The word that best describes this experience is journey. I learned and grew in ways I didn’t know I needed to and discovered more about how to be in community with others than I expected.
The first semester of working full-time while going to school is demanding for anyone. Doing it while leading 15 programs across the country, traveling weekly, and taking on an expanded role at work…well, let’s say I had many moments of struggle.
I have always created learning experiences quite extemporaneously, using my knowledge of subject matter, my research ability, and my intuition about student needs, to guide my design process. In the language of our coursework, I designed from an internal empathy map stemming from my deep love and observation of my students. There were learning goals, but project-based assignments mostly write themselves, if you have a good project!
This program was different than any of the hundreds of learning engagements I have created. For the first time, I was using the tools of a trade, a background knowledge that was explicit, not tacit, and well-researched theory to guide my decision-making. This experience was in some ways less creative, but more thoughtful. And it was the start to what I hope will be an even more well-informed, research-based practice.
Learning Design as an Art
I love learning. I love thinking about hard things—seeing the beauty in the complex—and I especially love sharing my interest and passion with young people. I once had a young man as a student, and after about two weeks in my classroom, he paid me high praise saying, “Rachel, no one here, none of the teachers, have ever been excited about what I am excited about, but you, your excited about EVERYTHING I am learning about.” The trick is, I was excited about everything everyone was learning. My passion for them and their interests was one of my greatest assets in the classroom, and it made the design of the experiences secondary. And, in all honesty, it probably also allowed them to forgive a lot of poorly designed moments.
In the Meyers Briggs personality testing, they had us do, I am on the cusp of Perceiving and Judging. That manifests from the tension I always have had with being artistic and good at math and science, born to scientists who were, at their heart, artists. Throughout my career as an educator and professional development lead, I created from the artistic, empathetic place. There was an artist’s passion for creating experiences for and with students. This semester I was challenged to take that artistic intuition and design, engineer, with a different framework in mind.
Learning Design as a Science
Reconceptualizing my work as a science, rather than an art, is rather invigorating. I never had the time and support to really learn from mentors who knew the literature of learning. I read a lot on pedagogy, learning spaces, educational theory, but the world of knowledge in which I was operating pales in comparison to what I know I don’t know now. That changes the scope of decision making in interesting ways. For instance, now instead of having only IDEO to design from, I had a dozen different design frameworks to think about introducing to my learners.
So, for this project, I was more methodical than ever before. I knew why I was making every choice. For the first time ever, there was a here was a column in my lesson plan spreadsheet that was dedicated to the theory I was applying and designing from for each activity. Throughout this project, I applied so many of the concepts of our study, especially
- From Make it Stick-Recall, Reflection,
- From Teaching Students How to Learn-Metacognition, Blooms Taxonomy
- Threshold Concepts
- Assessment Design
- Universal Design
- Understanding by Design
As part of my design process I identified which principle was animating each activity and captured that in a spreadsheet.
A large part my work has been in innovation and business development, and just as I was starting this program I was promoted to Director of Outreach, which serves even more in this capacity. Everything I am learning in the program goes directly into practice with my client, my work. This learning engagement will act as a test case in reframing how we design every teaching moment, from the resources to the learning experiences for the hundreds of educators and students we interact with every year. My work has given me free rein with complete trust in my abilities, and I am honored at that charge.
Learning Design as a lifestyle choice
One of the most impactful sets of interactions regarding this project came from our Design Studio with Dawan Stanford. His ethos, character, and commitment to supporting all our varied projects, created a joyous space where the idea of design as a lifestyle choice came into being. Dawan is someone who practices what he preaches. And he is a masterful facilitator: someone who speaks with authority but doesn’t overwhelm a space (I am learning a lot from him by observation. I have to work on this.) Service Design Doing is an excellent text that gives practical design thinking skills marrying the theoretical with the conceptual.
The studio course also modeled quite a bit of what it means to be a learning designer.
- Often the outcomes aren’t known at the beginning of a project and you have to be comfortable with that uncertainty.
- Good practices should be habitual.
- Many minds are better than one.
- Learn to ask for help.
- Have a plan, but always be open to change.
- Self-evaluate and reflect ALL THE TIME.
Learning design is and is becoming ever more important in my work. I am already making plans to introduce the different design theories to my organization (Learning by Design, Service Design Doing) and I have taken on a lead designer role in a number of projects. I foresee only growth and opportunity as I continue to gain experience in developing learning engagements from this new design perspective.