Are we designing education for people?

An impressive talk here on TED by Timothy Prestero.

Timothy thinks we need to design for manufacture and distribution, actual use and appearance. Timothy posted a number of questions: Are we designing for the world we want? Are we designing for outcomes?

I think this concept of designing for outcomes could equally be applicable to the design of education and learning in our world?

Are we designing education for people?

What sort of design would we need in our education system?  Is it an open or a closed education system or a hybrid education system?

I think education could be categorized under an Open or Closed System, and that under an institutional model, the closed system would likely be run based on good to best practice, whereas the open system would likely be run based on emergent to novel practice.

What skills and literacies should be included in the course curriculum in HE?

The skills and literacies that higher education institutions are aiming to include in the course curriculum may include: creativity and invention, global awareness, critical thinking and problem solving, information & technology, collaboration, cooperation and communication.

How are strategies deployed to design, implement and develop the course curriculum?

Relating to Mintzberg’s deliberate and emergent strategy (refer also to this acceptance speech by Clayton Christensen who comments on the use of deliberate and emergent strategy):

Most formal institutions have been structured on a planned structure and curriculum, with planned strategies originating in formal plans: precise intention exist, formulated and articulated by central leadership, backed up by formal controls to ensure surprise-free implementation in benign, controllable or predictable environment; strategies most deliberate.

With a formal education system, such planned strategies are ideal for content delivery, where knowledge is “transferred” from educators to learners, and that is where instructivism would be the ideal pedagogy.  Good to best practice in teaching would further be based on structured course design, mastery learning, evaluation and feedback model.

The introduction of online distance learning in the recent x MOOC movement however have shifted the learning towards an “open” yet massive model of education, with a possibility of emergent learning as educators and learners are now learning via the open web, on top of the closed LMS (Learning Management Systems) provided by the institutions.

A different set of strategies from the deliberate strategies seemed to have emerged, and this may significantly influence the formal controls that are required to run the MOOC in a cost effective and efficient manner when the courses are open to the public free of charge.

Here the entrepreneurial strategies have been considered and adopted: such strategies originate in central vision, intentions exist as personal, unarticulated vision of single leader, and so adaptable to new opportunities; organization under personal control of leader and located in protected niche in environment; strategies relatively deliberate but can emerge.

The emergence of x MOOCs revealed that emergent strategy does not have to mean that management is out of control, especially under an institutional learning ecology, only that it is necessary for the institution to remain open, flexible and responsive to the learners’ needs, in order to thrive in developing courses aligning to the changing needs of society and learners.

The institutions are drawing a clear line between the x MOOCs and courses formally delivered in the institutions as mentioned here, so they could still maintain control over accreditation and award of qualifications.


 All of these MOOC platforms appear to justify their status by promoting curricula that are equivalent to campus-based courses, with a strong focus on content delivery and an emphasis on the rigor and formality of their assessment methods.  However, some of the most interesting and innovative practices in online education have emerged by challenging these very ideas; loosening institutional control of learning outcomes and assessment criteria, shifting from a focus on content delivery to a foregrounding of process, community and learning networks, and working with more exploratory assessment methods – digital and multimodal assignments, peer assessment and group assignments, for example.

In summary, most institutions are still running with deliberate strategies (with good to best practice) rather than emergent strategies (with emergent to novel practice).  I don’t think institutions would want surprises or failures.  However, it is likely to happen in x MOOCs, when there is lack of “motivation”, skills, time among the learners to complete the course.  This could be an issue especially when dealing with large number of dropouts, lurkers, or even learners who may not meet the standards required to complete the course.

That seems to be the challenges facing institutions when running x MOOCs alongside their mainstream courses too.

What are some of the latest initiatives in MOOC?

In this post New course initiatives ranging from a Connectivist approach as referred by Stephen: “The new course, “A Gentle Introduction to Python,” will blend content from M.I.T.’s OpenCourseWare, instant-feedback exercises and quizzes from Codecademy, and study groups organized by OpenStudy, and will be coordinated through an e-mail list operated by Peer 2 Peer University.”

This sounds interesting as it is automating the MOOCs with a “mechanical base” with minimum intervention by the “instructor”.  This seems close to the idea of Robot Professor as mentioned here in Singularity University upgrade.

University of Maine PI launches open learning initiative.

A learner organised MOOC spins out of MITx has likely caught the institutions by surprise.

What sort of pedagogy are involved in a closed and open system?  Jon provides a wonderful summary that contrasts between the connectivist (c MOOC) versus constructivism (task, projects, activity based MOOC) versus instructivism (x MOOC, like Coursera, Udacity, edX etc.).  What are the merits and limitations with each pedagogy? See this post on three kinds of MOOCs by Lisa Lane.  Refer to this post on pedagogy and challenges of MOOC.

What are my outstanding questions?

I think there needs to be further clarification and discourse about learning in MOOCs (x and c MOOCs) along the following questions:
(a) For c MOOC or x MOOCs, whether such practices are preparing or aligning people to certain “becoming or being” practice – such as Network of Practice (Another term to COP).  For those past MOOC participants (who have been practising as core (active learners) and LPP (legitimate Peripheral Participants), or lurkers in the initial MOOC – CCK08), they might have acquired experience and knowledge of what it means, and how it works in a typical c MOOC.  For novices who have little experience of active learning in the core of MOOC, due to factors like (lack of motivation, knowledge, skills, time, confidence, or having a negative views on “experts” or educators etc.), then they may either remain as LPP, lurkers, inactive participants, or even leaving the course.  What sort of intervention would be helpful in supporting novices in a MOOC?  Would learning analytics help?
(b) Whether certain content or knowledge are required to be able to participate and engage in the MOOCs, and if so, what are they?  In a typical traditional course, there are specific learning outcomes and so pre-requisite knowledge and skills are required in order to complete the units.  This may include certain forms of literacy, like reading, writing, and interpreting in certain language (English, if that is the principal media).  In a MOOC where such pre-requisites are non-existent, or not clearly stated, what and how would participants (and learners) know that they haven’t got enough pre-requisite knowledge and skills in doing the course?  Would a pre-assessment or self-assessment prior to doing the course help?
(c) Whether connectivist or instructivist learning through MOOCs is meeting the participants’ needs and expectations.  This is mainly because many participants (educators and learners alike) were educated based on an instructivist pedagogy (i.e. expecting certain levels of teaching by the instructors, or even spoon feeding for those who are “illiterate” or “well below the level of standard” required to learn the materials themselves).   What is the reality, especially for those learners who have negative experiences in school, and so were not equipped with the skills and knowledge in learning?  This also applies to those coming from a different culture and are new to the “language”, and thus find such environment very intimidating, or even scary.
My experience is that some students wouldn’t like to express themselves openly, as they might be afraid of making mistakes, and would even be laughed at, if their ideas are perceived to be overly imaginative and unrealistic.  I know what it means and how it feels, as I had such experience when I was a learner in high school.  Where would learners coming from a disabled or disadvantaged background, or those learning the subject as a foreign language get their help and support in MOOCs?
(d) Whether MOOC should be designed with an “egalitarian or elitist” or a hybrid of both in principles, and be based on meritocracy.   Surely the x MOOCs are encouraging and supporting elitist principles when the “star” graduates are promoted in their courses.  How about the other participants who are participating in the course?  May be they are just another dot or node in the network, or even anonymous.  How would these participants perceive the course?  What are their motivations?  Who would care whether they have contributed or consumed the course materials or not?
In c MOOCs, peer support may encourage those who are courageous in posting and sharing to be “recognised” in the MOOC.  That’s why instructors would curate and screen (selected) certain posts from the MOOC to be included in the Daily.   This is different from the practice of x MOOC, whereas in the forums, those voted high would attract more discussion, and may even be selected by the instructors to discuss or respond to (see this FAQ of Udacity)
(e) Whether MOOCs are open or closed, as it seems that x MOOC are copyrighted with their materials, and so there are lots of challenges when participants are posting any comments, or remixing any contents or posts, as that could be an infringement of copyright.
(f) What are the basis of x MOOCs?
In the x MOOC, it is based on meritocracy, where students who achieve with good grades in the course would be rewarded with the “achievement certificate” and may then be recommended by the course organiser, like Udacity, for a job.

Has MOOC become the game changer in higher education? Yes?  Would Online education replace college education?  Not yet, as the author argues.

Here is my recent post that relates to the challenges and issues of x MOOCs.  There are concerns about quality of the courses developed, as highlighted in this post relating to the cancellation of a course with Udacity.

Finally, What is the goal of education?  

“The goal of education is not mastery of subject matter, but of one’s person.”  We need a deep approach to learning, not a surface and or strategic approach to learning, especially in our goals of higher education.  That will also require a new paradigm of knowledge.

Are we at the crossroad in Higher Education?

Photo credit: Google image.

Are we designing education for people? Let’s wait and see.

John Dewey’s pedagogic creed


20 thoughts on “Are we designing education for people?

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  3. About your question–Are we designing education for people? We diverge from that standard by wasting their talent and time. Standard instruction is heavily weighted toward very inefficient use of time. Students capabilities are typically underemployed with the result that ever “good” students rapidly forget much of what they learn. The basic problem is that the US system is built around conveying superficial knowledge enabling students to pass through checkpoints instead of building a permanent body of knowledge in them. This intent has led to a design of instruction that I call “the Learn and Lose System,” comprised of ten conditions imposed on education:
    • Courses begin and end by plan.
    • No expressed intent to learn a body of knowledge.
    • No complete hard copy kept permanently.
    • Teaching of small pieces not integrated
    • Recognition-based tests
    • Personal interest usually irrelevant.
    • Pretest reviews designed to improve scores
    • Scheduled tests encourage cramming
    • “Final” exam declares an end-point to effort
    • Both learning and non-learning equally dismissed.
    These conditions are direct. They immediately precede the act of learning or its deepening. They are like the difference between planning a subdivision for people to live in, compared to one person having the key to get into his house. No matter how elegant the subdivision, if he doesn’t have the key to his house, he’s out of luck. The more immediately a condition is connected to the act of learning, the faster we see results when it is changed. To change a school or district in weeks, alter each of these conditions toward permanent instead of transitory learning.

    Standard instruction also fails to incorporate what is well known in every other sector of society, which is that “practice makes perfect.” Any skill—physical or mental—grows only by practice, and grows only in proportion to practice. People who master a body of knowledge do so only by practicing it—which with knowledge we do by expressing it verbally or in writing. In education this is acknowledged in many ways, such as “You learn a subject by teaching it.” Why should this be? Teaching it means expressing it. Do that over and over, and you learn it deeper and deeper.

    Beginning with an epiphany about this twenty years ago (described in detail in the third book below), I’ve been working with the application of practice-for-getting-better-at-learning ever since. Rowman and Littlefield are publishing my 3-volume series, “Practice Makes Permanent.” I’m glad to email the proof copies to any one who asks. The books explain what’s gone wrong, how to turn a classroom around on a dime, and how to get teachers engaged and students learning with breadth, depth, and excitement from day one. The three titles of the series are
    • Teaching Students to Work Harder and Enjoy It
    • Changing Attitudes and Behavior
    • Effective Classroom Turnaround
    They explain how to achieve changes quickly and directly; how to cease teaching for familiarity and teach at once for mastery at every grade level regardless of students’ prior challenges, their motivation or learning level, their poverty or the strikes against them. The guidelines I have uncovered apply to all, and are easy to apply. For any questions, reach me at, or 480-365-8074 cell.

    Best regards, John Jensen,

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