Designing learning 101

thai-hamelin-371279I’ve been dabbling into the process of design and examined various definitions of design thinking as it applies to education. I’ve dipped into design thinking [see some resources below], participated in a couple of IDEO courses to extend my thinking about design, and I strive to apply visual and universal design principles in digital spaces with an eye to user experiences (UX), since this is driving online and everyday design these days.

Learning design, teaching design, online design, instructional design, and design thinking are all buzz words floating in the educational landscape. In the educational contexts in which I work, planning is often seen as the learning and doing, while design applies to the physical spaces within which the planning and doing happen. There’s big business in this notion of design thinking in educational spaces, with new furniture purchases and classroom layouts as only the beginning of that design process. Design is rarely thought of in the same sentence as planning and delivery of learning events.

Concepts and definitions get even messier when you look at planning and design as synonymous to preparation of lessons or learning activities, since the design of the physical or online space and place are factors in the delivery of teaching and learning events. This messiness exists in every level of teaching and learning in today’s educational contexts.

In K-12 contexts, teachers are taught in the Faculties of Education to prepare lesson plans and unit plans. These detailed, elaborate and sequenced documents become the ‘playbook’ for the lesson delivery in the classroom. Explicit instruction about instructional design is not a factor in these learning events around lesson planning. Teachers, once in the classroom full time, streamline these planning documents to suit their needs and styles, but planning continues to ensure teaching is effective and student learning results. But again, design thinking is not necessarily applied to this process, since it’s seen as linear not iterative. In Ontario, there is a vision for integrative and design thinking in K-12 classrooms – see the Edugains and Learning Exchange [Empowered by design video series] as examples of this direction.

In higher education contexts it’s frequently a powerpoint that is planned and crafted with care by instructors, used to deliver the learning to the students – whether they are present in the room or not. In online learning, the design of learning activities sometimes takes a back seat to the delivery systems employed to connect students, instructors and content. Planning and design of learning is often sublimated by the constraints of the design of the required learning management system. Designing effective teaching and learning activities that improve the student or instructor UX are often not evaluated. At the end of a course, the teacher and instruction are evaluated by the students, but the management system by which instruction is delivered is not considered.

aaron-burden-236415-unsplashIn each of these contexts, the UX (student experience) is rarely examined or assessed. While some may argue that educators are doing this as they plan and teach, I’ll ask “When was the last time you asked your students how your lesson went or how the online course experience supported their learning needs?”. If UX becomes more prevalent in education, the design of learning events and activities will certainly shift from instructor experience to learner engagement. The eCampus Ontario Student Design Lab is one of many such spaces in higher education. The power and potential to shift thinking from planning to design, with influence on instruction and learning, is yet to be fully seen. The Open Learner Patchbook, currently accepting contributions from students, strives to help shift collective thinking from instruction to design with UX and student engagement at the forefront.

Is this something new? Are we just covering this lesson planning process or unit planning process in a shiny new package? Haven’t we been designing learning experiences all along? Didn’t Plato and Socrates design their instruction from their ‘user’s experience’? Many more questions are rattling around right now.

As part of my participation in the EUN Academy Online Safety MOOC, I’ve had an opportunity to explore a relatively new, FREE, learning design platform for educators. Created by Diane Laurillard and a team at the UCL Knowledge Lab in the UK, this platform is “based on the six learning types from Diana Laurillard’s Conversational Framework – a model of the conditions necessary for learning to take place.” [Learning Designer front material]. I’ll let this video describe the platform.

By creating a lesson plan using this learning design tool, I was able to balance the activities, link in the resources, establish assessment strategies and ensure that my lesson was balanced in the plan to apply a variety of teaching methodologies. While the focus of my lesson was online safety, I was able to ensure that a variety of online and offline activities were included. I crafted my lesson for a fictional class, adapting one of the many resources from the Media Smarts repository of lesson plans.

This was an interesting experience since I was also tasked with evaluating three lessons created by others in the online MOOC using a rubric to provide feedback in the use of technology, collaboration, creativity, real-world connections, and general lesson design. I’m planning to return to this platform to see how a face to face class for my higher education context can be designed using this framework. As I’m planning lessons, using a variety of resources, this Learning Designer platform can potentially help me focus more on UX and assessment strategies.

If you’ve never thought about learning design, this video [Here Comes the Learning Designer] will help you understand the basic shift that needs to happen in our collective understanding. The higher education organizations, there are often instructional designers who collaborate with educators to consider design principles when creating online learning spaces. With a clear focus on student learning experiences, this discord between designers and teachers can be reframes and resolved. Collaboration on UX brings a greater focus on student engagement and student learning outcomes.

Design Thinking Resources – thinking deeply about design in education

There is more, oh so much more to this topic than one blog post can share.

What are your basic understandings about learning design, instructional design and design thinking? Where do these differ from lesson, unit or course planning?

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