“Design is more about improving learning than improving teaching.”
-Booth, Ch 7
(drawn from Robert Gagné’s Principles of Instructional Design)
This was a principle of instructional design that really stood out to me in the reading this week. The idea is that we are designing teaching with the learner in mind, not just for the purpose of improving our own instructional skills. This principle both seems like it should be obvious and that improving learning is almost the same thing as improving teaching. However, I think there is an interesting nuance between the two.
Because I took this class to improve my teaching, I think I tend to think in terms of my teaching rather than my students’ learning. Part of this is in the nature of the class itself. Any sort of class or instructional situation is usually imagined and thus nebulous. It’s harder to think in terms of student learning when you don’t currently have any specific students in mind.
I realized this was one of my flaws in working on my online tutorial project.I was identifying a vague problem (understand) and then I would immediately jump to thinking about what sort of lesson I could design and what technology I would use (engage–develop materials). I’ll admit, this process wasn’t really working for me, probably because I was skipping a lot of other considerations in the process.
In some ways, this approach felt practical to me. I’m a bit overloaded with work this semester, so I’m extra aware of due dates and trying to make sure I fit everything in. Focusing on the technology I’m going to use helps me figure out whether or not the project is doable. However, it does not necessarily lead to the best design for students and learners.
What Was I Missing?
Looking at the USER model, there are several pieces I need to look at more closely as I move forward with my online tutorial (and any in-person or online lesson).
- Clarifying the problem: What sorts of problems or challenges do the students or hypothetical students I’m working with face? This should probably be more than a passing idea of a problem.
- Thinking about the context: I wonder if one of the more challenging parts of library instruction (in the one-shot context) is understanding the learners. In a traditional classroom, a teacher or professor builds relationships with students over time and gets to know the class. Librarians coming into a class don’t have that context, and have to rely on the instructor, class type, and past experience to shape their understanding of students. The other parts of analyzing the scenario (content, context, and educator) are still important, but more under the control of the librarian.
- Goal setting: Lesson plans start off with goals, objectives, and outcomes. Without these targets, instruction will be aimless.
What I liked about the USER method was the fact that it is scalable. For newer teachers (like me!), the USER method can facilitate a lot of time into planning and structuring a lesson for a situation that I’m feeling unsure about. On the other hand, once someone understands the basics, it can be used to put together a lesson quickly when you get a request at the last minute.
Food for Thought: Online First Instructional Design
As I was finishing up my reading for this week, I saw a link from a Twitter follower to an interesting blog post–Online First Instructional Design by Lauren Pressley.
It’s a short post (unlike these blogs) in which Lauren talks about the concept of Mobile First in web design: that designers start with the mobile version of the website, focusing and clarifying the content and design, before expanding out to larger sizes. Lauren poses that a similar concept might be useful in instructional design–start with the online content, which has constraints that force you to simplify and clarify your lesson and objectives, before expanding out into blended or in-person lessons.
I don’t think it is applicable in every case (depending on the situation, how often will a librarian be designing for an online audience and an in-person audience at the same time), but a situation that might become more common in the future.