Context matters when designing courses, too: Know Thy Learner

July 11, 2013 at 1:24 am 5 comments

In 1994, Elliot Soloway, Ken Hay, and I wrote an article about “learner-centered design.”  We contrasted it with the prevailing paradigm of “user-centered design,” arguing that designing for learners is different than designing for experts (which, we suggested, is really what user-centered design is).

I like the below as pointing toward borrowing ideas from modern UX design for learning design.  The most important lesson that we try to teach undergraduates about human-computer interface design is, “Know Thy User, for the User is not You.”  You have to get to know your user, and they’re not like you.  You can’t use introspection to design interfaces.  That same lesson is what we’re hearing below, but about learning.  “Know Thy Learner, for the Learner is not You.”  Your learner has a different context than you, and you have to get to know it before you can design for it.

“Transferring education from the United States to Africa wouldn’t work,” argued Bakary Diallo, rector of African Virtual University. “Because we have our own realities,” he added, “our own context and culture.”

Naveed A. Malik, founding rector of the Virtual University of Pakistan, echoed that sentiment. “This is something that we learned very early in our virtual-university experience,” he said. “We couldn’t pick up a course from outside and then transplant it into a Pakistani landscape—the context was completely different.”

via Virtual Universities Abroad Say They Already Deliver ‘Massive’ Courses – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Monica McGill  |  July 11, 2013 at 7:31 am

    This echoes much of what has been published decades before about effective curriculum and instruction, including Ralph Tyler’s 1949 Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction–a book I would highly recommend for any educational researcher. I was personally very surprised when I read it the first time, knowing now how well his framework has been affirmed through research studies since. I would venture to guess that this is also true for the lack of diversity among students who complete MOOCs successfully within the US. With our diverse population, it seems that it would be an impossible task to contextualize MOOCs for all the various subgroups taking the course–let alone being able to reach the subgroups that aren’t even aware that they exist.

  • 2. Leigh Ann  |  July 11, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    I always joke at research presentations about CS Education to CS faculty that I need a T-Shirt that says “I’m sorry you are not part of my target research population”. So many people self reflect on their own education as a form of anec-data when thinking about education.

  • 3. Kathy  |  July 13, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    This is a good exchange, currently I am working on a project in Liberia to educate the children there through virtual classrooms. We are endeavoring to do as thorough analysis on the target audience as possible. However, past colleagues have made several missteps in creating past modules because the assumption was, communities in Liberia behave like westerners, and adopted some of our cultural norms, so therefore the learning proposition was the same. They found that was not the case.

  • […]  If you change cultures, you have to change education.  Please take a look again at the The Chronicle article I referenced in this blog post about designing learner […]

  • […] Chris Stephenson’s blog from last month’s Blog@CACM highlights a significant impediment to progress in computing education research.  CS Faculty in universities don’t understand K-12 education (and may not respect formal education at all, as discussed previously).  Education Faculty probably understand K-12 education better, but few of them are involved in computing education.  We in higher-education who want to help with the development of K-12 computing education need to understand the contexts and challenges of teachers — “know thy user.” […]


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