The art and science of learning design – a supplement of the Journal of Research in Learning Technology
I’m very happy to share the fruits of a long and intensive collaborative efforts.
The Journal of Research in Learning has recently published a supplement on “the art and science of learning design“, of which I am a co-editor. This supplement includes eight papers and an editorial. The work on this collection started at the “art and science of learning design” workshop. Some of the papers are direct descendants of contributions presented at the workshop, others are reflections and commentaries on the ideas discussed there, and two – Rashomon I and Rashomon II are new pieces of research proposed at the workshop’s concluding session.
Research and practice in learning design aims to make the tacit practices of design for learning explicit, provide suitable textual, visual and computational representations to support these practices, and suitable tools to manipulate them and share them. The editorial begins by considering the meaning of design, and the rationale for positioning education as a design practice. We argue that whatever your interpretation of “learning” or “education”, it always concerns change – from an existing pattern of action or intentional state to a preferred one. This fits with Herbert Simon’s notion of design: “Engineers are not the only professional designers. Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. “. We then expand the discussion, by considering Ertmer, Parisio, and Wardak definition of design, and Latour’s 5 “advantages” of design.
We argue (provocatively?) that the “grand challenge of learning design” can be summarised by three words: language, practice and tools. Language refers to the representational systems used in the act of learning design. Language also refers to the scientific and professional discourse about learning design. Representing educational practice is one of the central themes of learning design. A growing body of literature raises the questions of representing, understanding and advancing the practices of learning design themselves. Finally, effective design practices need to be supported by powerful learning design tools. Such tools need to support the expression of design knowledge in a range of languages. Thus, tools connect practice, language, and knowledge.
The other papers in this supplement speak to these challenges. While all papers touch on the three themes of language, practice and tools – each one has a different balance of attention among them.
McKenney’s Designing and researching technology-enhanced learning for the zone of proximal implementation presents a case for technology-enhanced learning research and development that focuses more on what is practical today than on what could be effective in theory in the future. The paper proposes methodological considerations for the design of clear, value-added and tolerant innovations aligned with the real needs of today’s implementation contexts. This perspective calls researchers to include in their studies attention to broad factors focused on how innovations are understood and used by teachers and schools.
Pozzi and Persico Sustaining learning design and pedagogical planning in CSCL focus on learning design in the Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) domain. In particular, the paper discusses diverse existing approaches to design, represent, refine and visualise collaborative learning designs, and proposes a unifying model for pedagogical planning in the CSCL design process, with a strong focus on supporting decision making. The unifying design model considers the four dimensions of Task, Teams, Time and Technology.
Goodyear and Dimitriadis, in In medias res: reframing design for learning, go beyond considering design as a significant task of the teaching practice and focus on the role of design as a relevant means of helping people learn. The paper discusses why it is important to have a theory of design for learning and set out some of its elements. Key issues addressed in the paper are around the different actors involved in a framework of design for learning (people creating designs which can help other people learn, the learners, teachers supporting people learn) or the kinds of things that can be designed and re-designed, and how they may relate to multiple learning layers and goals. In Forward-oriented design for learning: illustrating the approach Dimitriadis and Goodyear turn to the recent design for learning literature to illustrate their forward-oriented design approach. They focus on two key facets of the approach, design for orchestration and design for reflection, and identify key points for reflection upon their design approach. They then draw upon fieldwork from two case studies to highlight how their approach addresses important design problems and provides suitable solutions.
Masterman and Craft (Designing and evaluating representations to model pedagogy) further emphasise the importance of theoretical grounding, turning their emphasis to the problem of the selection of representations of learning designs. To capture learning designs requires representing them in some way, both during and after the design process. The authors propose using a framework for epistemic efficacy adapted from the cognitive psychology literature, to aid in evaluating the effectiveness representations. To illustrate this, they show how the framework can be applied to the evaluation of one pedagogic planning also, the Learning Designer.
Continuing the theme of design representations, in the next paper, Katsamani and Retalis’ Orchestrating learning activities using the CADMOS learning design tool discusses the tension between formal representations of learning designs (such as IMS-LD) and the concerns of educational practitioners, who are not versed in technical formalisms but need intuitive visual and textual representations which are easy to share and manipulate. They compare five popular LD tools (MOT+, Compendium, WebCollage, OpenGLM, and LAMS) using five criteria: usability, guidance, formalisation, pedagogical neutrality and design flexibility. They argue that no single tool satisfies all five criteria. They propose CADMOS as a tool which aims to address these concerns, by guiding practitioners in a design process which is based on the principle of “separation of concerns”: maintaining two parallel models of the design – a conceptual model and a flow model. They discuss the results of a user evaluation of the tool, and map its future development.
As the number of learning design tools and representations continues to grow, it becomes more difficult to keep track of them and to engage with them. Therefore, not many researchers or practitioners have time to try more than a few tools, and they are unlikely to use several different tools to author the same design. They are perhaps even more unlikely to take into consideration different approaches to the learning design process, itself. This is especially true for practitioners, who must cope with the day-to-day demands of teaching. Hence, the motivation for the concluding two papers in this supplement. We take our inspiration from the internationally acclaimed film, Rashomon (1950) by the late Japanese film director, Akira Kurosawa. Rashomon is notable not only because it introduced Japanese cinema to Western audiences, but also because of the novel plot device used by Kurosawa, in which the same narrative (a mysterious murder) is revealed from the perspectives of three different characters. We hope to provide the same benefit of multiple viewpoints in the papers Rashomon I and Rashomon II. As a result, these two concluding papers are rather different to the traditional research literature, but we believe they provide compelling perspectives on the contemporary opportunities and challenges in our field.
In Rashomon I Persico et al. consider the tensions and possible synergies between different approaches to LD by examining a single activity – the PI project Healthy Eating activity (Anastopoulou et al. 2012) through the lens of five different design approaches, each supported by particular representations and tools. These approaches are the 4SPPIces Model, the 4Ts, the e-Design Template, the Design Principles Database and the Design Narratives. The authors compare the various approaches according to their underlying pedagogical assumptions, their mode of use, and their advantages to the designer and educator. Each approach guides the designer through key decisions in the design process (or in the case of Design Narrative – in post-hoc reflection on it). The comparison does not claim to be extensive, or to conclude that one approach is superior to another. Its value is in exposing the reader to the diversity of the field and allowing her to form an understanding of what would serve her best in particular situations.
In the companion paper Rashomon II, Prieto et al. take the approach of modelling the same activity using five different tools. The authors use the same “healthy eating” activity from the PI project and describe how this inquiry-based learning scenario is implemented in all five tools, providing illustrations and a detailed discussion for each. They are thus able to uncover key differences and similarities among the tools. These entail differences in their use and usefulness, their audiences, and pedagogic specialties, among others. This comparative approach therefore also illustrates some of the key contemporary challenges for the field of Learning Design.
We hope this contribution is useful not just for the learning design community, but for all researchers and practitioners engaged in educational innovation.
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