I’ve been talking a bit recently about deepening formal design, specifically to achieve learning that’s flexible, persistent, and develops the learner’s abilities to become self-sustaining in work and life. That is, not just for a course, but for a curriculum. And it’s more than just what we talked about in the Serious eLearning Manifesto, though of course it starts there. So, to begin with, it needs to start with meaningful objectives, provide related practice, and be trialed and developed, but there’s more, there are layers of development that wrap around the core.
One element I want to suggest is important is also in the Manifesto, but I want to push a bit deeper here. I worked to put in that the elements behind, say, a procedure or a task, that you apply to problems, are models or concepts. That is, a connected body of conceptual relationships that tie together your beliefs about why it should be done this way. For example, if you’ve a procedure or process you want people to follow, there is (or should be) a rationale behind it.
And you should help learners discover and see the relationships between the model and the steps, through examples and the feedback they get on practice. If they can internalize the understanding behind steps, they are better prepared for the inevitable changes to the tools they use, the materials they work on, or the process changes what will come from innovation. Training them on X, when X will ultimately shift to Y, isn’t as helpful unless you help them understand the principles that led to performance on X and will transfer to Y.
Another element is that the output of the activities should create scrutable deliverables and also annotate the thoughts behind the result. These provide evidence of the thinking both implicit and explicit, a basis for mentors/instructors to understand what’s good, and what still may need to be addressed, tin the learner’s thinking. There’s also the creation of a portfolio of work which belongs to the learner and can represent what they are capable of.
Of course, the choices of activities for the learner initially, and the design of them to make them engaging, by being meaningful to the learner in important ways, is another layer of sophistication in the design. It can’t just be that you give the traditional boring problems, but instead the challenges need to be contextualized. More than that (which is already in the Manifesto), you want to use exaggeration and story to really make the challenges compelling. Learning should be hard fun.
Another layer is that of 21st Century skills (for examples, the SCANS competencies). These can’t be taught separately, they really need to manifest across whatever domain learnings you are doing. So you need learners to not just learn concepts, but apply those concepts to specific problems. And, in the requirements of the problem, you build in opportunities to problem-solve, communicate, collaborate, e.g. all the foundational and workplace skills. They need to reappear again and again and be assessed (and developed) separately.
Ultimately, you want the learner to be taking on responsibility themselves. Later assignments should include the learner being given parameters and choosing appropriate deliverables and formats for communication. And this requires and additional layer, a layer of annotation on the learning design. The learners need to be seeing why the learning was so designed, so that they can internalize the principles of good design and so become self-improving learners. You, for example, in reading this far, have chosen to do this as part of your own learning, and hopefully it’s a worthwhile investment. That’s the point; you want learners to continue to seek out challenges, and resources to succeed, as part of their ongoing self-development, and that comes by having seen learning design and been handed the keys at some point on the journey, with support that’s gradually faded.
The nuances of this are not trivial, but I want to suggest that they are doable. It’s a subtle interweaving, to be sure, but once you’ve got your mind around it (with scaffolded practice :), my claim is that it can be done, reliably and repeatedly. And it should. To do less is to miss some of the necessary elements for successful support of an individual to become the capable and continually self-improving learner that we need.
I touched on most of this when I was talking about Activity-Based Learning, but it’s worthwhile to revisit it (at least for me :).