MMID: Subversion and Instructional Design

Carl Rogers began his book, Freedom to Learn, by quoting Albert Einstein:

“It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail.”

Week One of MOOC MOOC: Instructional Design carries the same theme with a telling title – MMID: Subversion and Instructional Design. We are exploring, examining, questioning, challenging, and reinventing the accepted and revered standards of the field, the ADDIE model and Bloom’s Taxonomy. The provocative MOOC leader, Sean Michael Morris, started our collaborative work by stating “As we begin to understand the limits of traditional learning theory in the face of the strange and digital, the praxis behind digital learning needs to push past those limits rather than reinforce them.

I haven’t been active in the MOOC’s Twitter space or shared Google doc. I’ve been quietly floating on the fringe as I observe, absorb, and think. For a person who is just beginning Instructional Design work, the opportunity to follow the brilliant conversation threads of so many experienced professionals is a true gift. And it’s a little overwhelming. My own thoughts are vague, scattered, and loosely formed, and I lack the personal confidence I need to actually dip into the pool.

However, I am thinking about some very big ideas. Amongst the intriguing questions introduced this week, I was particularly drawn to the idea of learner as subject versus object. On some deep level, these are exactly the words I’ve been searching for.

I have two advanced degrees in the educational domain, an M.S. in Adult and Organizational Learning and Leadership and a recently completed Master of Arts in Educational Technology. The MS-AOLL degree focused on adult learners through a predominately humanistic lens. In that program, I was briefly introduced to the ADDIE model in an ID class. I never once encountered Bloom’s Taxonomy. Not once. I had never heard of Bloom until I started the M.E.T. degree program, where a few different courses focused on ADDIE and Bloom. I puzzled about this and then decided that it must be due to the different program emphasis, learning versus teaching.

Now, I find thinking about the question about the learner as subject versus object to be very enlightening. I had accepted that a philosophical difference between teaching and learning was required. But when I think of this in terms of the learner as subject and the learner as object, I’m reconsidering this basic assumption. Regardless of the perspective or context, I believe it’s imperative that the learner be the active subject.

Thinking about the active nature of learning then brings up the issues of agency and authenticity. If the learner is to be the subject, actively engaging in the learning experience, the learner must have control in the learning process. The learner must have agency. Additionally, if the learner is to own the learning, it must be authentic and genuine – it must meaningful to the individual learner.

These ideas, however, are complicated when translated into the context of the instructional design process and teaching in a formal classroom. Other players and issues come into the picture. Stakeholders, such as the institution and the funding sources have a vested interest in the learning outcomes. They demand accountability and evidence of learning. I think these are fair expectations. So how do you maintain a ‘learner as subject’ approach and the inherent trust that comes with that, in a formal institution of learning?

That is probably the gazillion dollar question and there is certainly no simple answer. However, one first step may be to reframe the ADDIE model – to expand the universe and consider additional variables, their relationships, and how they interact. Below is my suggestion about how we might begin to rethink the ADDIE model:

A – Analysis becomes Awareness. Analysis is a logical process of the rational mind. To develop the required deep understanding of the learner, the overall goals, the learning environment, and to begin to recognize other relevant elements, it’s important to shift from a purely analytical approach and to develop a more holistic awareness of the many diverse influences in the learning process.

D – Design becomes Discover. Design implies a somewhat mechanical process, such as the creation of a blueprint. Adopting an attitude of discovery will encourage openness and flow. This involves seeking and exploring to identify and better understand concepts and their relationships while the stage for learning is being set.

D – Development becomes Develop. This moves the thought process from a structural building perspective to a growth and nurturing perspective. Too subtle maybe, but the idea is to create an attitude of cultivation rather than control.

I – Implementation becomes Iteration. This change reinforces the idea that the learning process is personal and subject centered. Each experience is unique and is just one variation of multiple iterations.

E – Evaluation becomes Exploration. To me, evaluation is unnecessarily judgmental. This term indicates an assessment of the value of the learning experience. A shift to exploration would be more open and likely to encourage collaborative discussion and open conversation with the learners and the various stakeholders.

The application of the ADDIE model is another important issue to discuss. Even as it is traditionally conceived, it is not a rigid, linear model. The entire process, as I understand it, is intended to be iterative. However, because it is often discussed in terms of a staged model, I believe it may sometimes be applied in a sequential, linear way. It is critical that this model, either in the commonly understand vernacular or with my new terms, be viewed as a fluid, non-linear framework to guide, not control, the process of setting the stage for learning experiences.

Keeping the learner as the subject in all aspects of the formal education process is complicated, yet critical. Creating learning spaces in which the learner maintains personal agency and engages in authentic learning experiences helps to ensure that the learner remains the subject. Every step in this direction is a step toward meaningful learning for each individual. That’s important.