to be nurtured. Outside voices can help communities see their potential. Conversations between outsiders and community leaders can catalyze change. Welcome outside experts.

Third, invite different levels of participation. Allow people to participate depending on the extent to which their interests are engaged. Potentially, everyone in a community is a leader or a lurker (or a teacher or a learner). Wenger, McDermott and Snyder say that you have to build “benches” in a community so that people can observe from the sidelines. For example, at SCoPE members have access to seminars and sessions even when they’re not actively participating. Members at SCoPE can also facilitate a session if they have a particular expertise.

Fourth, design for private and public conversations. Establish a regular rhythm of public events to give members of a community the experience of belonging to the group and to see who else is involved. However, leave enough space between events to allow community leaders to “work the backchannel” by dropping in on members, talking about their issues or problems and sharing resources. As Wenger, McDermott and Snyder say, “use the strength of individual relationships to enrich events and use events to strengthen relationships.”

Fifth, focus on value. It goes without saying that communities need to have a value. Otherwise, why would anyone participate? However, sometimes it’s hard to draw a direct line between a conversation where an idea is discussed and later when it’s applied. Ask community members to be explicit about the value that the community has for them, perhaps by taking time to talk about it during regular meetings or events. Making it explicit will help others see the potential value of the community for them, and help them understand that they may need patience in order to realize the community’s value in their own lives.

Sixth, balance familiarity with excitement. Establish a schedule of regular meetings, activities and projects to give the community a comfortable rhythm. Create a “place” like a neighbourhood cafe where people feel they can go to ask questions or try out their ideas in safety. (The “place” could easily be a discussion board or a sandbox in Second Life.) Balance regularity with new experiences. Invite in outside speakers. Take the community on a new adventure — to a conference or on a field trip, for example. Occasionally, comfortable patterns of thinking need to be challenged.

Seventh, create a rhythm for the community that’s not too slow and not too fast, but steady and regular like a heartbeat. Allow for a tempo of regular interaction. Establish milestones or special projects. You may find that activity speeds up just before and after events and slows down in the space between. (A community I’m involved with recently collaborated on a proposal. It was one of the busiest months on our mailing list.) Find a steady rhythm that works for your group.

When you compare a community approach to a more traditional one like ADDIE or Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, the contrast is stark. By designing for community instead of for content, you end up with something that’s potentially more learner-centered and engaging than what we currently do. You provide a framework that can leverage the community’s own energy and expertise. Less is more.

(Photo, contacts, by hobvias sudoneighm)

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campfireThe bells went off in my head when I read David Wiley’s post about social objects. Campfires, says Wiley, serve the same purpose as content in a course.  They’re social objects.  A campfire is the thing we gather around. It’s the focal point for a good conversation, a debate, an exploration or a relationship.

In online courses, we spend a lot of time thinking about campfires. We plan. We gather wood. But in spending so much time on the fire, we sometimes miss the point. It’s not about the campfire. It’s about what it helps us do.

(Photo, Campfire, by Andreas Koberle)

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