Jay Cross
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The Intelligent Design of learning
Friday, October 07, 2005
Maybe this is a thought crime, but the meme that's propagating in my head this morning is that instructional design will once again mimic software design. (Where do you think those human performance flowcharts came from anyway?) Read this article about lightweight software development and the surge toward Web 2.0.

Now, let me indulge in some cut-and-paste thinking. Modify the article by substituting instructional or instruction for software, and Cross for Fried. Here's what you get.
Traditional instructional development is expensive, resource-intensive, and born of a Cold War mentality, Cross said. His advice is to "think about one-downing, instead of one-upping, and underdoing-competitors" –beating them with less.
According to Cross, in the era of lightweight apps and simple products you need less money, people, time, abstractions and instruction.

Cross believes that money mostly buys salaries and you only need three people–a designer, programmer and utility player, which he calls a "sweeper." The feature set should be scaled for the headcount. Having less time is also an advantage. "You spend time in unproductive meetings and overanalyzing the product. Less time forces you to spend less time on better things," Cross said.

He suggested 30 hours per week per person, which "forces you into building better products and being creative with your time." And, if you have less time, you have less time to think about abstractions, such as functional specification documents, which Cross characterized as a waste of time. "Instead, build the product and start from the user interface customer experience first; then wrap with the technology," Cross said. "The interface screens are the functional specification."

Finally, building less instruction means fewer features, less documentation, minimal support and less confusion in selling the product. "Less instruction is key to building very specific tools. There are a million simple problems to solve with less. Competitors solving complicated ones are most likely to fail," Cross said. "For Web-based instruction there are plenty of simple problems to pick from and you can nail."
The more I dig into how people learn, the more convinced I become that we've been trying to do things the hard way. We used to think our job was designing instructional systems. I'm beginning to think we're nurturing the evolution of learning experiences.

Instructional design tries to fix things that are broken. It begins with assessing what's wrong, "gaps," and leads to developing grandiose, cure-all solutions. Learning evolution begins with what you've got and nurtures incremental improvement.

We see the same sort of issue on the front page of our newspapers. One the one hand, some people believe a master designer released Earth 1.0 about six thousand years ago. Others folks believe Earth beta has been evolving for billions of years; it's a web without a weaver.

Do you believe in the intelligent design of instruction or the evolution of species of learning?

Next up: Instead of "the network is the computer," think "the network is the brain."

Learning 2.0 || Web 2.0


Blogger Lee said...

Interesting thoughts Jay. I continue to be amazed by your ability to take these concepts and apply them to learning. I listened to Jason's presentation several times.

But, as the Web 2.0 companies decide what "smaller" problems to solve, microcontent to manage, or process to simplify, it is now up to us Instructional Designers to decide what small pieces of instruction can be presented as a "service" and loosely joined to another learning service. Will we break down the Stages of Learning and have an aquistion service, a fluency service, or a generalization service? Is there only a workflow service that converts BPM charts to EPSS modules that are streamed to the portal via RSS? (doesn't sound small at all?)

It seems the administrative pieces may be solved by others, calendars through upcoming.org, images through flickr, voip through skype, but what will be the simple "learning" solution?

Scott Wilson has presented the virtual learning environment which I think is right on in terms of customizing our information flow from a learner-centered model, but where is the instructional design? How does the VLE assess the learners prior knowledge and current levels of performance and provide the right instruction, in the right context, addressing the right learning style, and reporting the right assessment data? Or am I just old-school and we no longer need to structure content this way? The learner is in charge now...

It will be interesting to watch and I hope somehow I get to be involved.


6:04 PM  
Blogger jay said...

Lee, I'm not in favor of anarchy so I don't support throwing structure out the window. That said, I imagine the work of the instructional designer will change immensely. Just about everything you mention is learner centric but our objectives need to include organizations, not to mention a sustainable world. As for something like assessing a worker's former knowledge, Amazon seems to have a better framework than anything learning tech has come up with. RIght now, who is providing "the right instruction, in the right context, addressing the right learning style, and reporting the right assessment data?" Giving the worker a menu of options and freedom to select does a better job of these things than information systems. Don't you agree?

7:12 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

I do agree. I do think this is a move in the right direction. I think empowering the learner will dramatically improve elearning 2.0 (to quote Mr. Downes) vs. elearning 1.0. I am just grappling with determining where the online, informal learning model(Google searches, blog feeds, screencasts, and podcasts), complements, interacts with, and co-exisits with structured learning activities based on organizational objectives or goals. Creating an Amazon-like portal for learning experiences would be quite interesting.

8:17 PM  
Blogger jay said...

in a nutshell, you gain control by giving control.

the model is hands-off. don't do the stuff that will take care of itself. nature will take its course no matter how you intervene.

what we need to do is follow kevin kelly's dicta at the conclusion of out of control. sorry to go enigmatic but i am in overdrive tonight.

Distribute being

Control from the bottom up

Cultivate increasing returns

Grow by chunking

Maximize the fringes

Honor your errors

Pursue no optima; have multiple goals

Seek persistent disequilibrium

Change changes itself.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Bryan Menell said...

Very interesting comment thread!

Lee: What will be the simple "learning" solution?

I've been thinking about this for months, and have just started a test development effort to illustrate some Learning 2.0 concepts. What would happen if learners could tag learning modules (and then search tags like Google). What if learners could remix/reuse learning content? What if we could uncouple learning content from the engine (web service) that interfaces with the user? What if learners could review or comment on a learning module?

Loosely coupled learning provides some definite instructional challenges. How can you present great learning if your product might be re-used/remixed? How can you have context if you don't know where the learner came from and where they are going?

It's hard to imagine when pretty much nothing exists that embraces these new concepts.

7:40 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

Bryan, Good points. I have been thinking about the "Learning Objective" being the microcontent that would be managed in elearning 2.0, tagged, shared. Not the content, just the objective or outcome. Kind of a 43things that I want to learn. Then expose those objectives out to the world or just to who you trust (your organization). Tag them. Link content. Link this (web service) to content services or an adaptive learning activity. Have a seperate service to manage learner profiles.

Could this create an architecture of participation? I have the same learning objective you have and I did this? Here are the blogs that I read to learn about that?

However, my experience has been that when someone wants to learn something, they don't stop and write a learning objective, they click on Google, so this may only support top-down and not so much bottom-up as Jay has presented here.

On the remix part, I think that is a great idea. I encourage everyone that I am around to post their content in as many mediums as possible (text, audio, video) and let the learner have at it. I think this totally allows the user to create there own experience relative to that content. The bigger issue that I have seen with remix is that most content providers totally over value there content and want to look it down, and developers typically think it is too much work.

Just my thoughts...

1:29 PM  

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