Toward design principles for social learning

Educational looping flows

Educational looping flows: from DensityDesign

George Siemens, Stephen DownesTerry Anderson and Jon Dron all talk about emergent learning in social learning networks, and implicitly and explicitly discuss structural elements and their affordances.

Jon Dron asserts in his 2007 book, Control and Constraint in E-learning: Choosing When to Choose, that “The ongoing challenge for developers and users of social software in e-learning is therefore to build systems and processes in which the structures that develop are capable of being pedagogically sound and supportive of learning communities.” I do wish Dron would have used the phrase “learning experience designers” instead of “developers”.  Part of the reason people don’t learn is that the environments for learning which we present have been mostly just developed, without the careful consideration afforded by using the templates, guides, processes and conceptual approaches of a design discipline.  If any of you have ever used WebCT, for example, you know what I mean. Nonetheless, Dron does specify design principles which imply a structural framework for social learning which begs to be revealed and integrated with conceptual treasures in interaction design drawn from other fields.

In reviewing Dron’s work, Terry Anderson commented, “To my knowledge, these are the first attempts at extracting underlying design principles or patterns for educational social software.”

There are lots of cognitive tools out there to help LxD practictioners dive into the interdependence of social, cognitive and affective interactions of the various agents of networked systems, and the affordances of these interactions which lead to learning.  We can build our understanding of that complexity on a very sturdy foundation of the proven mental models, concept maps, metaphors, and design principles of interaction design, also known as IxD.

The discipline of interaction design employs design patterns, or optimal solutions to common interaction design problems within specific contexts. “Design patterns help designers align with standards, they speed design, and they often extend or transform into new contexts or applications.” (from IxDA).  The field of learning interaction design (LxD) can adapt and augment these pattern libraries.

Familiarity with fundamental works in the field of interaction design will also help learning interaction designers. Among the leaders in interaction design are the principals of the Nielsen Norman Group: Jakob Nielsen, Don Norman, and Bruce Tognazzini. Their research and publications are numerous; a seminal work was The Design of Everyday Things (1988). Jakob Nielsen’s book, Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity (2000) is the best-selling book about user interfaces, with more than a quarter million copies in print in 22 languages. In terms of interface design specifically, Tognazzini’s (2003) First Principles of Interaction Design can be a baseline for the development of principles of social learning design. The work of these three individuals has set the standards for web usability, intranet usability, email usability, and user experience for special audience segments such as users with disabilities, children, teenagers, and seniors.

On a more abstract level,  Paul Hekkert has distinguished three components or levels of product experience: aesthetic pleasure (gratification of the senses), attribution of meaning, and emotional response.  In his core affect theory, Hekkert particularly focuses on emotional response, or affect, as a direct response to aesthetic pleasure and the cognitive activities involved in creating meaning. Since the sixties, affect has attracted the attention in various disciplines involved in product research, such as marketing, consumer research, ergonomics, economics, and engineering.

Read Designing Pleasurable Products, in which usability expert Patrick Jordan analyzes the design properties of usable interfaces and discusses the role of pleasure in product usage, which can and should also be applied to the design of learning experiences.

This blog post is getting kind of long so I’ll cut short my roll call of interaction design gurus and just end with a list of some of the tasks before us in the field of learning interaction design:

  • point out gaps in the existing research
  • enable methodical and systematic interaction design for social learning
  • improve the design of  learning applications and platforms
  • help establish a common language for social learning research and design
  • assist instructional design in targeting specific audiences and competencies
  • stimulate the development of design patterns for social learning
  • help develop unified theories of social learning

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