The Lattice model for designing learning: defining the design problem space and guiding the design solutions

Sheila MacNeill recently suggested posting current work or ideas ahead of the JISC Design Bash (taking place later this month in Oxford). Since January I’ve scaled back my time with the OU Learning Design Initiative, however, I am still involved with project managing our JISC funded project. In addition, I have continued to retain my personal interest in how visual conceptualisations and cartographies of learning could benefit the design process, and in how these can enrich, even fundamentally change, the student experience of learning.

In this post I’ll address the first part of this interest – the design process. There are two related concerns; how to set-out and imagine a model of the design problem space (the first step to developing a solution), and how could this be used for a more practical tool to design learning. In this post you will notice that I talk about ‘designing learning’ or ‘designed learning’ rather than ‘learning design’ or ‘Learning Design’ and this is intentional as should become evident. 

The diagram below shows where I am currently in imagining what key dimensions exist in a design problem/solution space and how they link together (click on image to enlarge). I call this the Lattice model because of the inter-relational nature of the design elements. The purpose of laying this out as a network, rather than as a list or linear form, is to make explicit and explore the interconnectedness in designing learning. I would note that this is just a snap shot of a changing model.

The construction of this model has been framed by a number of observations and literatures. I’ll set out a few below but haven’t the space for an exhaustive account:

• Representations of learning designs tend to be concerned more with observable, performed elements of activity but we need to move much further beyond this. The sequence (or swim-lane) visualisation is a good example – a vertical line showing learning tasks with resources, support and sometimes learning outcomes connected to it. This layout was used in an early paper by Oliver and Hetherington in 2001 who showed the ‘three critical elements of learning design environments’ – learning task, learning resources and learning supports – with a basic notational system of rectangles, triangles and circles. Eight years later, these components are still important to learning design – for example Helen Beetham (2009) defines a learning activity as ‘a specific interaction of learner(s) with other(s) using specific tools and resources, orientated towards specific outcomes’ (marked A on the diagram below). Conole’s pedagogy profiler and the OU’s broader project to combine pedagogic and business visualisations of a course are examples of this moving forward with specific representations of aspects of designed and delivered learning. However, it remains uncertain how these descriptions connect together, how they help conceptualise the overall problem/solution space and how far they offer critical understanding. There are still many constraints and drivers to a design are undisclosed. A greater range of dimensions (elements relating to the design) are needed to fully map the design landscape.

• Use of the ‘sociocultural approach’ is an important perspective for Educational psychology in its attempts to theorise the role of culture and society. Although this is certainly not the only theoretical position from which to derive understanding (see later), given its key role any model should aim to accommodate (and yet also push?) this. In doing so we should acknowledge that the designer/teacher is not detached from the design process but implicated at a personal level with it. As the designer is both culturally and historically situated this makes their positionality and ‘intent’ (a term with echoes back to American pragmatism) important. Goodyear talks of the importance of representing intent, Strobel et al (2008) of capturing the design context and my experience at the OU working with Paul Clark and Andrew Brasher in trying to de-construct and visualise existing units revealed how important it is to know the thinking – and evidence supporting that thinking – ’behind’ a design (marked B below). Moving further, there is a need to situate learning as a social act – as Rogoff, for example, holds: learners engage in shared endeavours that are both structured and constituted by cultural and social norms (Rogoff, 1995). However, it difficult to find a language with which to label this dimension/box because traditions in social and cultural theory range widely on how this act could be interpreted and there is now an increasing interlacing between them. For now, I’ve borrowed from Giddens’ structuration theory the notion that there are structural rules and resources and added discourse to this principally as a nod to post-structuralism and hermeneutics (C). This label is therefore vague enough but drives us: to a more nuanced understanding of our students – be this a deeper psychological (Solomon, 2000), social, and cultural (Scheel & Branch, 1993) and the associated opportunity for and means of learning these enable or constrain; and to the intention of the designer and purpose of the activities (and ‘where’ they happen).

• From other design disciplines we learn the importance of first reflecting on and describing the design ‘problem’ space – from which the solution(s) will emerge (i.e. not just racing straight into developing the solution) – see earlier posts. Early IMS Learning Design had little to say about how one actually arrived at the design and whilst patterns outline aspects of the problem, the representation is designed to support someone looking for a solution rather than understanding the problem in the first place.

• The role of assessment in the design needs to be reconsidered – seeing it not as a product but as an activity itself. One option is to understand assessment as a process that ‘acts on’ student output (i.e. an object, action, spoken word, etc.). It would see this output as a resource produced for a specific audience that could be used again later in the learning activity or that could be transformed in to a new artefact/resource (i.e. through the activity of the teacher, student etc.). Irrespective of if, or how, this output is re-used in the learning activity, it will (or should) also constitute the evidence: to demonstrate the learning outcomes/objectives have been achieved (marked D below), to reveal other unanticipated outcomes (after Eisner, Polanyi, etc.) and to support other forms of evaluation (I’ve just jotted down Zakrzewski’s three on the diagram at present).

• There remain many other, often more pragmatic, perspectives to integrate in to the design problem space – thereby reflecting the heterogeneity of educational thought. For example: instructional designs interest in detailing what is to be learnt, learning tasks, student prior learning etc. (marked E); and the belief that a design should be built around key learning or conceptual ‘challenges’ (G). Clearly to appeal to a range of teachers the model should not be restricted to one individual theory of learning. This is in partly why I favour talking about ‘designing learning’ or ‘designed learning’ rather than ‘learning design.’

• Design of a unit of learning is influenced by practical constraints and conditions (H) defined at higher levels e.g. the block or the course (the issue of layers of design and fitting them together has been much discussed and something we’ve looked at in mapping courses), by other ‘evaluation’ demands from the institution or researchers (F), by previous units (for example, prior learning (I)) and by guidelines and training required of staff (J) . The temporal and multi-scale nature of the design problem needs representation (Grey-shaded boxes).

• Visual representation is a powerful means to communicate complex, non-linear, inter-connected relationships. It offers distinct advantages over linear descriptions and can support problem solving performance (for example, Baylor et al., 2005). This is supported by our small-scale studies at the OU (n=45-50) where we have found that a majority of staff said there were aspects of their work that would/do benefits from using visual representation and techniques (81%); they would like to improve their knowledge of visual representation and tools (81%); and that more use of visual representations (that show what is to be learnt and how) could help students better understand and plan their study’ (73%) (Cross et al. 2009)

 

As a practical design tool? 
 
Whilst the model itself can provide a framework for imaging the problem/solution space, of interest to many will be how this model can be translated directly in to a more practical application. The screenshot below shows an early attempt in Excel. Here, each dimension becomes a zone (a box) in which information about the design (be this text, lists or labelled mind-mapped objects) can be inserted. In a typical scenario, the design will evolve and mature as Read more of this post
Advertisements