Design Philosophy

As an educator for over twenty years, my design philosophy is, of course, informed by my experience in the classroom.  While eLearning and online learning and training certainly require a different – one might say more rigid and circumspect – approach to design, one constant remains in all learning and instruction efforts: learner motivation is essential for learning to take place.

Identification of skill or knowledge gaps is paramount in any learning design project. This identification is driven by the needs of the client, but just as important as a comprehensive analysis of these gaps is an analysis of the learners. What are their motivations?  How does the learning or training affect their efforts, jobs, and lives? How might the learning align with their own goals and interests?

Much of my research and training, as well as a good deal of my personal free time, has been concerned with games – playing, studying, designing, and, as applies to learning design, understanding how player motivation, interest and engagement is achieved.  Gamification is and has been a popular topic among designers for some years now, and we have all seen examples of points, leaderboards, and mini-games in mobile apps, at the store or online. But games are more complex than a series of extrinsic elements to be tacked on to otherwise straightforward experiences, and the motivation afforded by earning points fades quickly once the experience is over.  This can lead to de-motivation, and work at cross purposes in learning design.

More nuanced approaches take a closer look at the mechanics of games – how players learn to navigate games, build skills, chain skills and accomplish the goals of the game.  These mechanics are independent of more popularly applied gamification elements, and are at the heart of gameful design: using game elements in non-game contexts to align learning experiences with learner goals to enhance engagement as skills are built.  This approach focuses on the learner’s own intrinsic motivation in aligning learning goals, structures gameful experiences on building skills that can be chained to solve problems, challenge the learner, and lead to greater motivation, engagement and transfer to the learner’s job.

While this approach isn’t appropriate in all learning contexts, it highlights a general direction I take when I design: learning should be pleasurable, align to learner goals, have clear goals and apply directly to the learner’s world.

Since all learners experience learning events differently, using multiple modes of communication – auditory, visual and text – helps learning reach the broadest audience and is an important component of the overall design of eLearning UI.  Judicious use of graphics, video and animation help illustrate processes and relationships more efficiently than text and play an important role in my eLearing design.

In instructor-led training, as with face-to-face classroom instruction, my design takes a distinctly constructivist approach when there is an opportunity to have learners interact.  Understanding and transfer are enhanced when learners are able to build understanding and knowledge through structured experiences and interactions, particularly among adult learners who are particularly interested in practical application, relevance and relationship of new learning to their existing base of experience.

My overall approach generally follows the ADDIE model due to its flexibility and recursive nature. Within the ADDIE model, particular lessons or modules might make use of gameful design, application of adult learning theory, traditional instructional stages (like Gagne) or constructivist methodology. Testing design and early development efforts helps to refine the product and focus on meeting both client and learner outcomes more effectively. This, coupled with a thorough learner pre-analysis for gaps as well as interests, motivations and goals, drives a multi-modal development process to better target learner motivation and engagement.