Archive for the ‘Learning Environment Design’ Category

This post is inspired by a profound essay from Mike Caulfield called Design Patterns and the Coming Revolution in Course Design. It’s the text of his keynote address at the Northwest eLearning conference earlier this week. While Mike’s examples come from the arena of academic course design, instructional designers and learning consultants in the corporate world will recognize the issues and relate to the recommendations. I urge you read Mike’s post before continuing with this one. Get a cup of coffee first; it’s a long one – but worth every word.

Thanks for coming back… here’s why I’m so excited about Mike’s propositions:

The need for a pattern book

I am sometimes bothered by the way we can block-copy design ideas from one context to another, resulting in same-same course designs that lose something in the translation. Since I am educated in adult learning theory and research, I have always recommended that designers get solid grounding in the theory and research around how learning works so that they can make more informed decisions about design. I can see, though, that documenting design patterns and using these as guideposts for course design is a fabulous idea.

Patterns translate key principles from adult learning into clear recommendations. Folks like Julie Dirksen, Karl Kapp, Michael Allen, and Ruth Clark (references below) have done some of this translation work for people in L&D, but I don’t think they quite constitute design patterns as Mike describes them.  I’ll have to check out the book that Mike mentions,Technology-Enhanced Learning: Design Patterns and Pattern Languages, edited by Goodyear and Retalis.

We need a design pattern book for our work. I’ve no idea how to create that, but I’ll be noodling on it for quite a while. As I think about it, it feels like a herculean task. There may be too many if-then’s (or when… therefore…’s) that form the foundation of design. And if you do create a pattern book, would it be too big to be really useful? You’d have to categorize the patterns, I think. But I bet it would be more useful than reading and trying to apply a textbook on learning theory. (Don’t tell my adult learning students I said that.)

The design process

Another aspect of Mike’s post that resonated with me was the analogy between course design and music composition. He says, “When you work solo on multi-track, as I do, and you are scoring 5 to 20 instruments you become acutely aware that each decision you make constrains you further. As you progress, there really are limited ways these things can fit together.”

I have come to the point where I describe design as a set of decisions (audience, objectives, content, delivery method, activities, and structure). These decisions can’t be made in a linear fashion because each decision imposes constraints and opportunities for the other decisions. There are many different ways to finalize the decisions that will work, and some that simply won’t work. The music analogy is truly applicable. While you are composing/designing, you constantly adjust your decisions to ensure they continue to blend together as a whole. There are limited ways these things fit together, but there are multiple ways that would produce a pleasing piece.

Design Decisions

This insight is timely because next week, I’m working on the design process section of my Learning Environments by Design book. Designing a learning environment isn’t as constrained as designing a course – it’s a much more emergent, ongoing process. I want to be sure I communicate that eve though you might need a vision to launch an environment, it will morph and change over time – perhaps more like an improvised jazz piece.

Design Processes 10-25-14

Thanks to Mike, then, I’ll have lots to think about – as I am designing courses and learning environments – and as I am helping others to develop their design skills. Comments welcome!


Books referenced above: Julie Dirkson’s Design for How People Learn, Karl Kapp’s The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, Michael Allen’s Designing Successful e-Learning, and Ruth Clark’s e-Learning and the Science of Instruction.

Read Full Post »

As I continue to work on a book on learning environment design, I can’t help but see relevant ideas everywhere I look. As part of a current cMOOC on Connected Courses, I was reintroduced to theory and research around connected and open learning. Although the conversation in Connected Courses is most often about how design more open and enriching learning experiences in the academic environment (K-12 and Higher Ed), the features of connected learning and many of the recommendations from research in that arena have resonated with some of my own writing and advice on learning environment design.

Connected learning “advocates for broadened access to learning that is socially embedded, interest driven, and oriented toward educational, economic or political opportunity. Connected learning is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success, or civic engagement.” (Ito et al, reference below.)

Change a few words around, and we can apply the concept of connected learning to workplace learning as well – ensuring that it is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward achievement (performance, skill development). It requires a commitment to learning and a network of supportive colleagues.

In their 2013 report on Connected Learning, Mizuko Ito and her coauthors suggest four design principles for connected learning: open access, learning by doing, challenge, and interconnectivity. These principles provide terrific quality markers for learning environments as well. (For more, see p. 81 of the report)

Given these design principles, here are some of the questions I might ask when designing a learning environment:

Open participation:
ease of access, multiple ways to participate, multiple levels of expertise in community, recognition for support for each other’s learning

  • How can we make participation inviting and allow people with different communication preferences and levels of interest to effectively engage with the group as needed?
  • How can we open up the learning environment so that learners have access to people and ideas that are different enough to provoke innovation?
  • How do we make sharing easy and encourage reciprocation?

We know that building social engagement among learners who don’t have a history together can be tricky business. It’s important to do what we can to make it easy for learners to engage with one another and with experts within and outside of the organization. There is a lot of additional material on building communities that has also proven helpful in meeting this design principle.

Learning by doing:
authentic and relevant engagement in the work, access to experts and mentors who can mitigate risk, abundant resources for learning in the flow of work

  • How can we support learning by doing – make it safe to experiment and support the development of new practices?
  • What tools can support learning by doing?
  • How can we make job aids and other supports more readily available as needed?

Doing the work is often the most fertile ground for learning IF people attend to what they are learning and take advantage of opportunities for learning that are embedded in everyday projects. Having a culture of learning that provides just-in-time resources and lots of social support makes a difference in terms of how much people learn in the work. We also need to recognize and celebrate that learning.

scaffolding learning, sharing within a context that supports constructive feedback

  • How do we ensure that learners are sufficiently challenged in the work environment to develop the knowledge and skills needed?
  • How do we scaffold the harder aspects of learning and ensure people are supported through any stumbles they might make along the way?
  • How can we enable constructive feedback processes and collaboration for joint learning?

There are some who say that problem-solving and failure are at the root of all learning. While I don’t believe that, I certainly endorse the idea that work challenges provide great opportunity for learning – many people will tell you that the projects they struggled with are some of the most developmental. But work challenges can also just be a bane on our existence; how do we ensure that challenges are positive learning experiences and not just ordeals to get through?

alignment of multiple paths for learning, easy sharing between platforms

  • How do we ensure that all of the components that support learning are aligned so as not to confuse with conflicting advice or goals?
  • How do we bring diverse supportive tools together for ease of access?
  • How do we help people leverage one another’s work to advance practice as a whole?
  • How do we connect to the “outside” world to bring in ideas and expertise that would be helpful?

This criteria harkens back to the idea of a learning ecosystem; the tools we use for sharing, working, and communicating need to be in synergy with one another if they are to be useful. And it isn’t just systems that can be interconnected; we can also advocate for and strengthen learner’s ability to connect with people and ideas outside of their normal flow of work. These infusions of new perspectives can be a real boon to learning. (Just like taking Connected Courses has helped me in expanding my ideas on learning environment design.)

If these ideas resonate with you, you may be interested in joining the Connected Courses conversation. If you’d like to learn more about learning environment design, please join me for my Guild Academy course, Learning Ecosystems: Designing environments for learning – it launches again on October 15. In it, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with others who are working on these kinds of strategies and get advice and feedback on your own work.

Source: Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design. (2013) By Mizuko Ito, Kris Gutiérrez, Sonia Livingstone, Bill Penuel, Jean Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, and S. Craig Watkins. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.


Read Full Post »

Journal articles and blog posts related to L&D seem fairly uniform in their advice that L&D departments should find non-training ways to support learning. Here’s some of what we’re hearing: use the power of social learning; show your work; give performance support; leverage internet resources; design “courses” only as a last resort.

All of this is good advice, but workable only if underlying assumptions are true. And one of the underlying assumptions here is that people are ready to engage with these kinds of learning strategies if we will just get out of the way. Some people surely are. But many are not, and they need something more from us.

Ryan Tracey, in a blog post a few months ago, called out this “inconvenient truth” by saying, “they are not like us.” His point was that we know from our experience that many employees do not participate in these new venues; they are not exporing MOOCs, building a network on Twitter, or developing their internet search skills. Many don’t have the time or inclination; some prefer formal training; but many more are just not quite sure how to engage this way.

The 2014 learning culture study* from the Corporate Executive Board’s Learning & Development arm underscores the issue with the provocative finding that only 20% of employees are effective learners. So just getting employees to participate in new venues isn’t enough; we need to help them engage effectively.

CEB recommends that learning leaders focus on creating a productive learning culture, and their advice dovetails quite nicely with the learning environment design framework that I have been advocating. Among their conclusions, CEB researchers suggest that L&D should focus on narrowing the resources available to the most relevant few (curate), building learning capability, and promoting a supportive environment in which people share and help one another to learn.

L&D professionals too often feel on the sidelines when it comes to fostering a learning culture. “Culture” is a tough nut to crack, strongly influenced by long history and difficult to counter if a shift in culture is needed.

But I would submit that designers and learning leaders already have in their skill sets the raw tools needed to build the learning capability necessary for a strong learning culture. The key is to turn our talents taward quietly helping people in our organizations to learn new ways to learn – to develop personal learning habits that may not have been a part of their education or learning strategies to this point.

Here are six tools we can turn to the task of developing leanring culture:

Curation – Studies have shown that too much choice often leads to frustration and decision paralysis. We can help to point out the best resources for our learners.

Contextualization – If the relevance and usefulness of resources isn’t obvious, we can help to show the way by providing additional background and advice along with links.

Relationship-building – We can work to ensure that formal training efforts build employees’ developmental networks at the same time. Helping learners to connect with experts, with like-minded peers, and with others who can support their growth and development is one of those gifts that keeps on giving.

Scaffolding – We can help people learn to use tools by scaffolding the learning process both within formal events and beyond. We’ve been doing this with blended solutions for years; we can take it to the next level by consistently walking people through a learning process that includes accessing resources, learning, reflection, practice, feedback, and more.

Mapping – Even with good curation, learners often need a lttle guidance in organizing a developmental plan. We can apply our skill at sequencing to give simple direction on which resouces and activities to tackle first and how to effectively build knowledge and skill over time.

Assembling – As a final contribution, we can make resources and activities accessible in a visually pleasing and intuitively useful portal. That way, employees aren’t spending so much time wading through a mess of links and files.

Lest you think that your design skills will be going to waste in 21st century learning cultures, rest assured that they are more valuable than ever. In our history as a field of practice, L&D professionals have learned quite a bit about how to support learning, and this knowledge can be applied to support our learners in new ways.

If you find these ideas intriguing, you may be interested in reading more about Learning Environment Design, or in attending my online Learning Ecosystems course, coming up in the Guild Academy beginning September 9. Or plan to attend the blended version of the course in advance of the Learning Solutions conference in Orlando in March of 2015.

* You can access information about the 2014 Corporate Executive Board study by downloading the 3Q Learning Quarterly, or checking out these blog posts:
> Three Shifts Every Company Should Make to Shape its Learning Culture
> More Learning Through Less Learning: Reframing Learning Culture.
Of course, if you are lucky enough to have CEB membership, you can get a copy of the entire study.


Read Full Post »

The eLearning Guild is hosting an important series of conversations this week at Ecosystem 2014. Learning solutions have been expanding way beyond traditional L&D outputs for years now, and learning professionals are working to figure out the best ways to strategize more robust recommendations that include performance support, informal learning, social learning, experiential learning, developmental programs and more. These strategies present a variety of challenges in terms of design, curation, and technology, and many of us are working on how to best bring everything together in support of performance and capability development.

Since the learning environment design model that I have been sharing addresses some of the questions of how to strategize and design across multiple modalities, I have been very interested in hearing how other professionals in the field are talking about this topic and about the learning and performance challenges they are trying to tackle. There are a number of ways the conversation is impacting how I am thinking about this concept.

Learning Ecosystem Defined

I appreciate that several of the speakers seem to converge on a definition of a learning ecosystem (or performance ecosystem) as a combination of people, content, process, and technology to enable learning.  I also agree that a metaphor that suggests life and growth is important – we “grow” an ecosystem (more organic), we don’t “build” it (suggests something more technical).

In my work, I talk about “cultivating” a learning environment because I wanted a more organic metaphor as well. A ‘learning environment” is a deliberately curated collection of resources and activities for learning related to a specific need. I don’t think I’ll be changing the name of my model to “learning ecosystem design” because while the two concepts are intimately linked, I think they are different. The ecosystem seems to me to be writ large, while learning environments are for specific learning needs.

The Role of Technology in an Ecosystem

Learning environment design speaks to how to conceptualize a multifaceted learning strategy, and I’ve been noodling a bit about how to respond to questions of technology. (That’s partly why I chose to attend this conference.) What I’ve realized is that questions of technology get answered last. It’s more productive to break it down like this:

1) What do our learners need to be able to do?
2) What are their learning needs related to doing that work?
3) What learning strategies best support their learning in these areas?
4) What functionality is needed to make those strategies accessible?
5) Then, finally – What technology would make sense in terms of bringing things together for the learners?
(I see these questions as running parallel to questions about performance support resources, although a lot of people merge the two.)

It’s likely you’ll actually need a number of technologies to grow your environment/ ecosystem for learning. Often, these technologies are freely available or already in place in our organization.  To bring all the learning resources and activities together in one place, you could create a web page, a social networking site, or even a Word document — or you might use a more robust tool like SharePoint or a LMS-type system.

To establish and grow an environment, you’re simply providing links to where all the resources and materials can be found, not trying to find a magic tool that perfectly integrates all those things. (Consider that by the time you invented such a magic site, the tools and resources (and needed functionality) would be changing anyway.) In the end, the materials need to be organized and easy to access and integrate into routines from the learners’ perspectives, so each project will have different requirements.

There is yet another half day of sessions on Friday, and I imagine I’ll have some additional thoughts as I process those conversations.

For more on my approach to learning environment design, see my web site or the Learning Environments by Design course I am launching in collaboration with the Guild Academy (a course which, by the way, is supported by an extended learning environment).  The course begins in April, and my e-book on the subject should be available shortly after that. All comments welcome!

Read Full Post »

I’ve been way too quiet on this blog lately, spending most of my writing time on a longer article about how we learn through relationships. The piece I’ve been working on has a variety of potential outlets, not the least of which is that it provides advice related to the “people” components of the learning environment design framework. I thought I’d share a portion of that article and ask for some feedback from you all…

  • To what degree is it helpful to lay out all of the different ways that people learn through relationships? In what ways will this summary be helpful to share with developers and learners?
  • In writing about how to leverage relationships for employee and management development, what else needs to be addressed?

Here’s the excerpt from the longer draft article:

How we learn in developmental relationships

Relationships are dynamic and unique; they vary in terms of how people interact with one another, how often they connect, the activities they engage in together, and the degree of closeness they engender. It’s understandable, then, that the ways that people learn from and with each other also vary widely, and it seems to be a daunting exercise to put our finger on exactly what is occurring so that we can encourage those actions that generate learning.

Nonetheless, a number of studies have looked at learning processes and teased out specific actions on the part of developers as well as actions engaged by learners. These processes are summarized in the chart below. These activities may be engaged sporadically with a wide range of people in an individual’s network. For example, a learner may draw out lessons (vicarious learning) from listening to a personal anecdote presented by an organizational leader (personal openness), but the two do not have a developmental relationship. Effective developmental relationships, on the other hand, engage most if not all of these processes in an exchange characterized by compatibility, trust, authenticity, and meaningful dialog. In that context, the activities below accelerate learning.

Learning thru Relationships

Many of these activities can be conceived of as a type of call and response: the developer acts as role model, the learner observes and emulates; the learner practices, the developer critiques and coaches; the developer challenges the learner to think more deeply, the learner reflects out loud and engages in a discussion of options and ramifications, etc.

In the “work activity” category of processes, though, the dynamic changes. In the activities of day-to-day work, knowledge is discovered and new skills emerge. Oftentimes in working together the distinction between developer and learner disappears as they become engrossed in co-creating knowledge and co-inventing practice.

In all of these instances, there is a degree of intentionality to the learning. It isn’t just stumbled upon or accidentally absorbed. There is deliberate action meant to transfer knowledge or develop skill, and deliberate pursuit of learning. We could also describe the characteristics that make each of these activities effective. We know from research, for example, that critiquing is most impactful when it is timely, focused on changeable behavior, and specific. We know that it is important to gradually reduce scaffolding and let learners take on more and more of the action on their own. Across all of the activities, key characteristics include clarity, relevance, genuineness, candor, focus on behavior, gradual lessening of degree of support (whatever its nature), and good communication and listening skills.

Experts in developmental relationships recommend that HRD leaders promote developmental relationships by working with people to identify goals, develop excellent communication skills, and learn particular techniques related to whatever process they want to engage.6 It is important that developers and learners are aware of the full range of learning processes available to them; having the full picture may prompt them to engage processes they had not been considering.


The learning processes were synthesized from:

Hezlett, S. A. (2005). Proteges’ learning in mentoring relationships: A review of the literature and an exploratory case study. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 7(4), 505.

Jones, J. (2013). Factors influencing mentees’ and mentors’ learning through formal mentoring relationships. Human Resource Development International, published online June 28, 2013.

Lombardozzi, C., & Casey, A. (2008). The impact of developmental relationships on the learning of practice competence for new graduates. Journal of Workplace Learning, 20(5), 297.

Read Full Post »

I was thrilled to discuss Learning Environment Design with attendees at the ASTD conference in Dallas earlier today (May 19). Thanks to everyone who attended my session (and hello to everyone who may be checking in because they could not!).  Here are some resources on the topic.

My complete slide deck: Learning Environments by Design for ASTD13

See my Learning Environment Design page for more from previous sessions and blog posts on the subject.

Some example learning environments:

EDUCAUSE – Notice the variety of ways that the resources are tagged. By type of resource, by topic area, etc. Check out the Focus Areas and Initiatives section.

ASTD – ASTD’s site has also been reorganized by communities of practice, and learners accessing the site can get at materials in a variety of ways. The CoP leaders connect us to thought leaders through webinars and invited articles. Some of the communities have discussion boards, like the L&D Yammer group.

Here are all the links I give my students as examples of sites that have curated resources and ways for learners to connect – all have their pros and cons, of course, but these can give you ideas.

Please follow up with me (clombardozzi@L4LP.com) or follow me (here on my blog or @L4LP) to see how this framework continues to develop. Let me hear YOUR stories, questions, and suggestions as well!

BONUS: I also publish a free monthly newsletter, 4 Your Development, which can give you give you a little boost of professional development every month…  articles, links to trending news, ideas to hone your skills, announcements of upcoming events. Subscribe and see a sample here.

Read Full Post »

Concrete projects have a way of highlighting the ways our conceptual frameworks work (and don’t work) when applied to real situations. A recent set of course capstone projects got me thinking more deeply about my learning environment design framework – and I’d love to get feedback on some of my (hopefully) improved thinking on the model.

What got me started

As a final project in my graduate course on e-collaboration, students submitted collaborative learning environment proposals – a draft of a portal connecting learners to internet resources and to each other for collaborative learning in relation to a specific need. The project had curation at its core – finding appropriate materials for the identified learning need – but students were also asked to design the site’s overall strategy for continued development, learner interaction, and collaboration. I love seeing how students thought through the assignment and what they produced as a result.

One of the things that struck me about the projects is their differences. Some students reveled in curating tons of resources – blogs, Twitter feeds, text-based and multimedia resources, etc. (And given that many of the projects were L&D related, I’ve gotten lost on the internet more than once as I explored their links.) I was intrigued by their varied visions for discussion forums and their approaches to learner-generated content. I noted that one student added a section of links to training and education resources which was not required but important to her learners. The diversity of proposals got me thinking about learning environment design – about whether there were different types of environments that suggest different approaches.

An emerging typology

If you follow this blog, you have likely seen my framework of components that constitute learning environments. (Click to enlarge.)

Components 2-12-13

The “design” of learning environments requires the designer to make judgments about which components make the most sense for the given need. I got to thinking… are there “types” of learning environments that suggest different arrays of components? Mmm…

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far… I would appreciate any reactions you have. (Click to enlarge.)

Draft Typology

In The New Culture of Learning, Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown describe learning environments that are more of the collaboratory type – and I think that is the ideal for rapidly evolving skills and cutting edge knowledge creation. But there is also plenty of room for (dare I say) transmitting knowledge that’s already explicit (the knowledge exchange type) and supporting the development of complex skills over time (the learning resource portal type). I think it might be helpful for designers to understand what they are trying to achieve, because that (of course) will drive the types of components that are most useful.

More to come… please discuss!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »