Week 2: Overview

Approaches to Design

2. Constructivist Learning Design

Constructivist learning theories include a strong focus on the individual, personally meaningful learning and various forms of social learning. In the Week 1: Overview, we shared some of the original theorists but this week's focus is on how to apply a theoretical perspective to the development of a design project.
If you are drawn to problem-based or challenge-based teaching or your topic includes open-ended issues that benefit from having learners work together to build knowledge, you may want to apply this "lens" to your instructional design thinking.
Although you will consider the same elements as Outcome-based design, the weight or emphasis you place on the learner and on scaffolding learning will change the way you approach your design.
Principle of constructivist approaches:
- meaningful learning involves authentic tasks or problems to solve
- active learning activities emphasize exploration, explanation and reflection
- scaffolding (instructional support) are provided to help learners personalize the learning

A Design Thinking Approach
You may have encountered journal articles or presentations on "human centred design" or "humanizing your online classroom." Some of the thinking behind this approach began with the work of an international design company by IDEO who found that their designs were more successful and sustainable if the project leaders spent time understanding people's needs. Other important aspects of the model are its focus on posing "good" questions, reviewing a wide range of conflicting ideas, innovation, and repeated cycles of testing and improvement (sounds familiar?).
Note:  You will still need to consider the core elements:  learning outcomes, assessment/feedback strategies, learning activities but the process is more open and focuses more on the learner.
The five steps of this approach:

Empathy:  take time to reflect on your learners and their needs / expectations of learning. You may find it useful to view a short video about empathy by Brene Brown (see below). Some versions of Design Thinking develop detailed descriptions of learners called  "personas" to guide their designs.

Define:  frame the problem and purpose clearly - why are you doing this?

Ideate:  take time to consider more than one idea about how to involve your students in learning your subject or topic - brainstorm as many ideas as possible. Finding innovative ideas is a goal.

Prototype:  after selecting the main ideas, this step involves "fleshing out" the ideas and providing detailed models or illustrations of how they would work in practice. The purpose is to share the ideas to gather feedback and test the assumptions and beliefs that underly each idea. (You may notice that we used this approach in FLO Design - by asking you to identify and/or develop a prototype learning activity.)

Test:  the final step is to test your ideas. Be prepared to collect responses and ideas for what worked and what didn't - return to the design cycle to integrate what you've learned.

Design Thinking

You can explore some examples of how each phase occurred in Using Design Thinking in Higher Education or visit an application of design thinking Rethinking Your Course, in a recent project at University of Guadalajara (UdG), led by Justice Institute's Tannis Morgan.


Brown, Brene (2013)

, Youtube video, The RSA channel - https://www.youtube.com/user/theRSAorg

Morris, Holly and Greg Warman (2015) Using Design Thinking in Higher Education, EDUCAUSE Review, Jan. 12, 2015. Retrieved from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2015/1/using-design-thinking-in-higher-education

IDEO's Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators, Retrieved from https://www.ideo.com/us/post/design-thinking-for-educators

Thompson, Gary (2010) Personas, FLUID Project wiki https://wiki.fluidproject.org/display/fluid/Fluid+Project+Wiki

Stanford's d.school Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking. Retrieved from http://dschool.stanford.edu/dgift/