Transparent Design

After my post over the weekend about designing learning experiences in wikis I spent some more time thinking about the whole thing. Much of it seemed to crystallize yesterday as I sat and talked with Chris and Scott over a pint. I thought I would try to capture a little of what is playing in my head at the moment about this …

Let’s start with an assumption or two as they relate to the learning design process … first of all I am assuming a team approach to design and development. That means there are people like instructional designers (maybe more than one), subject matter experts (maybe faculty), graphics and media developers, Q & A people, copyright folks, and so on. What this means is that the learning experience should be a rich media tool that enables students to gain a real appreciation for the content through appropriately designed learning activities and exceptional contextual examples. I am also assuming that a majority of the course readings, activities, and assessments happen via the web. This does not assume a distance learning model. In fact it could be a standard 15 week lecture-based course with the real difference being that the core materials have been designed specifically for the course. The course could be delivered completely at a distance, but that isn’t my bag.

OK, on to the thoughts that are driving me crazy and begging me to put a team together to investigate them. First a screen shot of the D3 interface that only the design team got to see … the output was much different and in my mind’s eye, much less engaging then the screen below.


D3: Content, Context, and Design Specifications

Again I will return to the Digital Design Document example from the other day … my wife was our Manager of Instructional Design back at the Solutions Institute and she had this crazy idea to release the entire CMS content basis as the learning environment, not just the polished html output of the course content. In other words, she wanted to let students and faculty to see not only the content, but all the instructional design and media notes that we managed along side the content in the repository. At the time I thought it was interesting, but crazy. I was always saying to the design team that great ePages consisted of content, context, and activity … we spent thousands of hours making sure as many screens in courses contained those three elements. It was obviously not always possible and now that I think back on it, exposing more of the design and the conversation that went into the design would have gotten us closer to that goal.

Now after several years and looking at how the tools have transformed the way we think about publishing, managing, and controlling content my mind has moved to the extreme notion that a course would be a hell of a lot more powerful if it were exposed from the ground up. In other words, share the original manuscript for the learning objective, expose the notes that the design team pushed back and forth from one another as they debated how best to meet the objective with the appropriate instructional strategies, show off the story boards the media team uses when creating an embeded interactive exercise, and so on. Then imagine that as a page with multiple semesters of faculty and student notes attached to it as comments. It would reveal quite a bit about what is really going on with the content. For the right fields it would make the ultimate incidental learning tool. Think of how something like that would work for an Instructional Design course … sort of like Dick & Carey for the new millennium.

I am sure this is a rambling mess, but I think that future textbooks would be well served to include not only footnotes for citations, but comments made by readers. This can happen in the online world … I am still figuring this out, but I can see a very rich learning environment emerging from this type of activity that would really alter the notion of eLearning materials. Does this make any sense? Would it be an interesting design experiment? I know I will be working to come up with a way to expose the design for a new course I am working on. Any thoughts?

4 thoughts on “Transparent Design

  1. “textbooks would be well served to include not only footnotes for citations, but comments made by readers.” That’s quite a stimulating thought. As threads grow and intertwine, would you see a need (and method) to prune? Teaching critical thought is worthwhile, but for a student to deal with it unguided in relation to every topic-sifting through thread after thread-seems a bit harrowing. At least to my old brain.

    As my inbox fills, the “unread” column in my aggregator lengthens, and comments on unread posts build, (and a stack of magazines falls unread across my floor) what would sell me on reading what other students think about the information I’m trying to learn? Would it be a need for community? At what point does the conversation become “too much talk”?

  2. Dave … interesting comment … when does it become too much? I am thinking more about a learning space as “when is it too little?” I used to think only of overwhelming hte learner with too much content, but I am now thinking adding a bit more to it all — the background, the community, the conversation, the design, etc would give learners the opportunity to dig deeper and to contribute. Would everyone read beyond the “testable” material on a screen? No. Would a handful of learners read a handful of screens to gain a deeper insight? Probably.

    To tell you the truth this is all just thinking out loud … I would really like to see what a course space along these lines would look like after 2-3 semesters where they are filled student comments, revisions, and alterations. Could a greater depth of knowledge be obtained? Maybe.

  3. As I said in our little meatspace conversation, I think this has powerful implcations for research as well. Imagine the possibility of being able to move from a finished article back through the analytical notes written by the researcher, all the way back to the data they used to draw their conclusions. It brings up a whole new notion of peer review, as well as an incredibly powerful way of teaching new researchers how to conceive of and carry out research. There are undeniable issues in terms of IRB (Institutional Review Board) restrictions on data use, but hopefully those would evolve as well.

    I do worry about the overwhelming amount of information, but I don’t think that the RSS / email / magazine overload is the same as opening up the design / research process to students engaged in trying to understand the process. Too much talk in general is not the same as full disclosure in the context of design.

  4. “For the right fields it would make the ultimate incidental learning tool.”

    I agree with this sentiment in relation to instructional design programs. One of the frustrations with many ID foundational texts and models is the lack of specificity. For example, for aforementioned Dick and Carey model includes a step called “develop instructional strategy.” The typical ID characterization of the basic systems model (input-process-output w/ feedback) is arguably general to the point of uselessness. For me, the trick as an aspiring ID was to figure out how to actually design and develop materials: How should the instruction be sequenced? What strategies are best for the stated objectives? How do I choose the most effective media? What about content structure/grouping?

    Capturing the decision points along the design process could be enormously helpful to those of us who like use cases and detailed examples. I would have found something like that useful for my development. The closest I could find to something that directly addressed the transparency of design choices was the book Designing Instructional Systems: Decision making in course planning and curriculum. Otherwise, I learned by asking seasoned pros what their decisions were based on.

    Again, within the context of something like an ID grad program, I think this is a fantastic idea. As for the textbook idea, I’d share some of Dave’s reservations. Part of the design of any instructional tool (including a book) is the notion of a presentation that emphasizes selective perception for the learner. This guidance is an important part of the teaching process, and I’d be wary of overwhelming a reader with info that has not been organized/vetted in some way. But perhaps I’m misunderstanding your vision on this one.

    Interestingly enough, I’ve been playing with a hosted e-learning service called Nuvvo that allows students to append blog-like comments directly to content pages. In other words, each page of instructional content is analogous to a blog post. Students can comment on the content and to one another without having to jump to an associated discussion forum. Perhaps not directly related to the topic at hand, but I was reminded of it when I read Dave’s “when is it too much talk” comment.

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