On Friday, I had the good fortune to spend the afternoon discussing learning design with our friends at Southern Nazarene University. My colleague Peggy Sabatini and I introduced a group of 17 faculty members there to Learning Environment Modeling and the Learning Environment Modeling Language (LEML), and then led them in several rounds of hands-on redesign activities using one of their online courses as a foundation.
It’s always an inspiring experience to work with the faculty at Southern Nazarene because they are such dedicated instructors. They care deeply about their students and are genuinely interested in crafting learning environments that lead to lifelong success. This makes hands-on activities with them fun and rewarding because they are definitely “all-in” when it comes to learning.
Beginning the workshop
I began the workshop by sharing the LEML building blocks and framework, and then discussed the general guidelines we use in our design work. Conveniently, these guidelines make for a rather nice acronym — PEACE.
- Personalization – Prompting learners to engage with key concepts in a way that personalizes the information for them and makes it relevant
- Engagement – Encouraging learners to interact with information and other learners in ways that expand their personal learning network
- Agency – Asking learners to produce their own creations or representations of the concepts so they can internalize and take complete ownership of the information and what it represents
- Contextualization – Providing a personal learning context for learners, as well as a context for why concepts are relevant to them
- Evaluation– Asking learners to reflect on and provide summative evidence of their personal growth in understanding related to the concepts being presented
Contextualize the learner
Simply contextualizing the information itself is not enough. We must also contextualize the learner.
While each of these guidelines is important, the last two – contextualization and evaluation – are critical when it comes to conceptualizing and measuring learning. With regards to contextualization, it’s a common practice to begin lessons with an introduction to a concept. This indeed contextualizes the information being presented and lets the learner know how the pieces of information presented fit together.
However, simply contextualizing the information itself is not enough. We must also contextualize the learner. This establishes a personal awareness and connection with the concept. It also establishes an initial benchmark, a personal fixed point that can be used to measure the amount of personal understanding gained by the end of the lesson.
To be clear, I am not speaking here of information acquisition but rather of personal awareness and understanding. This is the ultimate goal of our learning design and is what leads to learning that endures beyond the lesson or course.
It was rewarding to watch the Southern Nazarene faculty work to design for this kind of personalized learning, and I am indebted to Dr. Dennis Williams, Misti Foster, and Laura Koch for the opportunity to share ideas.