Networked learning : Cross-cultural learning : Creativity & Innovation

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11 January 2005

I am at the start of a journey during which I intend to find out what learning design is. I've been teaching, writing and producing learning materials of many different types for more than twenty years and I've just realised I'm lost.

What's reassuring though is that I know I'm lost and am looking forward to exploring. In the land of the blind (who don't know they're blind, by the way), I am at best one-eyed.

Many things have triggered this reflection. I've just been reading this paper [PDF file] about Schon's work on design education and was struck by the description on page 8 of the naïve "Judith" character who attempts to design by choosing a basic design and imposing it on the materials of the situation she confronts. This contrasts with the wise "Northover" character (Schon himself) who engages in a "dialogue with materials" in order to discover an overall coherence within the materials.

What I enjoy about working with good product designers, graphic designers, interaction designers and so on, is the way that they play with ideas; how they engage in Schon's dialogue; how they enjoy the uncertainty of not knowing where they're heading; how they dig deeply into the needs of their users then surprise them with solutions that seem obvious. One reason I despair in working with so many so-called designers of learning experiences is that way that they seem to regard design as a kind of one-dimensional painting by numbers. Design thinking doesn't feature.

I also despair because it seems like so much of the current debate in instructional design circles concerns time-saving, cost-saving and efficiency, not quality and orginality. We seem hell-bent on producing the same turgid old stuff more quickly, at lower cost in ever greater quantities. Torch-bearers of quality and originality (try NESTA FutureLab or UltraLab) are few and far between.

Right now, at the start of my journey, I think there are three broad reasons why most learning designs don't design:

  1. Networked technologies have taken a sledge-hammer to previous learning paradigms. Is designing an online course like designing a classroom course like designing a learning community like designing an EPS like...? If customisation is such an issue (see David Hargreaves opinion on this, for example ) what's happened to my gap analysis? My TNA? And just when I finally get the hang of Blooms taxonomy and of how to craft formal objectives � that don't use the word "understanding" � I'm told that formal objective writing is a thing of the past. It's like having been brought up behind bars then suddenly being set free; liberating but scary.
  2. Look at the backgrounds of most learning designers (I'm talking UK here): ex-trainers who became trainers because they liked working with people and now have to battle with immature, unstable technology; writers and journalists who realise they can get higher daily rates if they call themselves "instructional designers"; subject matter experts who struggle terribly to articulate their deep understanding of their beloved subjects...
  3. The tiny number of credible institutions that train learning designers don't cultivate design thinking. They teach learning theory and instructional design process; but not the open-minded, inquisitive skills and attitudes that a good design course is founded on.

I've no idea if I'll agree with myself in a few weeks of months time, but it'll be interesting to find out.

10:06:31 PM    Any comments?  []

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