Two Essential (Learning) Design Questions

2 key design questions what do you want them to learn? how do you want them to feel?In May, we were extremely grateful for  Monique Gray Smith’s wonderful closing keynote at the 2018 Festival of Learning. Her talk had us thinking, laughing, crying, and on our feet applauding folks in B.C. post-secondary who have worked in service of teaching and learning for decades.

She also shared these two questions for anyone who designs courses, workshops, meetings, presentations, etc:

  1. What do you want them to learn?
  2. How do you want them to feel?

The first question is where we tend to live: it’s learning outcomes and assessment. Check.

But the second question…? I don’t think we tend to go there. And yet, it’s where learners live.

In post secondary institutions, student services units do a great job providing supports for those making their way through their education. But because course design – and more specifically how courses actually play out – is out of the institution’s control, the responsibility and opportunity to address this “feel” question rests with individual faculty, instructors, and facilitators.

This isn’t about “affective” learning or having affective learning outcomes. It’s also not about so-called “snowflakes” or “trigger warning”arguments. It’s just about designing a positive environment for humans so they can learn.

Too often the first learning design question is,  What do I want to tell them? Or, What do they need to know?   This leads to a focus on content, and teaching methods become about delivery of content, i.e., lectures, readings, exams.

Starting with What do I want them to learn? is much better. It shifts the focus to learning and invites teaching methods that support learning processes, e.g., active learning, social/team learning, applied learning, projects, etc.

Adding , How do I want them to feel (in my class, workshop, session, meeting, etc)? could be the simple but profound invitation we need to help us think practically and from a place of individual power and responsibility for supporting diversity, equity and inclusion in spaces where we invite others to gather to learn and collaborate.

How do YOU want to feel in a learning environment? If you teach or facilitate, how do you want your learners/participants to feel? Leave a comment!

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