Agile Learning Design Opinion Work Out Loud

The Design in Learning Design

Before I get into some of the meatier discussion around Agile Learning Design I want to take a quick detour and have a quick chat about learning design.

Without a dedicated degree or qualification it seems that learning designers come into the profession via two streams – education or technical. I came to it from a technical background rather than educational one. I trained in Multimedia and Graphic Design and that’s the lens I see things through – design.

And what is design?

Well to me design is problem solving within a set of constraints. It’s a creative pursuit that seeks to solve a variety of problems through a set of available tools and different ways of communicating. So to me learning design is setting the problem as learning, and then seeking to design a solution by understanding the motivations and experiences of the learners and instructors.

If you come from a teaching or education background that might not match your idea of the role. And that’s OK – there is no wrong or right when it comes to this stuff, what changes though is that lens – how you look at the world, and more importantly the problem.

If you’ve got a different definition of learning design – that’s great! – but when I write, I’m using my definition, not yours. I’m putting this out there so you know where I’m coming from when I talk about learning design. If you’ve got a critique of what I’m saying – make it, but also slide on my lenses and take a look at what I’m saying.

As I’ve said before, learning design isn’t teaching. There are certainly commonalities, but part of the design process is understanding (and utilising) constraints. These go beyond the constraints of the environment, that teachers are used to, and also seeks to understand those of the students themselves, their motivations and desires, the nature of the tools we have available and the ways in which we can communicate. It’s an attempt to be more holistic – which teachers can be, but I think that’s when they start to design rather than just teach.

An analogy might be that CocaCola’s intent is always to sell more Coke. In the hands of designers a whole cacophony of solutions have been developed, enough for 100 years. What’s changed and is unique isn’t the product or intent, but the constraints. Each campaign is its own designed response to those constraints. I look at learning design in a similar way, the intent of the teacher is often the same, the “product” is the institution (yes, not the course – controversial I know) and therefore our design should be a bespoke to match the constraints we find ourselves in. Coke doesn’t template its advertising, its many and varied, adapted to the situation, location and audience. Coke doesn’t have one ad a year and that’s it, it doesn’t create one template for all ads and make them conform to that.

So why would we try to do that to our courses?

Yet so much of the common approach to learning design is focused on The Template. The Magic Bullet. The Way the Truth and the Light. That there is one true way to build courses, we just need to find it.

My approach is the opposite, every course should be unique, or rather every experience should be unique. When it comes to the content of courses I agree that we should be reusing and sharing content, but for me the content of the course isn’t the experience. That’s not what we are designing – otherwise we’d be editors, not designers. Our role as learning designers is to see things as whole and use the constraints we have to construct and purpose build an experience for our students.

In the next post I want to cover off on some of the principles of Agile Learning Design.


By Tim Klapdor

Passionate about good design, motivated by the power of media and enchanted by the opportunities of technology.

2 replies on “The Design in Learning Design”

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