design thinking

Learning Design In Practice

In my latest #tiegrad class I was asked to consider why learning design is important and how it can be useful in my own practice.  Here are some of my thoughts:

 

When I use robust learning design to explicitly plan, structure, and sequence learning experiences for and with my students I find the quality of the instructional time to be high, and the user experience more satisfying.  One example that comes to mind immediately are the resources, curriculum, and lesson plans I use from Free The Children.  When I first partnered with Free The Children, in 2010, I used their resources in my social studies classes to raise awareness of local and global issues, but instead of adapting the resources to suit the needs of my learners I rolled out the lesson plans from the box, verbatim, and they failed.

 

Why did they fail?  They were after all well written, scaffolded appropriately, and supported with multimedia options, but that wasn’t enough.

 

After persistently and feverishly struggling through several lessons I took the time to reevaluate the experience my students were having and made some changes.  In essence, I started the learning design process.  The lessons were bombing because they were not my lessons; they were someone else’s.  The first change I made was to restructure the content and make sure I fully understood what I wanted my students to learn.  Next I evaluated the learning needs of my students and quickly found out they had a very limited knowledge of the geographical world around them, so I helped to quickly fill some knowledge gaps.  Finally, and most importantly, I moved away from a lesson plan format where I shared information, and we worked on the gradual release of responsibly on a specific task, to a much more hands on method.  My students have learned that the best way of understanding social justice issues and working towards positive change in the world is by creating awareness, educating others, and taking direct action.  My students now hosts assemblies to educate the school on the importance of education, they hold movie nights to talk about the importance of clean water, and they indulge in a day of silence in support of child rights.  Robust learning design has proved helpful in increasing student engagement and motivation.

 

Advantages of Learning Design

  • Can lead to student centered learning rather than teacher centered learning
  • Leads to differentiated learning – Blooms Taxonomy
  • Can connect learning to real-life situations
  • Keeps the learning experiences ‘honest’ – How does this lesson relate to the goal?
  • Creating learning experiences based on latest neuroscience and tailored towards how children best learn today

 

My Learning Design

One area of learning design that is most important to my own practice is differentiating the learning experience for my students.  Sometimes I use the excuse that I have such a challenging class with a variety of complex needs that I cannot possible create meaningful learning experiences for everyone, but with a more robust learning design plan I can reach more of my learners.  Through understanding the cultural, knowledge, and skills gaps in my learners I can tailor learning to suit the individual needs of all my learners in a more effective manner than trying to squeeze all learners down a path they may not have the skills and experience to navigate.

Does Design Thinking Have A Place In Education?

Design Cycle_Design Thinking for Education (1)

 

 

In my latest #tiegrad course I have been tasked with better understanding design thinking, and to consider whether it could play a relevant part in my own instructional design process.  I wanted to share my initial findings as I seek a deeper understanding of the process.

If empathy, interpreting, imagining, planning, and testing are the principles of design thinking, then it is remarkably akin to the assessment cycle used in education.  They are both user centered, continuous, and intentional.  Perhaps design thinking is the new assessment cycle?  Regardless of your thoughts of the process of creating engaging, authentic, and relevant instruction in your classroom, I believe design thinking has a place in our education system, classrooms, and schools.

If “Design has a set of tools and methods that can guide people to new solutions.” (Nussbaum, 2009) and mainstream public-school education in Canada is having difficulty understanding the needs of the latest entrants into its system, then surely we can borrow some ideas from design thinking to inspire a new generation of learner.

I will be the first to admit that I struggle to consistently design learning experiences, which engage all my students.  I struggle with student apathy towards education, and I seem to focus so much of my day developing and maintaining relationships, understanding my learners, and meeting their socio-emotional needs that my current assessment practices need redesigning.  Can the design thinking cycle help?  I’m not sure yet, but I am certain that more time I spend with my learners working towards authentic, real life learning experiences the more engaged my class is, and the more satisfied I feel.

I see design thinking working across the curriculum.  In social studies, design thinking is idea for addressing many social justice issues such as hunger, education, poverty, and unclean water.  These global issues need a new approach and  creative solutions.  The collaborative nature and user-centered approach of design thinking can help.  This PBS documentary shows design thinking at work by highlight the work done by Stanford University’s Institute of Design (aka the d.school) students who created products that may save thousands of lives in Bangladesh, Indonesia and other developing countries they visited.

Teaching Students Design Thinking?

In contrast to the benefits of design thinking as a teaching tool in education, I enjoyed reading Debbie Morrison’s blog posting Why ‘Design Thinking’ Doesn’t Work in Education.  As an elementary school teacher working in an inner-city school with a disproportionately high number of at-risk students, I fully agree with her argument that design thinking has a place in instructional design but not in student curriculum.  She argues that design thinking, “… requires one to think of a problem from unconventional, even unlikely perspectives…”  and could be too complex for our k-12 education system.  My students do not have the school experience or life experience to deal with such abstract thinking.  Morrison further states that our current learners

“…have the creative confidence knocked out of them at an early age and little attention paid to developing their creative thinking skills thereafter. Any design thinking process would be greatly enhanced by people who have had the opportunity to hone their creative fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration.”

My learners are concrete learners.  How do we teach creative fluency, flexibility, and originality, when these qualities may not be supported/valued at home?