Unpacking our ‘distances’ from Learners

Unpacking our ‘distances’ from Learners

Last week, in our Cluster C meeting (convened as part of our involvement in the JISC Curriculum Design Programme), Helen Beetham posed a series of project challenges – one asked how our ‘distance’ from learners may impact our design approach. The most common interpretation in this context would be to mean phyiscal space – the difference, say, between ‘distance’ and ‘face-to-face’ teaching. However, as we begun to discuss in the session, distance can be understood in many other ways too. Not only could the notion of space be further deconstructed, there may be temporal distance (e.g. design may occur days, weeks, even years before the learning event occurs), intentional or necessary distance (e.g. leaving ‘room’ for what Helen termed ‘teacher and learner innovation’, or maintaining a professional or objective distance), distances that constrain (e.g. a perceived intellectual distance between ‘expert’ teacher and learner), conceptual or practical distance (e.g. in understandings or experiences), or distance borne of disagreement or confusion (e.g. in what pedagogy to use).

We may conclude that there may exist multiple distances between designer and learner. This not only raises the question of how the design process acts as a method of negotiating and making sense of these distances (and how to represent them) but it also introduces the question of where exactly the centre to a ‘learner-centred’ approach is, or indeed, if there is just the one. Helen suggested that ‘Good’ design should aim to acknowledge distance and ‘leave unspecified those issues that are better determined at closer range’. This raises a further question; how distant should a designer be and when (and if and how) should they get closer?

Certainly what this does is focus attention not just on the need to understand the spatial configurations of design generated by designing and decision making at different distances from the learner, but in the processes by which designs ‘travel’ through the ‘in-between’ spaces. An example of this may be the effective communication/passing-on of designs to those who are ‘closer’ to the learning (including the learners themselves).

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