How should we design? It’s all well and good to spout principles, but putting them into practice is another thing. While we always would like to follow learning science, there’re not always all the answers we need. I was thinking about this with a project I’m working on, and it occurred to me that there might be some confusion. So I thought I’d share how I like to think and go about it, and see what you think.
So, first of all, you should go with the science. There are good principles around in a variety of forms. Some good guidance comes in books such as:
- eLearning & the Science of Instruction (Clark & Mayer)
- Design for How People Learn (Dirksen)
- the Make it Learnable series (Shank)
- and less directly but no less applicably, Michael Allen’s Guide to eLearning
There’s also ATD’s Science of Learning topic (with some good and some less good stuff). And the 3 Star Learning site. Both of these, of course, aren’t as comprehensive as a book. And, of course, you can also go right to the pure journals, like Instructional Science, and Learning Sciences, and the like, if you are fluent in academese. For that matter, I’ve a video course that is about Deeper Instructional Design, e.g. a design approach with learning science ‘baked in’.
But what I was thinking of what happens when they don’t address the specific concern you are wondering about. The second approach I recommend is theory. In particular, Cognitive Apprenticeship (my favorite model; Collins & Brown), or other theories like Elaboration Theory (Reigeluth), Pebble in a Pond (Merrill), or 4 Component ID (Van Merriënboer). Or, arguably more modern, something from Jonassen on problem-based learning or other more social constructivist approaches. They’re based on empirical data, but pulled together, and you can often make inferences in between the principles. While the next step is arguably better, in the real world you want a scrutable approach but one that gets you moving forward the fastest.
Finally, you test. If science and theory can’t provide the answer, you either wing it, but it’s better if you set up an experiment. Ideally, with your sample population. So, for instance, you don’t know whether to place the learner’s role in the simulation game as a consultant to many orgs or as a role in one org with many situations. There’re tradeoffs: in the former it’s easier to provide multiple contexts for practice, but the latter may be more closely aligned with job performance. You can test it, and see what learners think about the experience. Of course, it may be that in the process of just designing both that you have some insight. And that’s ok.
And, if you’re a reflective practitioner (and we should be), you might share your findings. What did you learn? Learning science advances to the extent that we continue to explore and test. Speaking of which, how does this approach match with what you do?