Should learning designers experience lots of learning designs?

May 2009

The novelists I know are all voracious readers. The game designers constantly talk about the recent games that they have played. I am pretty sure this isn't an accident. So it might be natural to expect that if somebody is going to be good at designing learning experiences that they'd spend lots of time going through learning experiences themselves. This has been at the back of my mind for a while, and I was reminded about by these wonderful photos of where science-fiction authors write as well as by being a part-time student at the moment which is a salient reminder than it is so easy to forget quite what it is like to be a student.

It's naturally not quite as easy to take a full-blown course as it is to read a novel or play a game. The commitment is much bigger, you have to accept the power relationship involved in being a student, and you can only experience learning something for the first time once. This doesn't mean that you won't learn an enormous amount about designing learning experiences from being a student again (in fact I think the OU's fee waiver scheme for staff is a really smart move in terms of improving the quality of its courses generally) but there are also going to be limits in terms of exposure to formal learning experiences at least.

I think this relates to representations of learning designs, because I suspect that one major use for them is allow people to at least get a little bit of a sense of what it is like to experience the design, to help build up that gradual bank of experiences of learning designs just slightly. In fact, when you show representations of learning designs to people, one of the most common reactions you get is a longing to see exactly what things are like from the student perspective. People want to see the exact instructions that are given to students for example and to imagine themselves doing the course.

So I think we need to bear this is mind when thinking about different types of purposes of representations of learning designs. Learning design representations don't need to be about collaboration, reuse or inspiration but can just be a way to allow people to at least in a very partial manner, experience more learning designs than would otherwise be possible.