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David Jennings
17 January 2013

I’ve spent much of the week reflecting in different ways on Yishay Mor’s comment in the opening presentation about learning materials being ‘objects with intent’. To which I asked, by email, ‘whose intent?’

From there there’s one rabbit hole you can disappear down which is the whole ‘is it learning design or is it teaching design?’ question. I avoided that, but in so doing, fell down a different hole just beside it that has snagged many before me. This is the ‘to what extent can learning be designed?’ question.

Concentrating on learning materials is one thing, because obviously there are design choices you have to make. But learning itself is something different. Designing learning is not the same as designing an MP3 player or a kitchen utensil. This is where the intent of the learner, as opposed to the teacher, comes in. To someone with the intent to learn, almost anything can be a learning experience (John Cage shows one way). The same is not true of someone with the intent to listen to recorded music or chop onions.

Learning is an emergent property of life. Sugata Mitra says some interesting things about this. At a grand, evolutionary scale, learning happens even without intent to learn: intent to survive is sufficient.

Now, I did warn you this was a rabbit hole. Anyone who’s got a class to teach at 9am tomorrow could reasonably ask WTF has this got to do with anything?!

But what I’m interested in is how to design contexts and environments to nurture, accelerate, unlock or direct this emergence, like Mitra’s design of the famousHole in the Wall facilities and Self Organised Learning Environments. The Hole in the Wall terminals may look like they’re just plonked there, but actually feature many design characteristics that discourage, for example, adults monopolising the terminals to surf for p*rn, as explained in his e-book. Hopefully this explains my dream project, though it seems unlikely that it will fly.

So all this leads into the importance of context for learning. And I’ve, literally, just this moment seen that that’s what we’re covering in Week 2. Which is good.

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Joshua Underwood
9:22am 18 January 2013


Very useful post David. What happens when and individual's intent (agency?) meets someone else's intent expressed as a design (or in a context for learning)? I think it can be helpful to define context as individual and created by learners' interactions with settings, our designs and other resources.

Hopefully discussion about ways of conceptualising, investigating and designing for learner context will be useful.

Look forward to finding out more about whether your encounter with our (including participants) design creates a useful learning context for you.

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