I was responding to a friend who asked what I meant by suggesting she could play a role in architecting a learning solution. I frankly don’t recall saying it, but I generated an explanation that on reflection seems to have more resonance than I originally expected.
Coming from the background of applied cognition and doing my thesis work in Don Norman’s lab when he was really into the usability stuff (e.g. The Design of Everyday Things; which anyone who designs for others should read) and subsequently hired to teach it (though my heart remained in learning technology; fortunately they let me research whatever the heck I wanted), I was steeped in user interface processes. I subsequently wrote in several different ways about how usability processes are ahead of the instructional design field (e.g. testing), and tried to incorporate them into my own design processes.
I’ve been a fan of Jesse James Garrett’s Elements of User Experience (PDF) diagram (you know how I am about diagrams), with his structure of working down from strategy, through architecture and experience design, down to the navigation and finally the visual design. In answering her, it struck me as an apt way to think about learning design too.
I realize that many designers start with an outline and start writing, but one of the roles I play with my clients is coming in and suggesting an outline of a pedagogical approach that then is developed as an outline of the pages and then finally is actually filled in. It’s a level above even the outlining, as well as the actual writing (though I’ll often model how to trim that down, too, and where and how to use visuals). It’s an approach that can be applied beforehand lightly, and I believe leads to better outputs.
As I say “if you get the design right, there are lots of ways to implement it; if you don’t get the design right it doesn’t matter how you implement it”. I know it’s recommended to take a structured approach, but I can’t say I’ve seen it implemented near as often as I hear it touted. I’ve been working on a project where they’ve brought in an interface design team and their systematicity tops what I see in the elearning field. The closest is where we start with the objectives, design the assessment and metrics, all before we actually get down to writing the content. How often do you actually see that? I think we could use a bit more rigor, frankly. It can come from templates for SMEs (e.g. in rapid development), to prototypical content, and reviews against guidelines afterward.
What we do crosses paths with usability, and we shouldn’t be unaware.