SXSWedu: Taking Learning Experiences to the Extreme

To me, it’s all about the learning. Here’s my doodles and added notes from a couple of the 2016 SXSWedu sessions that focused on the learners’ end of education and training.

Learning Experience Design

Learning experience design, or LX design, is a relatively new term to me but it’s so descriptive of what I do, as well as my growing dissatisfaction with the work and products associated with instructional design. In essence, I have moved further away from the learner in designing training and educational materials, especially with online and learning course development. I find myself further and further away from the magic of learning, that spark that happens in-between, like a synapse, pitched or thrown ball or a band jamming — that’s where the magic happens in learning, too.

To find a full panel discussing learning experience design at SXSWedu was like finding a hidden doorway into a new realm of knowledge — that immediately felt familiar.

Learning Experience Design

One panelist, Myra Travin, a self-desribed “post-futurist” and author of The School of You, gave a starting point for the discussion by telling how her career started in performance support and had shown how badly our education systems remain “stuck in the Industrial Revolution.” The factory model of education aiming to produce factory-line workers no longer suits the needs of us or the learners.

The moderator, Joyce Seitzinger, talked of applying service design principles to better serve the learners, treating them more as customers than empty receptacles to be filled with preset knowledge. To do so, we simply need to start by asking “What does the customer need?”

Other panelists reinforced that the best — and in fact, only— way to put the learner at the center of design is to involve them from the start. Make the learner #1 by asking them questions, and building a learning ecology model around communities of practice that support the pockets of innovation within our educational systems.

Realizing the knowledge needed is dynamic, we should work with learners by first releasing a “minimum viable product” — MVP— rather than waiting for fully-developed curriculum for a course. Once you have that MVP, you work with the learners to tweak it in an iterative fashion to ensure each learner gets what she or he needs.

All too often, a serious gap separates teacher and learner. We need to help people find or create their personal learning paths so that each individual learner gets the opportunity to acquire the knowledge they need in the way that best suits them.

LX design — read as either learner or learning experience design, a distinction briefly addressed, then dismissed by the panel — should seek to help learners find and follow those personal learning paths.

Though the factory model fails to adequately address today’s learners’ needs, learners do need some type of content and learning curation, and that’s where LX design can help. Without some sort of learning experience design, people must face chaos & anarchy in the learning space. With good LX design, though, we can help them learn to embrace the chaos, as a “guerrilla learner” as Travin calls them in her book, and follow their own personal learning pathway.

Extreme learners

As to extreme learners, that’s self-directed learning at its best, pushed out past what the standard structures supply us. Blame the need for this on the absurd wall between learning and doing that we all must deal with. No wonder education and training are always such a struggle — once we compartmentalized them away from the real world (as noted by Temple Grandin), they became less important. Disconnected from our “real life,” our learning becomes less engaging.

Extreme Learners


Yet some people will never settle for that. My friend and quasi-mentor, Debby Kalk, once pointed out that relic of the factory model of education where our educational efforts target the broad middle: the so-called “C student.” The reasoning behind that approach argued that “A students” will learn regardless of what we do to help or hinder them, and “F students” will struggle and need added resources or tutoring regardless of how effective the instructional materials are.

But that approach overlooks individual strengths possessed by some extreme learners across the spectrum — both those who excel so much they outpace their class and even their teachers, and those who find more fulfillment in the makerspace, making and doing in real-world settings.

These are the people who don’t just seek their personal learning paths — they carve it out for themselves. The panel presented some common characteristics about these extreme learners, listed on the left there.

They shared a couple of personal stories of extreme learning, so I’ll tell you a little about Marc Roth.

This part of his story started with a life change (a marital break) and leaving a good job in Utah to head to the Bay Area — just an economic downturn hit. After struggling to get on his feet there, he went broke and became homeless. Then he heard a guy in the homeless shelter talking about a place nearby called TechShop (oopsy-doodle: got it wrong in my drawing there), basically a “gym for machines.”

When he went to check it out, he found out you pay a monthly fee and then can take as many classes as you want to learn how to run machines such as laser engravers. Moreover, the classes are simple and direct — “Lasers cut and etching by burning; don’t burn anything you shouldn’t.” Mostly, you learn by doing.

They were offering a special on 1st month’s membership that happened to be $10 less than the cash allotment he had just received from the city. So, he used most of his cash allotment to pay for a month membership and started spending every day and learning everything he could.

Beyond just the machines and classes at TechShop, though, he found a community of learners, teachers, and makers. Soon, he was helping train people and bartering his services to learn more as well. A Kickstarter start-up found itself in need of quick manufacturing of their suddenly hot little gizmo — and he stepped right up and delivered

Soon he was volunteering and teaching and has now launched the Learning Shelter, a “prototype shelter that builds new lives through learning maker skills and entrepreneurship.” In short, he helps others to do what he figured out how to do. That’s an extreme learner for you.

While 98% of young kids are passionately curious, less than 2% of high school students say that they are. Noting that one study showed schools have twice as many rules as prisons, Marc Roth offered a simple suggestion: “Stop beating it out of them.”

In more educational-oriented jargon: let’s  help, not hinder, learners find and create their personal learning pathways.






About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
This entry was posted in children, community, creativity, doodle, education, Instructional design, Learning, SXSW and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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