Visual vs. Collaborative Learning

Chapter five of “Interface Design for Learning” by Dorian Peters (2014) is an excellent overview of the dos and don’ts of educational design media. Peters declares in the chapter title that "Learning is Visual." Peters also provides many solid tips about how graphic design can grasp a learners attention. Another key theme is about removing clutter with simplicity. The book provides valuable checklists, such as tips for “readable text” on page 94.

 In my 2010 development work  "I am Africa This is my story….” UNESCO project on digital storytelling workshops with African youth, we had to pay keen attention that all lessons were simple, localized and relevant.

Instructional designers can perseverate on the cognitive relationship between the student and learning media as the way of student change. However the truth may be that the visual process represents and smaller stake when deeper transformational experience requires a human collaborative process. The acid test of if eLearning works is not in the LMS testing records. Book/media learning may keep someone’s attention or may even deliver good  recall for a test on Friday, but this may not lead to transformational change or the long-term memory retention required for some types of learning.

Andragogy Theory of Knowles points out that the lesson must avoid conflicting with the values/experiences of the learners. On page 110, Peters agrees when the concept of “interference” is brought up. Let’s say we are developing a federally mandated sexual harassment course for a hospital. From a design point of view, the course can be an excellent attention getter, yet without emotionally charged staff meetings (a collaborative element), the course can backfire with employees feeling management is not really dealing with the problem. The design team may be happy with high completion rates and scores, while at the same time, a disappointed compliance officer sees a spike in sexual harassment cases over the following months.

We must be cautious in understanding that digital media is an aid to learning and not the total learning experience. It is one thing to learn Ohm’s law from It is another to learn how to ride a bike or a give great kiss. The role of graphics is to facilitate human collaboration or change will not take place.

The Instructional designer is often not considering the values of the unseen individual or the environment the knowledge will be used in.  When cultures and methods collide I have seen many sales motivation training or ethics flop. They were professionally designed courses yet are laugh at in bar a few hours later because they sales force knew management did not back those ideas.

In reflection, media can move people into action such as in NGO ads. There must be fertile ground for the lesson to sink into. Relevance seems to be found on two levels: first inside the person's own values system and second is if outside the course there is fertile ground for new ideas to grow.

Case in point: In the US, a student who believes they can be a Microsoft Certified Professional will gratefully embrace the training experience, knowing that a job is waiting for them. Yet women who are certified by Microsoft in Ghana may not find a Microsoft job and be forced back into a marriage and poverty.

In conclusion, the state of the learner and the environment are as critical as the interface itself.

Knowles, M. Holton, E. F., III; Swanson, R. A. (2005). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (6th ed.).Burlington, MA: Elsevier. ISBN 0-7506-7837-2. LCCN 2004024356.

Peters, D. (2014). Interface design for learning: design strategies for learning experiences. United States: New Riders.


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