Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Designing learning experiences: what IS design?

Following on from part one, I'd like to look more closely now at design.

Designing authentic learning experiences means understanding different aspects of what is (potentially) to be experienced. In this way I can become more aware of what it is I'm designing for: What is important (to me AND to learners)? What is needed for a group of learners and for individuals? How much can or should be based on personal and life experiences?

How do I balance the need for some information and the space in which the learning takes place? How does one know when learning has occurred anyway? Going back to Brian's thoughts again;

The three words learning, education and training are not merely interchangeable nor are they equal in status. Education and training are obviously important cultural directives, but they are ideas decidedly less in breadth and depth than learning. Learning belongs to humanity and is present throughout the world; education and training are technological artifacts of culture and do not share the same universal character.

Why does it matter that we understand when learning has occurred? In terms of the institution, perhaps it comes down to systematising and commodifying 'knowledge' as 'artifacts of culture' as Brian describes. But, more importantly, what does it mean for the learner? Critical self-reflection married with an action process (like action learning, research and/or evaluation; see O'Connell & Sharma, 2004), enables meta-learning, along with a chance to re-experience that which is first experienced.

I sense we're now moving to a clearer view of how having an understanding of what experience is may help to shed light on the elements for designing learning experiences! That is, if we seek to enable the learner to re-experience, then what are the elements we need to make that happen? Well, perhaps we should first look more closely at the elements of storytelling. We need a setting, some characters, a sense of place and time, some motivation to propel the story along and perhaps a storyteller or protagonist.

Hmmm, I'm still not entirely satisfied simply with a story though. For me something is still amiss. I keep returning to this word: "knowing". A gut-feeling, an intuitive understanding of "yes" or "A-ha". I guess I'm trying to emphasise that re-experiencing is more than simply re-telling; it is re-enacting so that the 'knowing' is able to once again be revisited within the experience, to once again be reflected on and to once again learn from it overall! Too esoteric? What might be needed to ground this notion further?
We can best explore the multiplicity of learning by bringing ourselves into close proximity to the stories of people's lives that in some manner inform our own (Brian, EDN).
OK, there's a connection here to community and to sharing stories in ways that enable us to re-purpose them to not only inform our lives, but to relate them to our own experiences. There is some sense that the collective view can help us to validate our own experiences and in turn, present our views back to us in context of sociocultural 'norms' and this is necessary to understand a shared language (Krishnan & Rajamanickam, 2004). Presenting multiple viewpoints is one way to explain the myriad roles and positions we inhabit as individuals within the wider community. Again it is virtually impossible to separate learning from the rest of our lives! We experience a connection to self, to peers and to the collective view, validated by self and others and validating self and others simultaneously (see Prpic, 2005).

What about design then? Elements of design? Well, story elements still apply, but it's necessary I think to engage in developing a space for that 'knowing' part. Creating spaces to breath, engage over time in ways that are comfortable and approachable by individuals is of utmost importance. As soon as you try to make that process task-oriented, you risk losing that which is often deliciously intangible and unmistakably necessary for people to engage. In other words, don't objectify the exercise (indeed, don't call it an 'exercise!), but encourage those rough diamonds to emerge, those deeper thoughts to mushroom up to the surface in their own time (forget about the 12 week semester!!!) and allow the thiking and connecting to flow outside of the bounds of your subject for example.

OK, so you designers out there are probably thinking; "she's a wierdo and doesn't know what she's on about, she hasn't even mentioned design, duh!" may be right!

Well, I'll end this section with some design elements I think are the hardest to include:
  1. presence (in addition to identity, and without stereotyping);
  2. atmosphere (in addition to a time/space continuum);
  3. emotion (at the risk of objectification and disembodiment);
  4. satisfaction (bridging the gap between what is designed and what is learned, see a previous post);
  5. understanding (in addition to 'showing and telling about'); and
  6. multifaceted roles (again, in addition to identity, and without stereotyping!).

Stay tuned for some strategies and ideas to help bring these elements to the forefront of how we can design authentic learning experiences!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Understanding how the blog brain works!

Leading on from the previous post, I revisited the Eide Neurolearning Blog and their post on the Brain of a Blogger. I added some thoughts to my new ELGG blog!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Design learning experiences: what IS experience?

I've begun to build a 'voice' on this topic, one which I'd like to research further.....

To me, learning is about experience. I'd like to present this topic at a conference later this year (if accepted) and explore the literature more deeply in the areas of Experience Design, Information Architecture, Educational Design and Experiential name some starting points and areas of interest.

So this post and subsequent others will hopefully help to refine some ideas for my presentation...

I concur with Brian at the EDN on his thoughts about learning and experience and our experiences of learning:
Learning is unavoidable in all human experience. This means that learning is, by default, a worldwide phenomenon in which no one individual, tribe, society or nation can claim superiority. By this I mean that learning is a fundamental interface with the confluence of everyday life, regardless of a person's status or location.
This is a good starting point for my discussion on designing authentic learning experiences I think. I'm also reminded of the work done by Gubrium and Holstein in their book, Postmodern Interviewing, which through the interviewing process we might subvert the notion of the master narrative, and consider more "democratic" action methods of inquiry (well, learning is about inquiry is it not?). While G and H discuss the master narrative and its demise in relation to postmodern theory, their discussion translates well to the way we might discuss the learning environment. That is, in a postmodern reading, the interview moves away from a 'master narrative' paradigm to a more dispersed nature consisting of many voices situated strongly within contexts, socio-political and personal roles. Again this resonates with Brian's thoughts somewhat.

So nowadays, with a more diverse learner group in higher education for example (which includes distance, off-campus and overseas students), together with the dispersed role of teachers (especially with the increasing use of e-learning technologies), the landscape in which we formally learn is dynamically spreading and changing. Rather 'postmodern' don't you think?

So, with this dispersion and diversity, how might one design for authentic learning experiences? How might such design concepts look, for example? In reading Krishnan and Rajamanickam's (2004) piece on "Experience-enabling Design", I was buoyed by the way the authors asked questions about designing e-learning, in ways I could not. So, I've moved from frustrated designer to a clearer idea of, firstly, what do I need to ask?!

My questions then, are shaping into something like this:
1. How do I design for something that has not yet occurred?

2. How does my own experience translate to designing for others' experiences?

3. How do I bridge the gap between what I assume the learner should learn and what the learner assumes they will learn?
These are for starters...and Krishan and Rajamanickam provide some decent pointers to extend expereince design for e-learning.

I sense too, a difference between learner expectation and learner perception, in relation to their learning. In pursuit of this, I've looked through articles and books about research on the psychology of experience and perception, much of which is based on sense-data and not really my cup of tea! (see Follett 1924, 1951; Swartz, 1965). However, Boud, Cohen and Walker (1993) provide a glimpse of experience and how it is we learn through a series of essays they've edited in Using Expereince for Learning. In their introduction, they provide a brief digression in to the nature of experience and its intangibility:
In writing about learning from experience, we have been mindful of the difficulty of writing about 'experience'. It is a term which has preoccuppied philosophers and which many have tried to avoid. It contains ambiguities, it acts sometimes as a noun, at others as a verb, and it is almost impossible to establish a definitive view with which to work (p.6)
So, in the first instance it is obviously hard to design for something that is not easily defined! Again how does one design authentic leaerning experiences when individual experience contains many intangible variables?

Next, I'll talk about the design framework, using some of my recent experiences in designing subjects in higher education. I'd also like to return to Brian's thoughts once more...especially his thoughts about our use of story....

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Getting students to become productive bloggers!

DK Robinson (at To-Done!) makes some deft points about productive blogging, which are useful both to the novice blogger and to students using blogs for learning. Just as we have tips for online moderation, so too it would be useful for teachers to learn and then pass on this list of tips to their student bloggers!

I would also add:
"Know your audience".
Who do you want to write for? For example, I have multiple blogs, and have tried to maintain some sort of continuity of 'character' (?...if I can call it that!) between my blogs, yet maintain an awareness of who might be interested in reading what (and how they can find it to read it!).

"Think about your peers".
Should your thoughts/work/articles be accessible in such a way as to be 'peer reviewed'? or do they help to extend an area of research? or simply connect with thoughts and articles of likeminded people just for fun?

"Know your sources".
This is something we constantly remind our students of; so when blogging we should encourage the same practice to combat plagiarism and mediocrity! This way students become discerning information architects and knowledge managers! :o)

These points may be 'secondary' points to Robinson's list, but worth reviewing if you're thinking of using blogs in education especially, or for business purposes.

What do you think of Robinson's list? What of my additions? Any others you can think of?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Influenza and coping with a cloudy mind...!

I've been 'off air' for a bit due to a decent bout of flu, which I haven't had for a couple of years now! I noticed a couple of things while I languished in bed (mindlessly sifting through the day drinking lemon tea and eating toast...!) about how:
1. a cloudy mind can stifle creativity and awareness
2. mind and body are indeed intricately linked through memories
3. much benefit sleep offers when you give yourself (mind and body) over to the joys of sleep to speed up healing and recovery!
I did indeed feel removed from the world around me, or more that my world closed in on me to do some fixing! Cloudiness though is an odd experience, that is, to not be able to do and think and react in the ways you are used to! I mean cloudiness in the sense that things are foggy, muffled, almost surreal. And in thinking about this I wondered if the refugee experience was like a "cloudiness"? Surely there must be a sense of feeling not only depressed, anxious, frightened, but also to feel silence (silenced?), foggy about the future, about the process of applying for refugee status, and of dealing with systems of which you have no comprehension! These systems also include cultural systems, that you have never experienced yet are often left to deal with.

Deeq Yusuf's (2001) online article about the refuge experience and their coping strategies is brief, but interesting. This quote particularly caught my eye.
Refugees have experienced the most complete dislocation of their social world and are deprived of power as social actors both in the country of origin and the country of reception (Joly, 1996). They have often suffered a severe defeat.
Being dislocated, deprived, powerless, when everything about being human concerns location, privilege and provision, and power in its myriad forms!! But also, in being human (and in nature too), is the sense of the balance of things. Yusuf describes how refugees often manifest a range of coping strategies both individually and in groups and
are active agents who, despite unfavourable conditions, will try to utilize the options open to them like anyone else (Jackson, 1987). Given their limited resources and predicament, coping is the best alternative that the individual can achieve resulting in varying degrees of individual and social adaptation.
We are a resilient lot! But in 'fixing things' we need to be aware of clearing the fog in a way that enables refugee groups to rebuild based on their "knowing" - past experiences, connections, beliefs and cultural identity. Some last words from Yusuf on the matter:
[T]here is a serious need for a humanistic approach that holistically views the issue as social healing and reconstruction of valued ways of life and institutions cannot be managed by outsiders.
So what is the Howard government doing to ensure this is happening on Aussie soil? ...and what do others think is currently happening???

How can we ensure the safety and security of ALL people to foster wellbeing in individuals and as a community?