Tag Archives: instructional design

Milestones or millstones?

Creating learning experiences shouldn’t be about ‘us’ vs ‘them’ – developers vs management – but too often it is. In some ways, it’s not surprising. Contemporary educational development will often use approaches and technology which are well out of the conceptual frame of our (often non-practising) managers. Of course, we do (should?) use our people-management skills to promote understanding, manage dissonance and to convince our minders that what we are doing works, and works well.

Most of us manage the ‘what’ of design and development with relative ease.What is frustrating is that the ‘how’ of eLearning development is being stymied by a corporate addiction to project management methodology. You know the deal – “start here, hit the milestones, stay on budget, finish on time here. Now, your next project is …” 

This rigid and linear progression might work for corporations, but is death for education development. Think boa constrictor …

So are we heading for a destructive disconnect between project-focused managers and the practitioners?  Has education has become so corporatised that business methodologies are being applied to learning development even when they don’t work?

The process of building a learning environment is dynamic and iterative. It happens in simultaneous domains. It is holographic in nature, both in its creation and implementation. The whole activity is more akin to an act of creative design followed by conceptual and practical prototyping. It is never really finished; when we do approach ‘perfection’, it is at best asymptotic.

Above all, educational development is a *process*, not a project. To manage its complex dynamics successfully requires a different form of process management, not the inadequate constraints and guidelines of project management.

I’d love to know what works for you: in your own work – do you get to manage the project, or are you permitted to manage the process?

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“What can I build with this chisel?”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – we keep wanting to do things backwards.

Only today another one of the staff for whom I provide educational design support said: “How can I use this Second Life thingy in my online course? Or that new Google thing?” My face fell and a sense of deja vu swept through me yet again. In the last six months I have been asked this question, with slight variations, perhaps 30 times, i.e. “how can I use [insert your favourite educational technology/social software application here] in my courses?” 

There has to be a way to reverse this epidemic of looking for problems to solve with the formidable range of educational tools we have in our arsenal. Unfortunately, I suspect it will be through a long, painstaking process of convincing each practitioner individually.

At least I got through to the person today (I think …) but it took a simplistic parable to do it. I posed them a hypothetical :

Me: What if you decided to build a bookshelf, had drawn up a plan and had bought the materials. Now, standing in your workshop, what is the next thing you’re going to do?
Them:  “… Umm, get out the tools I need?”
Me: Very good, And then?
Them:  “… Use the tools to build the shelf, of course!”
Me: Exactly. So, how would you react if someone came to you with a chisel and said “What can I build with this?”
Them: (Long silence) ” … ahhhhhh … r i  g   h    t …”
Me: (sotto voce) Very good, grasshopper …

It’s not rocket science. If you are working with an educational designer/technologist, please, please, please don’t bring us the tools and ask what we can build with them. Just tell us what it is that you want to build, and we’ll help you choose, understand and use the best tools for the job.

You mightn’t need that chisel after all.