Designing Learning Futures

| March 16, 2011

Here I am giving an Ignite-style talk two weeks ago at The Digital Media and Learning Conference in Long Beach, CA. It was my first time (both giving this style talk and attending the DML conference), and I really liked the format—20 slides auto-advancing every 15 seconds for 5 minutes. They’re supposed to be fun and thought-provoking, which was a good challenge in the context of a conference about “designing learning futures.” I tried gently poking fun at the audience by suggesting that we’ve all dreamed about being the person who, once and for all, creates a “Facebook-for-learning.”

The main point of the presentation was to think through how we’d go about building it—with a focus on development choices. Based on a simple rubric of what characteristics such a learning-centered application would have, I asked the audience to consider four diverse models of “social” apps (Facebook, Amazon, Moodle, and the SATs). I suggested the image of an Okapi neatly summarized the development conundrum, and concluded that such an application should be complementary to Facebook—not its replacement.

Well, there’s no guarentee my talk was substantial enough for the audience, but I enjoyed putting it together and delivering it. Several of the other speakers shared heartfelt, personal stories, and I couldn’t help feeling a bit upstaged. Deservedly so!

But the subtext of my talk—which I hope I sparked in at least a few of the couple hundred people in attendance—was to consider the necessity of developing niche applications for educational contexts. That is, it’s glorious that Facebook has a community of 600MM+ users, but it’s unlikely that learning communities will benefit much from being part of such a large-scale project. Sure, it would be great to preside over such a massive community as a software designer, and there are many feats that could be accomplished with data that it would throw off, but I’m skeptical it could serve learners more powerfully than smaller, more focused tools.

So, though I asked people to think about development issues, I hoped they walked away thinking about a learner’s “user experience.” I am cautiously optimistic that at least one person did so, as she tweeted:

“Facebook for learning. Okapi problem.”