Learning Design Basics: The Coveted Side of Theory

In general, ‘theory’ gets overshadowed by ‘practice’. For obvious reasons!

It’s something like my theorizing about how to paint a landscape vis-a-vis the very action of painting the landscape. Practice takes over theory, in that sense.

But, in effect, it’s theory from which action springs forth. Put it another way, theory is the foundation over which I construct my action. It better be that way, as otherwise, my action becomes loose without a solid base supporting it.


My respect for theory comes from this angle. I’ve come to realize the importance of my having to internalize the theory especially in extremely critical contexts as that of Learning Design! Because, for me, learning design is not a frivolous occupation anymore. Not that it ever was, but, yeah… am beginning to appreciate the value and depth of this noble profession all the more now.

Now, putting a magnifying glass over the pedagogical expertise route I was reflecting on in my last post, I see ‘learning theories’ zooming in much closer to get my attention.

Behaviorism, Cognitivism and Constructivism.

They do sound like something alright, but as a learning designer, I need to understand what these theories stand for… so, I can consciously apply them in due contexts. Applying my understanding this way, I know what I am doing instead of just ‘shooting in the dark’… which is what invariably happens when I stay on the ‘surface’.

I intend reflecting on each of these learning theories in my subsequent blog outings among so many other exciting discussions I’m queuing up after them.


The earlier posts connected to this topic are here:

  1. Learning Design Basics: Introduction
  2. Learning Design Basics: Definition, the take-off point!
  3. Learning Design Basics: Bifurcating Pedagogical Content Knowledge

Learning Design Basics: Bifurcating Pedagogical Content Knowledge

In my last post, I reflected on pedagogical content knowledge and appreciated the critical role it plays in contributing to sound learning design. I use the term pedagogy to mean instructional methods and not (just) those of teaching connected with education. By that reason, I mean it to encompass andragogy too.

Now, digging a bit deeper…

There are two sides to pedagogical content knowledge… ‘content expertise’ and ‘pedagogical expertise’. That is, what the course (or, the learning experience) is going to convey is as important as how it is going to convey it. The what – that is, content – belongs to the SME (subject matter expert). And, the how – that is, pedagogy – belongs to the learning designer.

Which means, I as a learning designer should make a conscious choice at this intersection.


Bifurcation of pedagogical content knowledge!

My conscious choice would be to take the ‘pedagogical expertise’ route and not the ‘content expertise’ route.

Because, interestingly, this is where the mix-up happens. I start inadvertently channeling my energies on the content thereby losing sight of my profile (which is instructional thinking). Of course the content is important, because that’s what feeds my pedagogical expertise and therefore deserves my full attention.

But, it’s a thin line separating my looking at content as a means to the end and my viewing it as the end itself. I cross the line, then the entire equation changes pushing my expertise out of focus, bringing to the forefront elements such as language edits, parallelism and stuff like that. Not that these are negligible… they are quite critical to the course looking perfect, but yeah… they’ve their place in the scheme of things.

Back to the ‘pedagogical expertise’ route… how do I proceed to get that understanding right?

Eagerly looking forward to exploring more in the next post.


The earlier posts connected to this topic are here:

  1. Learning Design Basics: Introduction
  2. Learning Design Basics: Definition, the take-off point!


Learning Design Basics: Definition, the take-off point!

As I reiterated to myself in the previous post, the most critical aspect of my taking up any exercise is to wholeheartedly embrace and internalize its BASICS. Because, that’s where the core lies.

Get the core right. Do not, at any point in time, let it go off the radar because it seems too obvious. Do not let it get overshadowed by other ‘important’ things. Because, this is what invariably happens… extraneous details come in, grab the spotlight, and totally eclipse the core. What happens thereafter is some diluted stuff which is of no use whatsoever.

Alright. End of prelude. I’m back on track.


Definition: The take-off point!

The core of Learning Design lies in its very definition. This one really caught my attention.

“Learning Design is the art and science of creating an instructional environment and materials that will shift the learner from the state of not being able to accomplish certain tasks to the state of being able to accomplish these tasks.”

Seems rather obvious, the definition… but, that’s where the trap lies. The criteria – or the core – of the learner being able to accomplish the given tasks goes so easily out of the window amidst a whole lot of nonessential stuff in most learning experiences designed. Not without any reason!

One of the powerful reasons – read traps – is superficiality. It’s so fatally tempting to stay on the surface, not having to look beyond or go deeper. Because, not many are even aware of the actual need. Therefore, there’s no dire need to look further. So, be happily done with some superficial stuff… and, move on. Project after project scrapes through the surface. And, that is the end of game.

The real game starts only when I decide to scratch the surface of superficiality to look a bit deeper… and, face the stark reality.

Someone’s becoming able to accomplish a given task is definitely not a joke. If I, as a learning designer, have to achieve that feat, I should brace myself to dive deep into the psychological depths. I should acquire a taste for relishing the realms of cognition – ‘the mental action or process of acquiring  knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and sense’.

Which means, I need to look beyond ‘just treating the content’, and appreciate pedgogical nuances that would shape up my learning design.  Put it another way, I should get a hang of pedagogical content knowledge to understand the context in which content best converts to effective learning.

Easier said than done. Agreed. But, I just experienced a whiff of thrill breeze past me, courtesy of the realization that there’s so much more to learn… so much more to explore.

And, I’m game.

More in my next post!

Learning Design Basics: Introduction

I’ve been playing the role of a Learning Designer for quite some time now – 5 years, 9 months as on date.

Of late, a bit of reflection has been doing rounds in my mind, prompting me to document my grasp of the learning design basics.


Reflection on the basics!

I reckon to myself that it’s worth the effort because these basic tenets are the very foundation upon which we get to erect great learning experiences. And, it does pay to crystallize my understanding of them time and again.

Interestingly, every time I look at these basics, I find that they aren’t the same anymore. They look much deeper than what I thought they were.  I realize it’s because my perception of them keeps changing (for better) thanks to the mistakes I make and the corresponding experiences I gain.

What better way to reinforce my understanding of the craft than by writing down my impressions… and, keep fine-tuning them as I go along!! While doing this, I am also keeping you in mind because you might give me some valuable inputs / feedback that would further consolidate my comprehension of the art.

The next (or rather, the first) post would focus on what I ‘get’ out of defining learning design and how I set myself to unravel its core requirement.