Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

21 September 2008

Design: final heuristics

Clark @ 6:35 AM

Part 4 of the 4 part series:

Here’re the final suite of heuristics I came up with many years ago as a result of looking at our design process and the barriers our cognitive architecture can put in our own way.

Full Spectrum Design: One of the most insidious problems observed in educational multimedia is a tendency to incorporate all the solution into the computer.  The system will be the repository of all the text, sound, graphics, etc, and the instruction.  Unfortunately, this does not properly reflect what’s known about reading text on screen and the role of the teacher.  In conjunction with the No Limits Analysis, another way to get the best design is to consider the full spectrum of media, particularly considering delivering text on paper, having the instruction accomplished by an instructor, etc.  The proper use of the term multimedia is to consider all the available media and their use and to distribute the instructional task across all of them.

No Limits Analysis: After assembling a team, the first step in the design process is analysis, and an important component is proper information gathering to ensure that all relevant possible sources of inspiration have been considered.  However, before we consider what others have done in the same, we should see what we come up with when we think as if there were no limits.  This occurs after the pedagogical problem has been identified but before other examples are considered.  The step is to consider how the problem would be addressed if there were no technological limitations, as if anything could be accomplished as if by magic. Arthur C. Clarke said “any truly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, and we’re really at the stage where the barriers are our imaginations, not the technology.  So stop and think what an ideal solution would be.  You may not be able to achieve what you imagine, but you certainly can’t if you don’t identify that option, and you’ll prematurely limit the solution space.

Kitchen Sink Analysis: After the No Limits Analysis, comes the systematic consideration of other corners of the design space or other relevant prototypes for modification.  Lewis & Reiman suggested that “plagiarism” is an appropriate design strategy (as far as your lawyers would let you, as they cautioned), where ideas are lifted from existing designs rather than reinventing the wheel.  An expansion to this concept is to not only look at what others have done but to also consider how instruction might proceeded without computer support, what theory suggests as an approach, etc.  In short, the suggestion is to exhaustively search all potential sources of input into the design process, including the proverbial ‘kitchen sink’.  This process is both to help populate the design space and discover all constraints.

And let me add one other that I didn’t explicitly include before:
Lateral input:  Research on brainstorming and creativity (cf D Bono), has shown that besides being systematic and covering all the known or plausible solutions, lateral thinking is valuable. After you’ve been exhaustive within the box, find ways to get ‘outside the box’.  Use random inspirations: play a game, doodle, get some random input!  Get silly!  It may not be politically correct anymore, but back when I worked for a learning game company, the CEO (hi, Sky!), used to bring in pizza and beer on Friday afternoon and have some idea sessions!  There are lots of tools and approaches, just make sure you make some concerted effort here.

OK, that’s it for this series on design.  I hope these past few posts give you some useful guidance or ideas.  I welcome your own!


  1. Hi Clark,

    I drew this map after reading your post and Tim Brown’s post on Design:
    Design Map

    Comment by Donald Clark — 22 September 2008 @ 8:58 AM

  2. Donald, very cool map. I like Tim’s post and diagram (and now see where you were going) too. I’d add to his note that it’s not only cycling between and diverge/converge, and analyze/synthesize, but also top-down/bottom-up.

    Comment by Clark — 22 September 2008 @ 11:38 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress