The dilemma at the heart of learning design

I’ve been up in Birmingham for a couple of days at a workshop for the JISC D4L projects (I’m the director on the D4LD project). The two pedagogic planner projects generated quite a bit of interest. I know about IOE’s planner, so went to the session on Oxford’s Phoebe. This is a wiki-based resource that helps users with two main pathways in – ‘I want to do activity X’ and ‘I want to use technology Y’. This multiple perspective is essential I think in any design tool – I’d probably add in ‘I need resources on Z’. It’s a good resource, but as they recognise not something that is really stand alone, ie you wouldn’t let any educator loose on it, since it doesn’t have enough guidance. This is intentional, it is an open model, and this contrasts with the IOE planner which offers a level of guidance (based on Laurillard’s Conversational model but this could be swapped out with any theory of your choice). This gets to one of the problems for me in developing a learning design aid (something we’re trying to do for OU course teams) – people have many different ways of working, so you need to have an open, broad system that accommodates these, and yet if the system is too broad then it doesn’t help the user enough. You need to add in a level of guidance and interpetation, but as soon as you do that you are imposing a method of working, which if it doesn’t match the way you operate can become tedious.

I remember when we were developing a course for the ill-fated UKeU. Sun, who were developing their VLE, created a complicated workflow system that you had to go through. This didn’t match the way any of us worked and the best feature they provided was a ‘select all’ button which would just tick all the workflow stages so you could bypass it. Obviously you don’t want the same to happen to any design tool, so getting the balance right between flexibility and suitable guidance and affordance is the key issue I feel.

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