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Transcript:

Welcome, all. Please feel free to share this with your colleagues, if you think it would be of value to them.

I want to talk today about passion. It's really important that your passion for your subject is conveyed to your students. Even if there is something about your subject that you don't particularly find interesting, you might find it a little bit dull, even, it's really important that you look deep inside and find the nugget of passion for that particular topic or that particular lesson because if you don't, you risk losing your students' engagement with you.

So, think back to a situation where you have yourself had a teacher tutor, or lecturer, that you thought was exceptional. You may remember everything that happened in this session. You may have looked forward to going to those particular sessions. What was it about that particular lecturer, or tutor, sis that proved so effective? When I've done this exercise with, academics as part of academic professional development, almost without exception, they would say, actually it was the passion. It was the passion of the teacher for that particular discipline. Sometimes that specific lecture, sometimes that series of lectures, that course.

And so I think it's really important that you do look to find that moment of passion within anything that you're teaching. So, sometimes that can be quite difficult, and you may need to about, sometimes a very small, aspect of the entire topic that you think is a point of passion, and you build from that. Because it's your passion for the subject that will allow you to get your students engaged. It will allow them to be more receptive to the enlightenment that you are going to share with them, and it's also going to mean that you are more likely to be able to give them the empowerment, to go forward, to think about what they're going to do with that learning later.

So your learning needs to engage, enlighten and empower. And, I personally found it quite hard on occasion to find that point of passion and it's worth literally thinking, just before the session, "what's the one thing that I'm going to share with my students in this session?" That sparks other people's passions. What other researchers, other academics, whatever thinkers have spun off that particular point?. And if you don't have anything, particularly that, you find passionate, you can convey the passion of others, but it's really important that there is passion in any teaching session.

So you might want to try that. Let me know how it goes.

Please share, like, and follow.

Be well.

Transcript:

Welcome all. Please feel free to share this with any of your colleagues who you think might benefit from it. Let's talk today about complexity and simplicity. So, I think you can save yourself an enormous amount of time by carefully planning a session based on the complexity or simplicity of the argument that you're trying to convey to your students.

It's really important that we don't stress the content of what we're delivering. Rather the interrelationships of what it is we're talking about or teaching about. Whether that's a conceptual relationship, it might be a timeline. It might be a cause and effect, relationship, whatever the relationship is, whatever conceptually encapsulates the knowledge that's being shared.

So, if you plan your lesson, it'll depend a little bit on the nature of the discipline and the level which you're teaching. But I think generally it's quite a good idea to outline the complex picture as briefly as possible as a target that students are going to aim for, but rather than then try and make that your starting point and try and explore that you basically want to go right back to the beginning to the most simple building blocks of that complexity and build your way forward.

I think the reason to do that is it's very easy sometimes to make assumptions that students have had the same life experiences you, or that they actually have the same linguistic ability, terminologies. That they understand the jargon, and there's a real danger that you can trip over yourself.

If you start from a complex try and go to simple, you need to basically start with simple and build up. It's really important to make sure that if you do think there is discipline jargon to be shared, that has to be unpicked and built into the session,  put up definitions alongside any jargon that you're using.

So, I think it's really important just to situate the complexity of the topic in their, in the student’s, landscape of learning, not in your own. And it's very often, the case is that we almost, it's not about showing off, but sometimes we literally just kind of feel that we need to start with what we’re most comfortable with, which is sometimes a very advanced level of knowledge.

So, it's really important to just plan out your session in advance. I use a mind map to do that. I usually have a map sometimes on paper, sometimes using a bit of software that allows me. Map out the journey from simplicity to complexity. And when I do that, I can share that with my students as well.

You might want to try that, see how it goes. Please share like, and follow be well.

 

I have never believed in social-constructivism. At least not the way the educational anthropologists' definition of the phenomena has been distorted and contorted into current practice. Social-constructivists justifiably argue that knowledge is often constructed through social interaction. Further, they state that the social and cultural context in which that learning occurs is significant. I just don’t believe that it necessarily requires in-person encounters. And I don’t think it applies to all forms of learning and disciplines.

Atharva Tulsi at Unsplash

The fetishism of ‘group-work’, which has continued to grow since the 1980s on the back of skimming the literature about social constructivism, and further enabled through digital tools in developed economies, has been applied to nearly all disciplines and all levels. This simply doesn’t make sense. Socialisation matters for children in K-12 as they learn diverse social skills through subject-based curriculum; at least in theory. Group-work, applied to much of the University curriculum has been poorly conceived. Rich courseware should provide a  transparent socio-cultural context for its learning. It rarely does. Unless the intention is to refine and extend the processes of socialisation for University students, students can, and should, be empowered to mediate the knowledge through their own socio-cultural reality.

When I read, listen, or watch something I am engaged in learning from another human being. Often this learning is asynchronous, sometimes time-displaced to an extreme degree, but there is still evidence of a voice. How well crafted the learning is, will depend on the coherent nature of that voice, but there is always a voice. At the Open University in the early 2000s Course Teams worked hard to ensure that no matter how many course authors might contribute to a course, there was a consistent 'voice'. I just don't believe that it is appropriate to assume that an individual’s learning is enhanced somehow by having 'horizontal' conversations with others who are at the same level of learning as themselves. I agree that one can learn from others. That is not the same as saying one necessarily learns with peers.

Personally, I believe we should be designing learning experiences, and courseware, that the individual student can deploy in their own context. If learners 'want' to learn with others, with whānua (family/community) or colleagues, they can do so. We may want to encourage them to mobilise people around their own learning, and to build networks to support their learning journey. This would be a truer representation of their lifelong learning experience going forward.

I don't believe we should force students to 'come and learn with us'. To do so is to perpetuate an arcane model of learning that reinforces notions of power and privilege. It's a model of learning that centralises access to knowledge, and maintains the notion of gatekeepers to learning. We should empower and enable learners through our courseware, not enslave them through it.

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There are many courses out there that do a great job of teaching manual, dexterity and physical capabilities. From bricklaying, hairdressing, to gas-fitting, there are course that are focussed around manual processes. However, there are huge numbers of graduates from tertiary programmes that cannot perform duties required of employers on day-one simply because they have not learnt how to do something. Their learning may have been told ‘why’, and even ‘what’ is expected, but it has not enabled them to perfect the skills associated with the ‘how’.

It remains remarkable to me that so many course and programme specification documents, replete with (sometimes well-formed) learning outcomes, have NO psychomotor outcomes. There are few courses that could not be improved by including an assessed outcome associated with using a tool or technology.

To prove the point I asked colleagues informally before Christmas whether they could think of a course where there was NO tool or technology use in play. Without further prompting, most agreed that Excel skills, SPSS, CAD tools, even library databases all required a degree of incremental competence but that these had not been in any way ‘taught’, let alone assessed, within their courses. One provocateur suggested that their course required only the ability to write and reflect. It took little effort to unpick this given that writing in this context requires a word-processing package, formatting, style sheets, spell-checking and in-text-citations, all of which are assumed graduates skills. This colleague stood their ground, suggesting that they were not employed to teach those skills; that was someone else’s responsibility.

This may be at the root of the challenge. Thirty years ago (when many of our current educational leadership graduated) your three to seven years spent at University was a valuable time spent in proximity to the sources of privileged knowledge, the esteemed Professor or the library. You had a whole life after graduation to develop the rounded skills associated with being whatever your chosen lifetime employment might be. That is simply no longer the case. The ‘academy’ no longer contains the privilege knowledge. We have democratised the information sources. Even those who embark on a lifelong vocation will find the landscape around them continuously changing.

Access to the LinkedIn Learning resources, and the cornucopia of free web resources, has allowed some institutions to negate whatever obligations for manual, dexterity and physical skills development they might feel towards their students. Some course weave these external resources into the learner’s experience, others totally abdicate responsibility and deem it part of the independent learning required of learners.

One reason for this lack of attention paid to the acquisition of psychomotor skills is because it is thought harder to assess someone’s psychomotor skill set that it is to test their knowledge, and by extension their intellectual or cognitive skills. If I can’t meaningfully assess it, I’ll just avoid teaching it. It is also a function of the ‘curse of knowledge’, given that faculty have acquired their psychomotor skills in a particular technology or tool over an extended period of time and they have failed to either document that learning or indeed to reflect on it.

There are some well designed courses out there. I hope you designed or teach on one. But there is still a significant deficit in the in-course provision of support for the acquisition of psychomotor skills associated with tools and technologies in a range of disciplines. We need to design courses across ALL disciplines that are rooted in the skills that graduates require to handle the uncertain information, technology, and socio-cultural environments they face. This means designing courses first around psychomotor skills, interpersonal and affective skills, then meta-cognitive and cognitive skills. Then, and only then, should we worry about the factual knowledge element. We need programme and course designers to be designing with different priorities if we want to make learning appropriate for the contemporary learner.

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2021 may have proven to be only slightly less challenging than 2020. If only because some disruption and tumult were expected. All sectors of education continued to make adjustments to their practices, embed new processes and look to long-term solutions. FLANZ is also developing to handle future challenges. ...continue reading "FLANZ President’s Review of 2021"

Te Pūkenga (https://tepūkenga.ac.nz), the centralised vocational tertiary organisation in New Zealand created in the last two years, represents an exciting opportunity to create a new way of conceiving of the learner experience.

A learning experience based on learner choice, learner contexts and personalised journeys.

 

Close up fingers holding map pinDuring a recent joint ODLAA webinar,  Dr Som Naidu  provocatively suggested there were no institutions truly embracing the concept of true flexibility for learners. As President of FLANZ, I think about this all the time. What is the possibility that Te Pūkenga can do something unique?

To design and support learning across all vocational disciplines is a challenge. Some learning must be experienced, witnessed in person, and evidenced through demonstration. While much of this traditionally conceived of as in-person learning can in fact be asynchronous, captured on video and dialogue facilitated alongside, some learning requires tactile demonstration and immediate feedback. There may be some learning can be ‘single-mode’, experience, just on-campus with nothing to take home or reflect on away from the campus, although I struggle to imagine what disciplines fall into that category. Some learning might be done entirely outside of a social context, with no interaction with others, other than the authoritative voice incorporated into a text.

Current models of learning are increasingly less satisfying to contemporary generations who navigate across dynamic and fluid knowledge platforms and devices as part of their daily lives.

There is no shortage of ‘content’. Most learning is infused across a learner’s life, thoughts invading their waking hours and possibly their dreams. Designing learning journeys that are adaptable to each individual’s context is challenging for those organisations who traditionally operate on manufacturing paradigms. This is true whether the model was the individual academic as solo artisan or the large design team following an industrial process. At best, both create an imagined ‘best scenario’, an optimal pathway, at worse they generate a single restricted route through their courseware. Their conception of ‘the right way to learn'.

However, just as the world of broadcasting has changed dramatically in the last 30 years from one-way communication to a world of multiple diverse channels, citizen journalism, and expert blogging (and vlogging), so finally vocational education, at least in New Zealand, has an opportunity to change the way it creates, shares and supports learners.

There is less need for the single authoritative voice and instead there is a clear need for learners to develop autonomous learning practices, judgement and discernment, the ability to evaluate the quality and usefulness of any learning artefact.

Learning should be co-created with learners, never delivered to them as a finished product. A good place for Te Pūkenga to start would be to ask, “how do I deliver the learning experience to the learner in their own context”. That doesn’t mean turning everything into Distance Learning. Rather, it requires curriculum, programme and course designers to think about the learners’ context and design learning (materials and support) that allow them to create their own personalised, or differentiated, learning pathway.

This means Te Pūkenga might be wise to focus on establishing solid programme and course designs and navigational aids rather than on learning content. I advocate a designing around situated learning principles and then curating a range of existing learning materials, drawn from individual practitioners, professional bodies and educational providers. Te Pūkenga could choose to structure its ako strategy as being as open as possible. Encouraging learners, given a map with key milestones (assessments) and  access to curated artefacts alongside that map. Generating original learning resources then becomes only necessary when there are identifiable gaps.

Learning artefacts from which Te Pūkenga constructs its pathways should also be created as Open Educational Resources (OER). This is because the development of these learning opportunities have already been funded off the back of individual taxation and it is immoral to ask individuals to pay for them twice. There is also a strong argument for learners to be enabled to update resources, to rcontextualise them, make them suitabe for their social and cultural context, and for the next generation of learners that follow them, subject to the same quality assurance processes.

These OER learning resources require a quality framework, based on peer review, and a suitable taxonomy to ensure individual artefacts are recoverable and reusable. Learning designers who commission OER, or identify existing OER, need to do so within strict guidelines. We cannot just assume that everyone’s PowerPoints are useful out of context, but the ideal situation would be to establish key concepts and supply learners with alternatives, from visual, auditory and written interpretations and explanations. These artefacts also clearly need a curated content management system, such as one based on OpenEQUELLA.

As with any strategy, it needs to differentiate between learners’ capabilities. At lower levels of the national qualifications framework where students may require more structure, pathways may be more limited. Limited but not restricted. The system clearly needs progression built in. The focus remains on empowering the learner to take ownership of their learner journey. Part of Te Pūkenga’s stated goal is to empower learners to become competent and confident digital citizens and lifelong learners. We don’t do that by giving them a neat little bundle of a course with all the answers included. At higher levels of learning, degree level and above, part of being a contemporary learner is being able to discern the validity of sources and interrogate them.

I also conceive this system of curated OER, sitting alongside the ‘course map’, a customised version of the Mahara ePortfolio with a range of support ‘plugins’ being available. Centralised OER resources, a single course map, with minimal milestones (beyond formal assessment), and options for different levels of in-person or virtual, synchronous or asynchronous, support should be part of the strategy. Across the entire national vocational space, Te Pūkenga should then focus on supporting individuals, their whānau (community), and/or professional context where appropriate.

Empowering learners to construct their own journey has to be the foundational principle.

As Dr Som Naidu suggested, to create such an institution requires a mind shift among current leadership. In Te Pūkenga that means everyone who works within any of its subsidiary organisations needs to let go of how things are currently constructed. It requires national quality assurance agencies, in this case NZQA, to think differently. It requires educational vision and leadership, and a seismic shift in the educational paradigm. It represents a revolution in practice, not an evolution.

 

This blog also appears on LinkedIn 15 November 2021
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Ten years ago, in 2011, I wrote a blog entitled ‘there’s no such things as blended learning’, which essentially suggested that all learning experiences are blended to some extent, making the term irrelevant.

Since then, the boundaries between contexts, technologies and experiences have become even more blurred. Yet rather than discarding the blended terminology, there is simply a profusion of new terms, hybrid and hyflex, being the current vogue. Oh, and ‘flipped’, which is presented to the ill-informed as something new and radical. The problem is these terms are driven by us, as institutions, to define the nature of our course offering, rather than being conceptualised as the learner experiences them.

I am comfortable using the term ‘blend’, alongside ‘mix’, ‘selection’, ‘options’ and many synonyms when talking about courseware designed for a specific delivery context. The context of the learner is key. Any contemporary learner journey is going to involve a ‘smorgasbord’ of learning material, voices to be exposed to, individuals to share reflections with, and physical, social and cultural contexts in which learning is occurring. I can't imagine a context in which a learner only learns through one communication mode, be it a lecture or workshop.

Learning can, and should, be as ‘flexible’ as possible. Informed by the principles of Universal Design for Learning, learning should be malleable enough by the learner to suit their evolving needs and context. Learners should be able to discard elements of the learning journey, take shortcuts rather than revisit existing learning if they choose. Equally, they should be able to explore around the edges of the path designed for them; to go ‘off-piste’ if you like.

Good learning design and good teaching encourage the learner to re-contextualise newly gained knowledge and experience in the light of previous learning. Given that each individual’s context is unique, it is essential that learners should blend their own learning experience. Learners should be enabled to make-meaning for themselves. Good teachers know this.

In practice, the terms blended, hybrid and hyflex, are really being used by institutions to define the nature of their ‘product’, rather than the nature of the learning experience. Institutions choose to package what they sell under different labels, it’s a marketing pitch, “now with added webinars” or “now with extra VLE resources available”. Some senior managers have assumed the opportunities for off-campus communication engagement in the internet era represent a new alternative pedagogy. In reality, the ‘alternative’ pedagogies have always been there. There have always been skilled faculty who reached beyond the lecture or seminar room and engaged learners in their own context. Designing courses that are suitable for open navigation is counter-intuitive for most institutions. The focus has been on designing a learning pathway, not pathways. It’s easier for institutions that way.

What has changed since 2011 is the range of communication technologies available for learners to choose, or not choose, to interact with content, experiences and each other. Courseware in my view can, and should, be designed with open navigation, open pathways, so a learner can choose how they want to arrive at a preconceived set of outcomes. We can provide an optimal route to success for the less adventurous, but choice empowers. Essentially, learners can differentiate their journey from others based on their context and personal needs. Hey, why don’t we use the term ‘differentiated learning’… although that sounds familiar. Wonder if anyone has used that term before? Forgive my sarcasm, but I do wonder whether we need to find new language to describe the aspirations for our courseware as it is experienced by learners.

If we acknowledge that everything is to some extent blended, then what term would encourage courses to be designed to enable learning journeys suitable for personalisation by the learner. Differentiated learning is the best I’ve got.

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Lots of blogs are declaring the ‘new’ trends in e-learning for 2022. There is nothing truly new in most of these. The difficulty with trends is they frequently draw from the ‘thought-osphere’, rate than from emergent practice. One of these trends predicted for 2022 is ‘adaptive learning’.

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This ‘trend’ has been around for well over a decade and still cannot gain significant traction. Few would disagree that learning should be personalised to the largest degree possible to ensure motivation and relevance for the learner. Adaptive learning is the notion that we can tailor learning for the individual based on past performance and the ultimate direction. A little like the way an intelligent GPS navigation system for your car can suggest alternative routes when you take a wrong turn.

Educators have long implemented adaptive learning strategies in face-to-face contexts, usually as differentiated teaching practices. Teachers will tell you that for this strategy to be effective, class sizes need to be small and that you need to know your students at a human level. Knowing not just that they struggle with numerical concepts, but also that they enjoy music, or sports, so that we can pose exemplars as problems in a language that is meaningful to that learner. Differentiated teaching is highly personalised.

In contrast, adaptive learning systems, which are based on the interactions individuals have with computer based learning activities, simply cannot consider the societal influences, the personal likes and dislikes, of the individual. Sophisticated adaptive systems allow the learner to be presented with alternative phrasing of a problem if they appear to misunderstand instructions, or to be presented them with simpler versions of tasks if the initial one appears to be too difficult.

Adaptive systems are limited to the domain of knowledge acquisition, learning stuff, and some lower cognitive skill development. Essentially, adaptive learning is an old-style computer-based training (CBT) course on steroids. Facts and cognitive processes are important, and delivering up examples that are appropriately positioned to stretch the learner is a good thing. We should all understand, however, that the technology lags way behind the aspirations of teachers. It is a far cry from personalising learning.

Personalised learning is best enabled by situating learning experiences within the social context in which the learner lives and works. Allowing the learner to design their own responses to assessment tasks, to generate personalised evidence of their learning and relate their learning to their real lives. True personalised learning is essential for four domains of educational objectives, affective, psychomotor, interpersonal and the intrapersonal (meta-cognitive), for the factual knowledge ‘stuff’ and some cognitive skills there are, or may be, adaptive learning systems.

Unfortunately for budget-holders and institutional leaders, personalised learning requires a staff-student ratio that defies current budgets and, my particular interest, carefully crafted curriculum, programme and course design. For some, it appears to be worth investing in ‘automated’ learning systems, sold on the promise of responding directly to the student’s needs. Systems hyped by the vendors frequently underrepresented the investment needed in designing alternative branching scenarios and associated questions. Most vendors promise banks of questions based on relatively simple algorithms. Until computing power is significantly increased, answers and questions can be truly automated through AI systems, and systems can draw accurate student profiles based on social media and shared data (a worrying possibility for many) adaptive systems will remain a limited tool for specific contexts.

These contexts include mathematics and most ‘hard’ sciences. Where there is a required base of factual knowledge that is widely regarded as uncontested, adaptive learning systems can provide a marginally more engaging version of rote learning. It may even provide some ability to prompt the learner to transfer knowledge from one context to another beyond pure memorisation. I contest its applicability is still limited to the cognitive domain.

Still, the hyping of adaptive systems continues and they remain on most 2022 trends list. Clearly, one trend that I confidently predict for 2022 is that technological determinism, the concept that technology is intimately related to our social development, will continue to feature in the ‘trends’ blogosphere.

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I have a problem with the use of the term ‘self-directed learning’. Or more precisely, the misuse of the term, certainly as it relates to formal programmes of study as defined by United Kingdom (QAA) and New Zealand qualifications authorities (NZQA), and others. The casual use of vernacular language to define specific concepts is a constant problem for me. I would prefer if we would use the term ‘independent learning’, which is more accurate.

In my worldview, self-directed learning has a specific definition. Based on the work of Malcolm Knowles , self-directed learning requires the learner to have the freedom to decide what outcomes they intended and the resources and the path they will travel to gain the learning. Knowles’s own definition was that “In its broadest meaning self-directed learning describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes” (Knowles, 1975, p. 18). My emphasis.

There is an important distinction to be made here between formal, non-formal, informal, and incidental learning. Formal, non-formal and informal learning all have intentionality, the learner intends to learn something. That distinguishes it from incidental learning, which is gained ‘accidentally’, without the learner intending to learn anything. Formal and non-formal learning can be distinguished from informal learning because both forms have some structure, some curriculum, and some prescribed learning goals (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2012).

It's important to make this distinction because so much of the commentary on the web, and even in the academic literature, journals, books and YouTube or LinkedIn videos conflate these concepts.

Clearly, any programme or course that has a defined curriculum, which accounts for most of the learning that takes place in schools, colleges, polytechnics, and universities, has learning goals, or outcomes, prescribed. This makes it literally impossible for the student to be ‘self-directed’. Self-directed is, by definition, learning where the individual decides for themselves what their curriculum is going to be and what the outcome of their learning will be. Self-directed learning cannot be non-formal or formal learning because both forms have curriculum already prescribed.

I would advocate that there are three modalities of learning applicable to contemporary formal (and non-formal) education. These three are taught, guided, and independent learning. Taught modality requires relatively close proximity to the instructor. Using Vygotskyian language, ‘taught’ constitutes the in inner space within the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) close to the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). ‘Guided’ still requires close attention to the voice of the MKE but can be experienced at a distance, spatially and temporally, but is still closely following a predetermined path. ‘Independent’ study may deviate to varied degrees from the voice of the MKE, encouraging students to explore their own learning context, real-world experiences or identifying multiple voices from which to learn, but all within a prescribed learning journey with predetermined outcomes in mind.

We can encourage students to explore specific learning resources and activities more independently of the tutor’s gaze and away from other students. This is independent study. This is likely still to be guided by the teacher with an agreed set of outcomes in mind, it is just not taught learning.

We would serve the learning community better if we talk about self-directed learning only in the context of informal learning. Self-directed learning requires the individual to decide for themselves the outcomes they want to achieve. When we are talking about learners doing their own thing in the context of formal and non-formal programmes of study, we should describe that as 'independent study' or 'independent learning '.

I would like to see national qualifications authorities to adopt these distinctions. ‘Taught’ implies face-to-face real-time encounters between learners and teachers. ‘Guided’ is more suitable for time-displaced and distance learning, but still requires students to follow the lead by the voice of the MKO. Independent learning is still restricted by the agreed outcomes but allows the student to move away from the voice of the teacher and to make autonomous decisions as to best achieve the prescribed outcomes. There is no place for self-directed learning in formal and non-formal education.

Disclaimer: this post represents a personal view and in no way represents the views of any institution with which I am, or have been, associated.

Knowles, M. (1975). Self-directed Learning: A guide for learners and teachers. Association Press.

UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (2012). International standard classification of education: ISCED 2011. UNESCO Institute for Statistics. http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Documents/isced-2011-en.pdf

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Let’s talk about the skills required of learning designers, or instructional designers. 

Context makes all the difference. Learning design in a face-to-face University context looks very different from an online instructional designer working in a government department or commercial enterprise.

Roles using generic job titles can differ significantly. There are learning designers who guide academics in their practice (in the way ‘educational developers’ do), and others who interpret how-to notes into a short visually rich interactive screen based experience (more like a UX ‘user experience’ designer). And all points in between.

Job descriptions can be fairly meaningless.

Knowing the needs of the organisation is the best place to start. Knowing the difference between designing a series of courses as part of a University programme that is going to amount to 3,600 hours of student learning differs greatly from taking a manual and putting it into an e-learning unit that takes an hour to work through.

The nature of the organisation also determines the degree of autonomy and responsibility the designer is likely to be given. Turning a manual into e-learning may require no content knowledge at all. Just convert what’s there and you’re good. A course as part of a formal qualification either requires the designer to have some foundation in the discipline or the ability to research, corroborate, validate and extract knowledge,  and establish how best to ‘teach’ that. 

The only commonality across these roles and contexts is the ability to see things through learner’s eyes, whoever that learner is. 

That means empathy is the first key skill.

In the contexts in which I have worked in the last 25 years, the ability to overcome the ‘Curse of Knowledge’, the inability to remember what it means to be a beginner in any area of learning has been key. That means that for me, it has never been about building a team of discipline specialists. It has meant looking to build course teams that include those who possess knowledge and practical experience, and those who act as the ‘first learners’. These first learners, as designers, need to ask the simple questions, the ‘dumb’ questions, to make sure that the level at which we pitch the learning is appropriate.

This may seem obvious to you, but it’s remarkable how many designers are intimidated by specialist knowledge. Faced with a Subject Matter Expert (SME) who is 'cursed with knowledge' and who cannot express learning intentions at the appropriate level, a good designer has to cajole, persuade and chorale the learning from the SME.

This means that the ability to listen and ask questions as though a 'first learner' is the second key skill.

Designing learning that works within a specific context, say a three hour face-to-face workshop, is unlikely to work in an online form without modification. This means designers need to combine their skills of empathy and listening, of understanding the institutional purpose and the perceptions of the learner, and adapt courseware accordingly.

In the last 18 months many organisations have been forced to learn this lesson the hard way. Faced with the challenge of sustaining learning under pandemic conditions, most have made a reasonable effort of getting it right. Those that held to their core values and listened to the needs of their students and teachers have done better than those that reached for process and systems driven approaches.

A good classroom teacher, with practice, can adapt their delivery from workshop to seminar, from lecture to discussion fora, when timetabling assigns them a different teaching space, learning designers need to adapt the ‘tools’ they use to suit the learning need. Digital tools come and go, upgrades can change the way tools behave significantly. A designer who is an expert at using Rise 360 may move into a role where that tool is not available, or they may use H5P like a pro only to find that their organisation prohibits its use on their platform. A good designer looks past the tool (or space) and can identify the essence of the learning experience and make it engaging.

Being adaptable to the means of communication and associated toolset is the third key skill.

You notice that there is nothing about intellectual skills or the ability to use any particular tool. I am making an assumption that you have at least a bare minimum of digital-literacy, that you have used more than one tool, and that you know what appropriate use looks like in a given context. I am also making the assumption that you are intellectually capable of some level of judgement and analysis. 

Most importantly, I am going to assume that you are, because you have read to the end of this post, sufficiently self-reflective to consider what your skill set is, and what it should or could be. That’s a great start. 

Being a reflective practitioner is the fourth key skill. Arguably, the most important one!

If you are thinking about building a career as a learning designer, of whichever guise, these are the four key foundational skills: being empathic, a listener, adaptable, and reflective.

 

 

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