10 Books to Push Your Thinking about Learning Design

Today I was thinking about what books I would recommend to someone in order to have some experience of the learning journey I’ve been on for the last 8 years.

If you’re looking for some summer reading that will help you grow your mind, here’s my list:

1. Theory of Fun for Game Design: This will help you to understand the principles that make games addictive learning activities and help you create more desire to learn for any audience. Really, I’m not kidding.

2. Bringing Words to Life, Second Edition: Robust Vocabulary Instruction: While this is written for teaching vocabulary to the K-6 age group, the research and activities described in the book are fascinating. The research principles and guidance on how to teach for various categories of words are sound for transfer to any age.

3. Design For How People Learn (Voices That Matter) I think this is a must read for understanding visual design principles related to learning. To be fair, I have also had the benefit of many long and interesting conversations about learning and design with Julie, so on this one, I might be biased.

4. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life. We should seek to get learners into a state of flow, and then do as little as possible that disrupts them.

5. Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (3rd Edition) (Voices That Matter) You don’t really understand usability until you’ve carefully considered how users interact with the digital interfaces they encounter. Everyone should read at least one book on usability if they are designing a digital product.

6. Cognitive Development and Learning in Instructional Contexts (3rd Edition) An amazing book about learning! James Byrnes is a top-notch explainer. It looks like it might be a textbook, but it is a fascinating and thought-provoking read. My copy has notes and highlights everywhere.

7. Understanding Learning and Teaching (Society for Research Into Higher Education S)The research group associated with Trigwell and Prosser has done some absolutely fascinating work related to motivation to learn, perceptions of the learning environment, perceptions of the discipline, and how students perceive themselves as learners. Most of the research is seated in STEM education, but anyone in education can appreciate the elegantly-designed experiments and their outcomes/implications for learning design.

8. Where Good Ideas Come From There are some great gems in this book (like the adjacent possible concept) that will help you to develop your own practice of innovation and understand that ideas are not as rare as you might think.

9. By Clay Shirky: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age which can only be read in conjunction with it’s complete opposite, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

10. e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning  This is a newish version of an old standard, but I love it because every “prescription” is backed by research and conflicting studies are carefully dissected into their nuanced differences. It’s an easy read and a good “go to” book for when you need research to have your back.

Possibly Related Posts:


University of Copenhagen Keynote

Just thought I would share the recording of “Surviving (and Thriving) in the Age of Digital Enhanced Teaching”, recorded at The University of Copenhagen. It includes some research I’ve been diving into about why student engagement, particularly interactions, are so important for learning. Enjoy!

Possibly Related Posts:


What does Math Teaching look like in 2020?

This is from a presentation today looking at the future of teaching math from a K-12 perspective. Here are my predictions for math teaching at the K-12 level in 2020:

(1) Learning math becomes a team activity, where technology is one of the team members.

(2) Teachers shift from the role of an instructor to the role of a learning coach.

(3) We solve the mobile devices and assessment problem.

(4) Students can move seamlessly between in-person and digital experiences.

(5) Teacher planning periods shift from lesson planning to examining analytics and choosing digital / in-person learning activities.

 

Possibly Related Posts:


The Watch: Killer Feature of the FitBit Force

I recently lost my FitBit Force in a Canyoneering mishap (Joel did say “Are you sure you want to bring your FitBit into the canyon?”) and now I’ve been downgraded to a FitBit Flex.

After many years of not wearing a watch, I’m finding myself yearning for my Fitbit Force and it’s “killer” feature: the watch.

I grew up with a watch. I taught the first few years with a watch. But somewhere along the way, the phone in my pocket and the ever-present time in the upper right-hand corner of my computer screen replaced the need for a watch. Or so I thought …

Since my loss of the Fitbit Force (which would helpfully provide the time if you tapped it), I have found myself missing a watch:

  • in the mornings, when I am too blind to see what time it is on the clock across the room
  • at dinner with others, when it is too rude to pull out a phone just to look at the time
  • on a run or walk with the dogs, when it was easy to check my wrist, but too difficult to unpack the phone from a waistband

I found myself regularly checking my Force in airports, but it was relatively useless when traveling (too difficult to change the time).  I hope that when Fitbit brings the Force back, it is able to reset its time by syncing to the time on the phone it is paired with. That would make it even more awesome.

Of course, you might tell me to just wear a watch, but I’m already wearing a Flex and don’t want to be one of those dorks wearing what appears to be two watches (though I predict this fashion coming back as we all try to make sense of the different feature incompatibilities of various wearable technologies).

When I was a college instructor, my reliable black & white laser printer was one of my most well-used technologies. Now it just sits and collects dust (along with my CD and DVD collections). While the world does seem to be moving away from “things” and towards online services in many industries (music, journalism, movies, education), there are places where the technology pendulum seems to be swinging back to practical things (like the watch).

I wonder if we’ll find the same thing happens in education? Right now online education has been “discovered” by the elite universities and is all the rage (ahem, MOOCs). Maybe in 5 years, small in-person class sizes will be back in vogue.

Isn’t it funny how the perceived usefulness of different technologies changes over time?

Possibly Related Posts:


Adding Future Proof Skills to Course Syllabii

There are many college-level courses that are required but not beloved by students. Math requirements, in particular, are particularly disliked by most students. I believe that we teach mathematics to help students develop logical thinking, attention to detail, and a method for attacking problems of all types. The subject of mathematics provides a common language and structure to allow the development of these skills. Unfortunately, in our zeal to explain “when we are going to use this” we wander into the dark land of contrived application problems and ridiculous problem constraints. But what if there were another way to frame the value of the skills developed in learning mathematics?

During my last year of teaching, I began to reframe the syllabus in a way that focused on the general skills that would serve students well in the future, rather than the standard answers to “when am I going to use the specific learning objectives of this course?” The six skill categories are: Focus, Explain, Flex, Interact, Analyze, and Learn. They are explained in more detail in the original post: What skills should we be teaching to future-proof an education?

Beginning with an empty template with the skills and more detailed descriptions, I walked through all the activities in each course I taught, and outlined how the course would help my students develop the skills they need to be prepared for future jobs.

You can find the empty template as a Word Doc here: Future-Proof Template for Course Syllabus. It looks something like this for each skill:

 

Some skills were not covered in the course. If that was the case, I just removed that line of the table.  However, a surprising number of the subskills were covered in every course I did this exercise with.

The syllabus section about the “future-proof” skills begins with a general description of what the students are about to see:

This is a list of the skills we believe will make you a valuable worker even as careers and technology shifts. These skills are not particular to any discipline – they are skills that overlay the content that you learn. To prepare for an uncertain economy, you should strive to practice and improve on the skills listed below. In this class, you will practice and improve on many of these valuable skills. These are outlined below.

Here is an example of the future proof skills applied to a Calculus II course:

Note: You can see the entire Calc II Future Proof Skill list here.

When framing topics like Techniques of Integration as a skill like “learning to change your bearings” it is much easier to justify the learning objective to Pharmacy students (let’s face it, they won’t ever use a technique of integration on the job, but most do have to take Calc II).  Pharmacy students will have to be able to determine when a chosen treatment plan is failing, and adjust course to suggest an alternative approach.

So now a little thought experiment. Let’s pretend we reframed the college experience as a way to gain and improve on these types of skills while also gaining subject-matter expertise. Suppose freshmen came into the system with a way to measure their current skill levels in these areas. Students could make goals to improve on specific areas in specific courses (I asked my students to commit to specific improvement goals in each course).  At the end of the semester, students could write a self-evaluation for areas they think they have improved on and ask instructors to “endorse” (or disagree) with the written evaluations. During their college experience, these students could graduate their real, measured, and endorsed abilities into a system like LinkedIn or Degreed.

It’s important for students to gain subject matter expertise in college, but equally important to gain skills that will make them valuable employees and colleagues, and surface those skills to potential employers.  As a fresh graduate entering the workforce, it would be incredibly valuable to be able to provide proof that you can “write so others understand” or examples that show you can “adapt to new situations”  even when they made you uncomfortable. It is my belief that these are the skills that are not being measured and surfaced in higher education.

There are rare examples of schools that provide this type of unique focus at the core of their educational structure (e.g. Alverno College), but a college doesn’t have to be restructured in order to provide this focus. The educational technologies we have today could be adopted to track a students’ successes and failures at improvement on the future proof skills. Each instructor could evaluate their own unique approach to courses to assess which skills might be focused on as the subject-matter is delivered.

An initiative like this would have to be championed at the leadership level by a President, a board, or a Dean of Academics and jointly supported by the faculty. But can you imagine? An entire institution devoted to helping students not only become subject-matter experts, but also to prepare for the employment world of the future? Well, I can dream. It is, after all, a thought experiment.

Possibly Related Posts: