Design for User-Centered Learning
Education professionals often discuss "student-centered learning." We want to provide students with a sense of choice and autonomy. We care about ensuring that the classroom works for everyone. We see education as a creative enterprise--the students are a part of that creativity.
What happens when these same questions get debated in design?
Design professionals might call this kind of learning "user-centered." If the teacher is a designer, their task is to create a great "user experience" of the learning. That takes us into the realm of user-centered experience design.
User experience design (or UX, as it's called in shorthand), is the field of researching experiences with products to design and improve them (including toys, tablets, and a visit to Disney World). The goal of a UX designer is to help users feel engaged and enabled with the product--not stuck with it.
Have you ever filled out a long on-line form, only to have your data whisked away...and then your left with a page of blank fields? That was a problem with the UX design of the website. In the classroom, the equivalent might be this terrible fate: getting the materials down and ready for a test...only to forget everything a few weeks later. What you learned because it didn't stick...the learning didn't matter.
So how can educators design learning experiences that matter every time?
This is where the process of design arrives at school. From now on, teachers are "teacher-designers."
Below, we explain three simple tricks from the UX design toolkit and how they might apply to teacher-designer's practice. The images below are graphical organizers for design processes. Click the image or title link to view a high res PDF.
1) USER PERSONAS: User personas are a design research tool. They are made-up characters that we use to think about what different groups might need from the experience. Teachers might write up 1 page "personas," or composite characters. "Johnny is always getting up and leaving his seat. He can't sit still! His mom says he's great at athletics, but can't stand homework time..." By highlighting the unique needs and desires of their school population, personas challenge teacher-designers to re-think classroom practice. These personas could be shared with new teachers as a tool in professional learning communities.
2) PROTOTYPE: What does it mean to prototype an experience, before committing to the full design? This is crucial for products that require a lot of time and engineering to build. And a great lesson plan is no exception. Perhaps a teacher-designer can bring a few photographs to the class, and ask "What more do you want to know about these images?" Then s/he can arrange the material of the lesson to meet the student's curiosity.
3) STORYBOARDS: Instead of writing content for a lesson plan, teachers might start with a "storyboard" of what the student will actually be doing in the classroom, and with their learning later in time. A UX storyboard is just a series of stick-figure level drawings, pushing the designer to visualize each step in the process of interacting with the design.