Design For People, Now.

Published by Carrie O'Donnell
on Apr 16, 2020

“Design is for people, not content”. These wise words were sent to me in a text message by my friend and collaborator, Gerry Hanley of California State University, Long Beach and Executive Director of Skills Common and MERLOT.

This thinking sparked a conversation between Gerry and I that we are eager to extend to a larger group of faculty and leaders in higher education. To get the ball rolling, we are co-facilitating a discussion at OLC Ideate next week.

Gerry’s comment also got me thinking about my experiences in 30 years as a learning designer, and how this principle is baked into everything we do at O’Donnell Learn. Clearly, learning design must be centered on the learner. Over and over, I have seen that the most successful learning designs focus on mastery, not failure, with student success as the primary objective. And, our team is careful to consider the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that can either motivate success or inhibit it.

I have also been thinking about the increased challenges placed on learning design post-COVID-19. We are already seeing an increased demand to upskill displaced workers, and there will be pressure on higher ed institutions to help retool our workforce for the new normal. This presents a new urgency towards learner-centric design. We designers, and the faculty we support, need to consider intrinsic factors like stress, anxiety, grief and fear that may be inhibiting student success.

Learning design also must be centered on the instructor. Many faculty members are wary of “training” rather than educating. Others are worried that virtual education is less effective than the classroom variety. History shows that returning adult workers have constraints–often juggling work, family and school–that make online or blended learning a better option. Yet, few college instructors have been trained to design learning for people. In the past, most faculty members have designed learning based on their content expertise. I am thrilled to extend this dialogue and engage in conversation with partners, colleagues, and friends working hard to figure out how we educate displaced workers and design learning experiences in our new normal.

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