This post focuses on professional development and ways of gaining valuable skills you can apply to your work in LX design.
Assuming a management role has shifted my work lens from “why and where” to “how and what.” Leading a talented team of learning designers is humbling, challenging, and more rewarding than I could have imagined. As we have shifted our support focus away from more traditional structures of taking and building and more toward a focus on designing and collaborating, I find that I make sense of the world around me more and more using analogies drawn from my humanities background. Working to motivate a talented group, and help them get the professional development they need to be successful learning experience architects, the following passage from Pride and Prejudice often comes to mind:
Caroline Bingley: No one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A [person] must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, [they] must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of [their] voice, [their] address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.
Mr. Darcy: All this [they] must possess, and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of [their] mind by extensive reading.
Elizabeth Bennett: I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished [people]. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.
How many of us working in the LX field feel ourselves truly accomplished? And what does being accomplished mean to you?
Somewhat recently (2012) the Harvard Business Review labeled data science as the sexiest career of the 21st century. The fields of data science and education are changing rapidly, requiring an updated 21st-century skillset to remain competitive. For example, data scientists must go beyond the knowledge of statistics, to gain knowledge of technical skills like Python and SQL coding, as well as depth in soft skills such as communication and knowledge of the business world (Burtch Works, 2014). To be successful in truly meeting student needs, the instructional design field must evolve in similar ways. Knowledge of technology is no longer enough. Earlier this year, Joyce posted an article that contained the following list of criteria:
From the Experience Architect job description I sent to “Keith” here are the key criteria:
User experience planning and development
Responsible for the execution of strong interaction design and visual design principles
Facilitating dialog around end-user requirements and business requirements
Guiding clients through key design engagements
Performing user research
Driving innovative solutions within platform constraints and technical limitations
Developing interaction models and conceptual frameworks of experience
Researching interaction design trends
Researching technology trends
In conversations I had at the OLC Innovate conference, recent one on one staff meetings, and on social media, I find that people love this list of criteria, as well as the idea of LX (and in some cases are already doing it, and excited to find a term to use to describe their work). However, they are struggle with professional development, and aligning it in ways that can build the skills listed above. “What skills do you think I really need?” “I’m not sure where to start.” Hopefully this article can help!
At the heart of all academic work, and academic technology work should be a solid foundational understanding of learning science. How students learn, how adults learn, and how we as practitioners learn. This body of knowledge is vast, with entire Masters and Ph.D. programs devoted to it. To start, however, I recommend two journals that I’ve enjoyed a great deal, and refer to often:
If you cannot gain access to subscriptions to these publications, the Wikipedia article for learning science offers a number of avenues for you to pursue. For the purposes of brevity, they are presented in short list form. Feel free to e-mail if you would like expanded avenues to look into.
Instructional design is a complex field, offering numerous models and design principles that must be understood in order to be successful. A few to get you started:
User Experience (UX) Design
UX design is another field in and of itself, centered on making experiences usable, navigable, and accessible. It involves iterative design and constant data gathering. It incorporates design skills, process skills, and communication skills. I found these resources (and ones similar) very useful in getting started:
- Getting Started with User Experience Design
- Joyce and I also curate a Pinterest board of ideas and tools
Finally, try to find a mentor in the UX field. UX meetup groups are available in many metropolitan areas, and I’ve found that asking UX researchers and designers at local companies to meet for coffee can be valuable in building a mentorship network. I thank my friend and mentor Christina Melton for all she was willing to teach me, even when I just wasn’t getting it.
Design thinking could be considered a UX methodology (though there may be some debate on that front). However, I break it out here in order to call attention to it. Design thinking methods have been incredibly useful at Michigan State University in the MSU IT Teaching and Learning Technology and MSU Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology. We use it to facilitate workshops, to share understandings of technology solutions and processes, and to think about how we do the work we do.
Stanford released a useful online crash course for quickly learning the design thinking process, and incorporating it into your daily work. The exercises require at least two people to complete, but even alone you can watch the videos and get a sense for what design thinking methodology entails.
Communication is a key component of teaching, learning, development, and design. In order to empathize, and create the vulnerability needed to identify needs and skill gaps, we must think about how and what we are communicating. I love what LifeHacker has to say about 10 quick tips for improving communication. I, personally, struggle with body language. I speak in absolutes instead of questions, I cross my arms, am in a constant state of distraction, and have been working hard to improve these key communication elements. This resource offered some tips I could use immediately. Improving communication is not a quick process, but in the spirit of iteration this offers a place to start.
LX design is an exercise in constant assessment. Not only of learning, as we in academia tend toward, but also of experience. One of the things we talk about frequently in meetings at MSU is how we can assess hard to assess things. How can we assess the experience a student had at an educational art exhibit? How can we see if a student progressed through an online experience as it was intended? What do students feel when they are learning in one of our active learning classrooms?
It is hard for me to provide resources for assessment, as the questions behind what is being assessed vary so broadly. However, I will offer a list of assessment techniques you may not have tried before, but are pretty easily adapted to education. This list has been a go-to bookmark for me for quite some time.
Hopefully, this article provided something new that you can use in your academic work, or prompted you to think differently (even slightly) than you did before you read it. We will continue to post items intended to help you build your skillset and hone your practice. In the meantime, let us know what you’re up to in regard to human-centered design, user experience in academia, student success and experience assessments, et cetera! Returning to the words of Jane Austen, sometimes “one half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.” In an effort to build shared (and unshared) understanding, we’d love to continue the conversation!