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....


James said...

Definitely a P&P topic!!!

More to the point though I hope that your conf is either ASCILITE or ODLAA... cos I'll be at both and this is fascinating.

Oh and gerat reference, Rajamanickam, almsot as good as kumaravadivelu
(one of my tefl heros)

Marg O'Connell said...

Ta for the link James! He seems a fascinating individual and I like his teaching philosophy of critical self-reflection too! :oD

Conference is actually ALARPM (, to be held at UTS in September. Hope to present this as an interactive workshop!!

Amoranthus said...

Hi Marg,

You congealed your questions title into three questions, and I'm going to have a little fun responding. (I hope you don't mind.)

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

First, the answer is: Elemental.
You have to get the person's attention somehow. You design to their subliminal, habitual, unconscious reactions.
Why does sexual innuendo and imagery sell candy bars and laundry powder? (-- A little thought could put those concepts at the opposite ends of a spectrum for some.) But it gets the person's attention, and that's important.

However, you want that attention span to last, so you seek other sublimations.
What colors are most often associated with learning? -- Interestingly, the same as for bruises: black and blue. Its no secret that IBM chose those colors for its logo to look academic; and they have remained "Big Blue" ever since.(It's easy to brainstorm a few hundred other examples .. but another time.)

Now you have to communicate that experience. That means a flow or plan. -- And brings us to the next question..

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

Depends on the distance. Distance is measured in time; how broad your assumptions have to be (no idea of the jargon or how to paraphrase), etc. Generalities are assumptions about shared experience and can only close the gap so well.
Some writers and speakers are engaging, entertaining, and sparkling -- and use those tools to hide the fact that they are still groping around for an understanding of the subject matter.
Others are terse and direct, skipping steps along the way on the assumption that you or other learners have a shared conceptualization that may not be even remotely true. Their understanding may be clear and deep, but their presentation is unpalatable. (I'm kinda doing that here just for comic effect. I will not say my understanding is all that deep though.)

Both are trying to manage time and timing though, to keep the learners' attention while they cover the core material.
My favorite tool to manage time is to keep the concepts short and modular.

3. How do I bridge the gap between what I assume the learner should learn and what the learner assumes they will learn?

I think the best answer here is: You can't.
Somewhere around age 12, a person begins to decide what and how they will learn. By age 16 or 18, they are only going to learn what they want to learn. (And that brings up a couple of key issues around 'motivation.')
Teachers and trainers are only kidding themselves that they are in control of the learning process. It's a far too personal afair.
If a learner comes into your class with a mindset of what they will (or will not) learn, you can't change it much.
The best you can do is keep their attention. With your own entergy, enthusiasm, or even cynicism, you hope they absorb something of what you are trying to convey.

The best-laid plans (cheeky colloquial reference here) are those based on respect, response, and attention to the learners' reactions, individually and as a group.

We, as trainers and teachers, can analyze and spin ideas round and round all we want, but it all comes down to did the person get it.

Marg O'Connell said...


Further to other comments, two things occurred to me reading your comments here.

What you say about learning being out of control of the teacher/trainer to me is the crux of the argument and you're right, that can't be controlled! That's why I guess I'm asking these questions to see if perhaps we can look at other areas of life for the answers that aren't necessarily defined (or constrained) by curriculum design, educaitonal agendas, and so on - again, new ways of looking at old habits! That "learners have a shared conceptualization" is a gamble; again, as you point out, you can't think to totally bridge the gap!

In terms of designing for learning, I really like what you've said about the factor of time - I think that's a cornerstone factor too! Timing, chunking, modularising, scaffolding, all apply within 'time' I think.

Cheers and subvert the black n blue!!!!