Another dot in the blogosphere?

Incubation by design

Posted on: September 16, 2020

I thought I might have hit something new, but I learnt that there is no original idea. My search for “incubate” on my favourite image search and embed tool, ImageCodr, revealed this business card.

What I wanted to share was how I incorporate one or more periods of incubation into my course designs. So I settled on this image to represent this phase of instructional design (ID).

The initial phase of ID is like birds making and laying eggs. These are the initial ideas that materialise as usable prototypes that, in the case of my course design, are web-based resources.

Incubation is a crucial next step. Take my most recent development of course modules, for example. The course starts in October, but I was done with the making and laying by the end of August. I am incubating this month.

Incubation probably looks like doing nothing to an outsider, just like a mother or father bird looks like it is just sitting around.

No, the parent birds are providing warmth, regulating the temperature by moving eggs about, protecting the eggs from predators, etc. Likewise, my ID incubation is an active process in that I am still reading, watching, and listening to relevant resources. I am still reflecting on my designs.

Unlike a bird, I leave the nest. I do not obsess over the prototype “eggs”. I walk away from what I have prepared and let my subconscious take over. This is like sleeping after studying in order to let the brain create new neural connections and pathways.

The incubation process helps me troubleshoot and get new perspectives. How so? Consider what happens in academia: One sure way to find errors in your paper is to hit the submit button. I relax when I have reached an objective, and as I do, I widen my gaze instead of being so narrowly focused.

This wider gaze also contributes to a fresh perspective. Given enough time, I forget what I did (the design task) and why I did it that way (the design rationale). When I revisit my work, I become my own worst critic.

I think that many ignore incubation in ID because they do not plan a long enough runway. They might have multiple projects and tight deadlines. They might not have been taught about ID incubation or how to incubate.

It has been 20 years since I was first introduced to instructional design principles and I do not recall being taught to incubate. I learnt to do this anyway and it is one of the most important processes I have developed. It might look like idling or procrastination to an outsider, but it is a disciplined and effortful process to me.

Postscript: I wrote the above before I saw the tweet below.

With enough time and eyes on the “final” design, someone should have noticed that the intended “Anak Malaysia” looks more like “Anal Malaysia” thanks to the stylised K. Some incubation practiced by at least one anal-retentive designer could have prevented this accident.

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