What is learning design?




Published on: 9 May 2018

Written by: Christopher Batchelder and Elizabeth Graff


When we tell people that we’re learning designers, they often reply, “Oh wow. What’s that?” or “What age are your students?"

They usually assume that we work with kids and that we work at a school. But, learning design is actually a lot broader than that! While learning designers do sometimes work for schools, we also work with companies, governments and nonprofits.

Kids aren't the only ones with a need to learn, grow and develop. Adults do, too. And learning doesn’t just happen in a classroom. It happens everywhere. In fact, we’ve designed learning experiences for hotels, pizza companies, tech companies like Google and CISCO, design schools, car showrooms and more.

What is learning design?

Like architects, learning designers design spaces. Unlike architects, however, the spaces that we create are not buildings. It’s our job to design spaces for learning. And those spaces aren’t always physical. We spend a lot of our time studying how people learn and identifying the unique learning objectives of each project we undertake: the skills, information or personal insights with which we hope to equip our learners. After we’ve wrapped our heads around the learning goals for each project, we create the conditions that are most likely to make that learning happen.

How do we do it?

Unlike architects, the materials in our toolbox are not bricks, steel and concrete. Rather, because learning happens through interpersonal relationships and experiences, the tools at our disposal fall under the domain of human interaction. Conversation (language), physical movement, opportunities for reflection and abstract thought, emotional connection, sensory perception, etc. - these are the tools available to us.

A language to describe the practice

We believe that it’s important to regularly and critically reflect on the work that we do. In the process of discussing our work with one another and sharing our work with others, we’ve recognized a need to develop a language (and a conceptual framework) that accurately describes our approach to learning design. This has led us to realize that each learning experience or program that we design -- whether a multi-year-long curriculum or a 30-minute workshop -- can be described according to where it falls along a series of spectra.

As can be seen in the graphic below, there are many spectra. For example, there’s a spectrum to describe how participatory a learning experience is, how long it lasts, how formal it is, etc. The spectra listed below are some of the most common, but the least is by no means exhaustive.

When we tell people that we’re learning designers, they often reply, “Oh wow. What’s that?” or “What age are your students?"

They usually assume that we work with kids and that we work at a school. But, learning design is actually a lot broader than that! While learning designers do sometimes work for schools, we also work with companies, governments and nonprofits.

Kids aren't the only ones with a need to learn, grow and develop. Adults do, too. And learning doesn’t just happen in a classroom. It happens everywhere. In fact, we’ve designed learning experiences for hotels, pizza companies, tech companies like Google and CISCO, design schools, car showrooms and more.

What is learning design?

Like architects, learning designers design spaces. Unlike architects, however, the spaces that we create are not buildings. It’s our job to design spaces for learning. And those spaces aren’t always physical. We spend a lot of our time studying how people learn and identifying the unique learning objectives of each project we undertake: the skills, information or personal insights with which we hope to equip our learners. After we’ve wrapped our heads around the learning goals for each project, we create the conditions that are most likely to make that learning happen.

How do we do it?

Unlike architects, the materials in our toolbox are not bricks, steel and concrete. Rather, because learning happens through interpersonal relationships and experiences, the tools at our disposal fall under the domain of human interaction. Conversation (language), physical movement, opportunities for reflection and abstract thought, emotional connection, sensory perception, etc. - these are the tools available to us.

A language to describe the practice

We believe that it’s important to regularly and critically reflect on the work that we do. In the process of discussing our work with one another and sharing our work with others, we’ve recognized a need to develop a language (and a conceptual framework) that accurately describes our approach to learning design. This has led us to realize that each learning experience or program that we design -- whether a multi-year-long curriculum or a 30-minute workshop -- can be described according to where it falls along a series of spectra.

As can be seen in the graphic below, there are many spectra. For example, there’s a spectrum to describe how participatory a learning experience is, how long it lasts, how formal it is, etc. The spectra listed below are some of the most common, but the least is by no means exhaustive.

What is learning design?

Like architects, learning designers design spaces. Unlike architects, however, the spaces that we create are not buildings. It’s our job to design spaces for learning. And those spaces aren’t always physical. We spend a lot of our time studying how people learn and identifying the unique learning objectives of each project we undertake: the skills, information or personal insights with which we hope to equip our learners. After we’ve wrapped our heads around the learning goals for each project, we create the conditions that are most likely to make that learning happen.

How do we do it?

Unlike architects, the materials in our toolbox are not bricks, steel and concrete. Rather, because learning happens through interpersonal relationships and experiences, the tools at our disposal fall under the domain of human interaction. Conversation (language), physical movement, opportunities for reflection and abstract thought, emotional connection, sensory perception, etc. - these are the tools available to us.

A language to describe the practice

We believe that it’s important to regularly and critically reflect on the work that we do. In the process of discussing our work with one another and sharing our work with others, we’ve recognized a need to develop a language (and a conceptual framework) that accurately describes our approach to learning design. This has led us to realize that each learning experience or program that we design -- whether a multi-year-long curriculum or a 30-minute workshop -- can be described according to where it falls along a series of spectra.

As can be seen in the graphic below, there are many spectra. For example, there’s a spectrum to describe how participatory a learning experience is, how long it lasts, how formal it is, etc. The spectra listed below are some of the most common, but the least is by no means exhaustive.


Image

It’s tempting to conclude that one end of a spectrum is better than another. Lots of participation is better than none, right? Well, not in every situation. It really depends on the context and the needs of learners. Some lessons, for example, are best delivered as a lecture and others can only be understood through first-hand experience.

The art of learning design is knowing how to craft learning experiences that result in the desired learning outcomes in any given learning situation.

Speaking the language

We’re finding the learning design spectra useful in a range of situations. For example, we’re starting to use them in brainstorming, discussing and evaluating learning experiences.

They help us notice patterns because each learning experience has its own spectral signature, like a fingerprint. For example, karate classes have different spectral signatures than MOOCs.

It’s tempting to conclude that one end of a spectrum is better than another. Lots of participation is better than none, right? Well, not in every situation. It really depends on the context and the needs of learners. Some lessons, for example, are best delivered as a lecture and others can only be understood through first-hand experience.

The art of learning design is knowing how to craft learning experiences that result in the desired learning outcomes in any given learning situation.

Speaking the language

We’re finding the learning design spectra useful in a range of situations. For example, we’re starting to use them in brainstorming, discussing and evaluating learning experiences.

They help us notice patterns because each learning experience has its own spectral signature, like a fingerprint. For example, karate classes have different spectral signatures than MOOCs.

Image
Image

Our preferences

At Bon Education, we design many different kinds of learning experiences. Some are outdoors and some are inside; some are short-term and some are ongoing; some are individual and some are group-based. Yet, we do have preferences. The experiences that we create, for example, tend to be highly participatory, and we design conditions that empower our learners to be active creators rather than passive consumers of information.

What’s next?

The language and conceptual framework that we’ve presented here is merely a starting point. We hope our ideas spark further dialogue and conversation. We plan to continue communicating about learning design in a way that helps us become more aware of our practice, more critical and more creative. We’re always looking for ways to improve our work. And we wholeheartedly invite you to join us on this journey. So, we’d like to leave you with some food for thought. Until next, time...

  • How else might we use these spectra to explore learning design?

  • Which spectra resonate most strongly with you?

  • What spectra are we missing?

  • Have you seen anything like these spectra before? Or have you come across similar topics elsewhere?

  • What language or conceptual frameworks do you use to think and talk about learning and learning design?

Reply back. We’d love to hear from you!

Our preferences

At Bon Education, we design many different kinds of learning experiences. Some are outdoors and some are inside; some are short-term and some are ongoing; some are individual and some are group-based. Yet, we do have preferences. The experiences that we create, for example, tend to be highly participatory, and we design conditions that empower our learners to be active creators rather than passive consumers of information.

What’s next?

The language and conceptual framework that we’ve presented here is merely a starting point. We hope our ideas spark further dialogue and conversation. We plan to continue communicating about learning design in a way that helps us become more aware of our practice, more critical and more creative. We’re always looking for ways to improve our work. And we wholeheartedly invite you to join us on this journey. So, we’d like to leave you with some food for thought. Until next, time...

  • How else might we use these spectra to explore learning design?
  • Which spectra resonate most strongly with you?
  • What spectra are we missing?
  • Have you seen anything like these spectra before? Or have you come across similar topics elsewhere?
  • What language or conceptual frameworks do you use to think and talk about learning and learning design?

Reply back. We’d love to hear from you!

Our preferences

At Bon Education, we design many different kinds of learning experiences. Some are outdoors and some are inside; some are short-term and some are ongoing; some are individual and some are group-based. Yet, we do have preferences. The experiences that we create, for example, tend to be highly participatory, and we design conditions that empower our learners to be active creators rather than passive consumers of information.

What’s next?

The language and conceptual framework that we’ve presented here is merely a starting point. We hope our ideas spark further dialogue and conversation. We plan to continue communicating about learning design in a way that helps us become more aware of our practice, more critical and more creative. We’re always looking for ways to improve our work. And we wholeheartedly invite you to join us on this journey. So, we’d like to leave you with some food for thought. Until next, time...

  • How else might we use these spectra to explore learning design?

  • Which spectra resonate most strongly with you?

  • What spectra are we missing?

  • Have you seen anything like these spectra before? Or have you come across similar topics elsewhere?

  • What language or conceptual frameworks do you use to think and talk about learning and learning design?

Reply back. We’d love to hear from you!