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Agile Learning Design Opinion

Design with Purpose

This is part of a series unpacking each of the Principles of Agile Learning Design.


Design with intent and purpose. Know what you want in the course and design it in. Ask and map out the points of Wow and Joy and design for them. We get to define the whole experience, so don’t leave it up to chance.

This might seem obvious, but behind every design is an intent. You’re definitely seeking to solve a problem, but the way that you do that is based upon key decisions – it’s not up to chance. What often happens though is that when we design we prioritise aspects of the design over others, we funnel our energy into specific aspects of the design and neglect others. My experience of this is that quite often we do leave things to chance, interpretation and serendipity.

When it comes to design we spend a lot of time working on form and function. What is the point designing something that fails to function or is completely unusable. But it’s also a choice for us not to focus on experience as a third guiding dimension. Can we make something a joyful experience to use? The answer is always yes, but we have to allocate time and energy into doing that, which quite often that impacts on our constraints.

This is why it is important to know our constraints, but also to have a clear idea of what it is we are setting out to achieve and why we are doing this. (I’ll unpack this why question a little more in a future post).

I am always in awe of the subtleties in many designs. Some product designers are in credibly good at thinking about the nuances of using their products, thinking beyond their function and more about the experience of using them. How will the user feel interacting with this? What will they do everyday and how can we make that simple and easy? What corners can we round off to make things less dangerous and likely to snag? This isn’t rocket science by any means, it is just a greater sense of awareness of the work and what they do. Learning design shouldn’t be any different.

We should be well aware of the student experience and we should be designing with the express purpose of representing our students in the process. If we want key ideas to gel, to be sticky and connect to a larger body of knowledge then we have to design for that to happen. If we want students to have a literal ah-ha moment — then we don’t leave it to chance we design it in. The great reveals and twists in a TV or movie narrative aren’t left to chance, they are scripted, worked on and edited for — they are designed with a purpose. The narrative arc has a purpose to engage the audience, to keep them wanting more and tuning in next week. There is intent there, a purpose and it drives decisions along the way. We have to start to take this approach into our learning design practice. We have to stop leaving things to chance or interpretation of the students, we need to design for them to happen.

By Tim Klapdor

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

2 replies on “Design with Purpose”

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