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Posts Tagged ‘design

I was a graduate student when I first found out about the disproportionate amount of time it took to prepare e-learning resources.

The ratio of development time (input) to learning time (output) varies. A fairly recent and oft quoted study by Chapman cited 127 developmental hours for every hour of e-learning (127:1). This ratio was for Level 2 e-learning developed relatively quickly from templates.

According to Chapman, the research data originated from 3,947 instructional designers (or people with similar roles) representing 249 companies.

The ratio might sound impressive because the numbers are a result of the efforts of corporate teams responsible for organisational e-learning. Such ratios are also rules-of-thumb sought by freelancers to provide estimates for potential clients.

I do not recall the number being so high when I was graduate student. However, back then the technologies did not include the more social, augmented, and virtual ones we have now.

That said, I do not know of any responsive learning organisation that can afford to invest 127 preparatory hours for an hour of standards-based training or e-learning. A freelance instructional designer (ID) would have to work thinner, lighter, and faster to compete for and retain clients.
 

 
ID work is a small part of my consulting work as I have to factor in many other considerations, e.g., institutional policies, social contexts, group dynamics.

I have kept track of my preparatory time in my latest consulting effort. Without revealing details covered by a non-disclosure agreement, I can say that the effort focuses on a small group of educators who need guidance in a form of communication.

The situation is dynamic as I have to respond to volatile schedules. I often have little time for preparatory work. For example, I gave myself a week to prepare a just-in-time segment for participants. I took 30 hours over six days to prepare for a 3-hour blended session. This is a 10:1 ratio.

So is my effort (10:1) less than worthy of a corporate one (127:1)? Based only on numbers, it is. Based on quality — my knowledge of context; the blending of content, pedagogy, and media; the attention to detail — I would argue not.

You might look at the obvious design and implementation flaw in the tweet below and wonder how this happens.

These are commonplace judging from the number of photos and websites that feature such flaws. They are easy to spot with a critical eye.

The flaws are obvious as is the physical harm users might experience as a result of such designs. However, some designs are easily overlooked.

One such less obvious design happens in “new” classrooms. These are helmed by agencies and vendors that claim they design for learning. They call these places hubs of learning or classrooms that are smart.

Recently I had a conversation with someone who had to test a new classroom. Some background: This campus had issues with pillars blocking views and platforms facing the wrong way.

Having experienced so many design flaws myself, I asked him what the problems were with the new room. Off the top of his head he mentioned that there weren’t enough writing surfaces. He also described a pillar with an odd configuration of displays. If I find this design faux pas, I will photograph it and update this page.

The people in charge were unhappy with the design flaws. This invariably led to delays in using the classrooms (time cost), modifications to correct the errors (effort cost), and budget negotiations (financial cost).

One reason why these errors persist is that these classrooms are designed without consulting progressive-minded policymakers and reflective educators. Most modern universities also have learning or pedagogy centres who can advise on these design. But these agencies are as easily overlooked as writing surfaces.

I suspect that many designs are based on photos of visits to cool-looking venues and administrators choose an item from A, another from B, and so on. All at the lowest possible price, of course. When this happens, the designers know WHAT to do and HOW to do this, but not WHY.

The WHY of the design of a classroom is not just about aesthetics or comfort. It is about pedagogy and learning. Including a person or a small team that has expertise in such design is not cheap, but it prevents bad pedagogical design of a learning environment.

It just takes sense/cents to save a dollar.

Lessons sometimes hide in the least obvious places. Take this tweet for instance. It provides a lesson on using white space.

With the white space, the message in two parts reads: You matter. Don’t give up. Without the white space, the signs read: You don’t matter. Give up.

There are many reasons for incorporating white space in any form of design. In the case of the signs, sufficient empty space helps you make sense of the intended message. Removing it provides an unintended joke.

White space helps create clarity. Something similar could be said about providing physical, temporal, or social space between you and a complex problem.

If you are too close to a problem or if you work so frequently with the nitty-gritty of an issue, it is often difficult to solve it because you cannot see where you need to go with it.

Distance from an issue might help you gain a new or broader perspective. Providing space between you and the seemingly unsolvable problem matters.

You do not have to be an Apple fan to enjoy this video. It could have been shot on any device with a decent camera. It took good storytellers to put it together and that is what matters.


Video source

The video was a short movie commissioned by Apple to be shot on an iPhone X. It was Apple’s agenda and in their interest to promote the technical capabilities of its latest flagship phone.

But the technology without skill, passion, and a good story is pointless. One need only look at the phone libraries of wannabe food Instagrammers. A superior tool does not guarantee a superior outcome.

The video was technically well-shot and edited. It was also skilfully managed to tell the story of a mother connecting with her son even though she had to work over the Lunar New Year.

I liked how the movie “ended” so that the viewer could get involved. How so? I imagine an educator asking her students to suggest how the rest of the story continues and why.

The story also revealed the director’s agenda. He made a statement about modern parenting and the pressure of schooling without throwing it like pie in the face. He tugged at heartstrings to make his point firmly but gently.

The video is a lesson on narrative design, leveraging on emotions to create impact, and letting viewers or learners draw their own conclusions by generating discussion. These are the new standards for what makes a resource high in quality and effective for facilitation.

The chart embedded in this tweet is a good example of “just because you can, does not mean you should”.

More specifically, just because you think you can create a chart does not mean you should.

A chart should make obvious what is difficult to explain in words. If the chart does not do this, then do not use it or design a better one.

The logical problem with chart in the tweet that the visuals counter the intended meaning. A small chance of winning (1 in 14 million) is tiny, but it was represented by a large block. To illustrate the very low likelihood of winning the top gambling prize, the block should be tiny.

One could also critique the choice of fonts, the colours of the bars, the use of red font against a black background, etc.

Why harp on a seemingly harmless chart?

The chart is an example of what not to do when designing visuals for effective communication. It is also fodder for a module on critical thinking.

If schooling has not taught you to design better visuals, then continued education in your working adult life offers you some harsh lessons. This first lesson is free and could be worth more than the top Toto prize.

When I travel overseas, I try to visit a local library. This might be a tiny one in Vietnam, a traditional one in a university, or a modern one in Amsterdam.

Why do this on vacation? I find that what people stand or wish for translates into the design of such a public space.

A trend that seems to have consumed progressive libraries and librarians is the mantra that the modern library is not just a place but also a space. This statement leaves room for interpretation. Mine is that a library should not just be a place to read or borrow books; it is space to work, chill, collaborate, get inspired, or learn in less restrictive and self-directed ways.

Some libraries slap old and new together and expect them to meld. Others integrate the two seamlessly or relegate the redundant pragmatically. My recent visit to the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (OBA) — the Public Library of Amsterdam — was a perfect example of what I think a library should be.
 

The OBA was not a gem to admire on the outside, but once inside you might find it hard to describe why it is so welcoming and different. Note: Several Instagram embeds to follow.
 

Near the entrance was the kids’ section and a piano. I recorded this video while a pianist provided an impromptu soundtrack.

Function meets form: Provide a piano in a prominent place and someone will play it.
 

Absolutely love the main Public Library of Amsterdam #oba #amsterdam

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

The kids’ section dominated the entrance on the left. The unusually shaped lights reminded me of ball-and-stick chemical molecules or some diatoms underneath a microscope. The section was predominantly white with bright splashes of colour from the toys, furniture, and displays that strategically littered the space.

Function meets form: Provide a welcoming and curious place to explore and kids will learn by play.
 

I noticed at least two displays: One was a comic exhibition that ran along three walls; the other was a three-metre high Mouse Mansion. The comics were as thought-provoking as the mansion was fascinatingly detailed.

Function meets form: Provoke with dissonance and detail, and people will learn by critique and observation.

I forgot to photograph the space to the right of the entrance. Other than elevators and a service desk, that side was dominated with self-help kiosks for membership, buying wifi time (for non-members), returning books, borrowing books.

The book system was particularly impressive. It sported a modern, brushed metal interaction front, and a robotic complex of tubes and arms behind plexiglass in the back.

Function meets form: Provide minimal instructions and slick but compelling tools, and people will learn to use them.
 

Computers for the public to use at the Public Library of Amsterdam #oba #amsterdam

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

The ceilings were high and the place well-lit either by large windows or bright white light.

OBA upper floor.

The library had a basement and six upper levels. I explored them all and discovered a common theme despite each floor having is own character. There were relatively few bookshelves and books. The mid-level floors featured reading and display areas that might look like a Barnes and Noble or part of a modern museum.
 

The spaces seemed to be designed with people and creature comforts in mind, not silent reading or maintaining order. The strange thing about giving people what they wanted was that they respected the place with a hush that would make a mouse blush.

Function meets form: Provide variations on a human-centric theme and people will do what comes naturally.
 

There were several seating configurations. Other than this café-like arrangement, there were also comfortable single seats, sofas, glass-walled cubicles and meeting rooms, and computer terminals that ringed the central atrium on almost all floors.

Function meets form: Recreate what people are already familiar with and they will transfer behaviours or learn new ones with minimal barriers.
 

The top floor was accessible only by this staircase or a set of elevators. If you ventured to this floor, you were rewarded with a restaurant and excellent views of Amsterdam.

View from the top floor of the OBA.

My family and I spent about four hours at the library. While I had my fix of photo-taking, my wife and son chilled at the top floor for much of the time. We had dinner there and relaxed some more.

Function meets form: Provide rewards that are not purely extrinsic or obvious. A room with a view is a room with a view.

Rising above all of this, I was reminded that there was no point rushing from point to point during a family vacation. The point was to relax and recharge, and in doing so, learn incidentally and accidentally. I knew about form meeting function, but I received informal lessons on function meeting form.

The principle of form meeting function applies in web design as much as it does in interior design. It is about putting human function first. But just as we shape our environments, our creations also shape what we do and how we do it. Function meeting form is a human-centric principle of recognising that this reverse and balance is also true.

There is something fundamentally wrong with most instructional design (ID) programmes and processes.

Novice instructional designers are often taught to design FOR someone. They do not necessarily learn to design WITH someone. I call the latter ID+.
 

 
This is a fundamental shift in the multifaceted processes of ID. Just like teaching is not the same as learning, the focus of designing with someone is about putting the learner first.

Now how many Masters programmes and ID companies will buy into this idea? How many will take such ownership? How many will say they already do this, but not have the evidence that they really do? Why will they still focus on what is efficient and ignore what is effective?


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