In working with colleagues about redesigning design (our goal is better incorporating learning science into practices), I had a realization. I frequently see in practice, and it’s pretty much the orientation of the tools, that we work forwards. That is, we start at the beginning, work our way forward through content and practice, and end at, well, the end. While this may make sense from a workflow perspective, there’s a fundamental flaw. So I think it’s time we take a step backward.
Once we’ve done the analysis, and put our goal in mind, it can seem reasonable to move forward, through the various steps. It’s one way to create a coherent experience. However, there’s a flaw with this. For one, it takes our eye off the ball. That is, what’s core is what our performers come out able to do. Getting lost in the flow of experience may lead us astray. For another, it’s assuming we’ll get it right the first time. That’s a mistake.
You can start at either of two places to see an alternative. For one, as McTighe and Wiggins have advocated in Understanding by Design, they focus on the outcomes first and work backwards. For another, modern successors to older design practices – Michael Allen’s Successive Approximations Model (SAM), Megan Torrance’s Lot Like Agile Management Approach (LLAMA), Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping, and David Merrill’s Pebble in the Pond, for some prominent examples – all start designing from the practice first. They iterate on the practice with testing, while working backwards to necessary prerequisite problems, until you get to where your audience starts.
This is both pragmatic and principled. On principle, you work backwards from the core problem. This keeps you aligned with the outcome. Then you supplement with the minimal material to help performers succeed. This includes examples, models, etc. Then, like with a proper paper, you write the introduction and closing last. Pragmatically, this keeps the focus on the critical parts, and ensures you’re focusing your valuable time honing the most important elements first.
It’s easy (trust me, I fall prey to this too) to work forward. Still, it’s smarter to take a step backward and work that way. If you want an impact. Which, I suspect, you do. Or you should, eh?
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