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!"....you 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!

4 comments:

AJ said...

Great

Fantastic post and blog. I especially like the list at the end.

These are the factors that are almost universally neglected in schools and other educational settings.

Most have incredibly stifling atmospheres & emotion (colors- greys and tans, flourescent lighting, etc...).....

The first step of educational design should be to design a stimulating (euphoric!) environment.

Marg O'Connell said...

Thanks for your comments AJ, I agree! We always try to systematise our most human processes only to end up (as you say) having our loved ones sit under fluoro lighting, eating McD's and being pushed further away from what's real in the world!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Amoranthus said...

Hi Marg,

It never ceases to amaze me how many ways we can say the same things, over and over. Somewhere in this madness, we have to stop dancing around one maypole after another, commit to principles, and begin designing.
As Raymond Loewy's said in his 1951 book, "Never Leave Well Enough Alone": look for MAYA principle: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.

>>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.<<

This accents one of the largest issues in elearning, in my opinion, although that is not how I would express it.
We need to define the shared principles of training, learning, education, scholarship, and academics (-- Giving each its due respect. --) and determine a means to qualify, if not quantify, how each prioritizes those principles.

Teaching is not training, for example; and vocational training is a different animal depending on the subject.
Scholarship doesn't focus on the needs of the student. It assumes the student's motivation to learn the topic will supercede their personal needs, health, or feelings. The student becomes objectified.
The motivated student is responsible for learning the material. (ref: your following paragraph)

A requirement of raining and vocational training is that the learner learns the subject matter, however arcane or dry. The onus is not on the learner, but the trainer.

Yet all these terms can be absorbed under that wide banner of 'education.'

>>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?<<

I speak to this idea in the other comment.

>>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.
...
<<

I don't think anyone could put it better. Bravo!
Like storytelling, teaching and training are performances -- and it doesn't matter if the medium is electronic, book, or face to face.
I think in those few paragraphs you laid out a strategy very well.

Marg O'Connell said...

Amoranthus, thank you for your in depth comments! You got me thinking about some points further...

"It never ceases to amaze me how many ways we can say the same things, over and over. Somewhere in this madness, we have to stop dancing around one maypole after another, commit to principles, and begin designing."

Agree wholeheartedly! What I guess I'm seeking are ways of doing new things and thinking in new ways that respect where we've come from, yet challenge cultural conserves!

I think ideally what it is I'm chasing is what is 'experience' all about, and how does it relate to learning? To me, experience is something we 'do' or are in the middle of 'being' and it can be hard to capture without immediately heading into a reflective space where we reflect-after-action. And it's this element of 'knowing' that intrigues me most!

"We need to define the shared principles of training, learning, education, scholarship, and academics (-- Giving each its due respect. --)"...

Again agreed, but rather than all falling under the banner of 'education', I think it's actually the banner of 'learning'! For me, education provides the framework or 'technology' for learning, but learning is not restricted to education in a broader sense. For me, it is this broad philosophy or principle that can help us revisit the shared principles you elude to.

Thanks again - I guess I'm more reflective than some and always like to hear others who share elements of the learning design world!