Timeless Design Principles?

Technology will change, which is why I’ve done little more here than catalog a handful of exciting advancements. What won’t change, and is needed, are principles for designing things with which to think. For this, I take an ethnographer’s definition of technology, focusing on the effect of these artifacts on a culture. Based on my work as an educator and designer, I propose the following principles for designing learning objects.

A good learning object:

Encourages playful interactions

Aside from being fun or enjoyable, playfulness suggests you can play with it, that there is some interactivity. Learning happens through safe, nondestructive interactions, in which experimentation is encouraged. Telling me isn’t nearly as effective as letting me “figure it out on my own.” Themes of play, discovery, experimentation, and the like are common to all of the learning examples shared here. Sifteo founder Dave Merrill comments that “Like many games, [Sifteo] exercises a part of your brain, but it engages a fun play experience first and foremost.”

Supports self-directed learning (SDL)

When learners are allowed to own their learning — determining what to learn, and how to go about filling that gap in their knowledge — they become active participants in the construction of new knowledge. This approach to learning encourages curiosity, helps to develop independent, intrinsically motivated learners, and allows for more engaged learning experiences. Contrary to what is suggested, SDL can be highly social, but agency lies in hands of the learner.

Allows for self-correction

An incorrect choice, whether intended, unintended, or the result of playful interactions should be revealed quickly (in real time if possible) so that learners can observe cause- and-effect relationships. This kind of repeated readjusting creates a tight feedback loop, ultimately leading to pattern recognition.

Makes learning tangible

Nearly everything is experienced with and through our bodies. We learn through physical interactions with the world around us and via our various senses. Recognizing the physicality of learning, and that multimodal learning is certainly preferable, we should strive for manipulatives and environments that encourage embodied learning.

Offers intelligent recommendations

The unique value of digital objects is their ability to record data and respond based on that data. Accordingly, these “endowed objects” should be intelligent, offering instruction or direction based on passively collected data.

Each of these principles is meant to describe a desired quality that is known or believed to bring about noticeable learning gains, compared to other learning materials. So, how might we use these principles? Let’s apply these to a few projects, old and new.

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