When we design, we unite purpose and action by determining how to best accomplish our goals. When we design learning, we do everything that needs to happen to ensure that learning experiences are effective, efficient, and relevant to learners. This includes:
· Analyzing learning needs
· Crafting solutions
· Creating plans
· Developing assets
· Delivering learning experiences
· Measuring results
· Recommending improvements
These functions are not new. As long as there have been teachers, classrooms, and informal educational settings, people have been asking what people should learn and how to accomplish learning goals. But there are reasons why learning design is getting more attention now. Here are some of the most important ones:
· Information wants to be free.
In the past, education was focused on transferring information to learners who otherwise would have no access to it. Now, everyone has access to more information than any reasonable person would want, but that flow of information is unmanageable without help. Good learning design can help identify what’s important, what information is reliable, and how to relate it to the learners’ lives.
· The pace of change is accelerating.
The rise of information technology and the trend toward interconnectedness can make yesterday’s expertise obsolete and open up new possibilities. Everyone needs to keep their skills up to date, and learning designers can help by surveying the landscape and crafting solutions to keep learners in step with a changing world.
· Higher-order skills are more important than ever.
When people tend to have access to the same information, having that information will not guarantee success. Instead, the people who will succeed will make better decisions with the same information everyone else has. Knowledge is still important, but it needs to be coupled with critical thinking skills, communication skills, and creativity. Building these skills has not been a strength of traditional approaches to education, and this creates an opportunity for learning designers to contribute.
· Global opportunities mean global competition.
As the world becomes flatter, there are more opportunities than ever before, but also more competition People with outstanding skills can seek out opportunities from all around the world, but so can everyone else. This puts everyone under the pressure of constant improvement, which in turn requires careful thought about the knowledge and skills required in a global marketplace.
· Institutional barriers are breaking down.
Previously, credentialed education came from only a few sources that were heavily regulated, and the content they offered was usually well-vetted. Now, anyone can claim to be a provider of learning if they have something to say and an interested audience. Moreover, the content they offer may not be verified at all. Learning designers can navigate in that world and figure out how learning works when the old rules do not apply.
· The cost of education keeps going up.
Questions of educational efficacy take on added meaning when there is more student loan debt than credit card debt. When our effective college dropout rate is close to half, and millions of students are stuck in non-credit-bearing courses, and even the graduates are often viewed as not ready for the workforce, it becomes clear that there is a place for careful analysis of our learning approaches.
· Learning technology changes the game.
When technology creates a new world, that new world doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Making the most of technological advances requires careful thinking and a healthy balance of optimism and skepticism. Learning designers can help in this process by acquiring a clear understanding of both the capabilities of technology and the needs of learners and then building connections between them.
· Learning design itself is adapting to emerging needs.
As learning changes, learning designers find new ways to contribute. The need to organize and manage content assets led to the development of content taxonomies. Desires for equity and inclusion are changing the way we think about the accessibility of learning experiences. Research on serious games is informing how we merge assessment and learning while increasing engagement.
If there’s a common thread that unites these trends, it’s that the rules are changing. Careful thought and strategic thinking will help us identify and overcome potential downsides of these changes. Even better, when we recognize the potential of these new realities, we can shape better learning experiences for everyone.