The Role of Values in Designing Learning Experiences

Where decisions need to be made, values are present.  Values play a significant role in the design of courses and learning experiences.  As a way to reflect upon this fact, I pulled out a few definitions of instructional design and began to explore the role of values.  Below is one such musing.  I welcome your thoughts and reflections in the comment section as well.

There is no shortage of definitions for and explanations of instructional design, but for the sake of this article, consider the definition provided by Merrill, Drake, Lacy, and Pratt.  “Instructional design is a technology which incorporates known and verified learning strategies into instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing.”  With this perspective of instructional design in mind, allow me to pose a question.  Which of these three aspects do you see as being emphasized in your online learning experiences?

Is the focus upon efficiency?  If so, efficiency toward what end?  Is it to allow students to learn more efficiently, to allow organizations or even informal communities to optimize their resources and scale to serve or reach more students, or a combination of these two?  Efficiency can serve many masters.  It is the organizational values (implicit and explicit) that determine how efficiency will be used.  Some people, communities and organizations may even devalue or dismiss considerations related to efficiency, perceiving them as the enemy of intimacy or relationships.

Is the focus upon effectiveness?  If so, how do you define effectiveness in your organization or community?  Traditionally, instructional designers would measure effectiveness by the extent to which the learners/participants were able to demonstrate pre-established knowledge, skills, and/or dispositions upon completion of the instructional unit. This is not the only possibility.  As people consider constructivist as well as various open learning environments, effectiveness may be measured in many ways.  It might be measured by individual learner goals and aspirations, the extent to which the environment allowed the learner to meet those goals.  Participant satisfaction, the number of participants involved, or some sort of record of activity might also be used a a measure of effectiveness.  It could even be measured by the degree to which the course or environment achieves the goal of open access.  I have participated in a number of massive open online courses where there are no assessments.  In fact, there may not be clearly defined or measurable course goals and objectives. This does not mean that effectiveness is of no concern.  It may instead mean that effectiveness is being measured differently or that effectiveness is of low importance.

Is the focus upon making the learning experience appealing?  This is an interesting word to include in a definition or explanation of instructional design in the first place.  Perhaps the authors use that word to get at considerations like motivation, interest level, engagement, persistence, or positive emotions associated with the experience.  Each of these are often considerations for instructional designs.  To ignore these factors can be the demise of an otherwise excellent design.  These factors take into account individual and collective learners.  It is why an audience or learner analysis is a part of almost any instructional design model that you read.  Whatever the case, it does invite us to consider the extent to which our designs accommodate such factors in the learner(s).  To what extent does our design demonstrate value for the learner’s preferences?  Depending upon the context, one will find designs with a high or low value for learner’s “experience” or interest.

Of course, there are many other values.  I have, for example, seen a number of schools that elevate the value of relationships above all of these other considerations.  Learning is not the priority (although it is still a priority), and individuals in such organizations may take great pride in that fact.

As  I reflect upon these values, it is apparent that this is not a black and white endeavor.  There are always competing values at play, collectively shaping many of the design decisions that go into a course or learning experience.  Over the past year, I reviewed different online courses (open and closed) through the lens of values.  It is easy to find some of these, and yet, upon asking the designers/teachers/leaders, they very often communicate quite different values.  In fact, I am not sure if I have ever seen an instructional design where the stated values fully match the actual course design.  There are just too many factors and considerations at work, especially given that instructional design is fundamentally an art and science focused upon providing learning experiences for diverse individuals with diverse and completing values.

As you have time and interest, please consider sharing your own thoughts and experiences about the relationships between values and the design of learning experiences.

Posted in blog, education, ethics, etmooc

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is a President of Goddard College, author, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education; leaner agency, educational innovation, and social entrepreneurship in education.