As a learning designer, I've still got a lot to learn. Not about learning, but about the business of learning.
Back in the day, when teachers wore gowns and boys had short haircuts, the teacher was a superior being who dictated what the lesson would be, and how the outcomes would be judged.
Learning was like school dinners: there it is, if you don't like it, go hungry. Or, in the tougher establishments like the ones I attended: there it is, eat every last bit of it, even if it is disgusting, it's good for you, and you can't leave the dining room until you've made a clean plate. Homework and detention were very much the same thing but went by a different name. But now the student and her parents are the customer and the learning spaces, methods, and materials are our product.
Now we've swung our thinking around and most people subscribe to the environments and principles of modern learning. The expectation in this new learning environment is for continuous pedagogical and technical innovation. Unchanged for hundreds of years, the rate of change of learning is now a power curve. Consequently, we find ourselves in need of some professional development in the area of innovation and business start-up. I say start-up because the change from old school to new school is so radical it's an entirely different world.
The learning designers on the Instructional Design team at CORE Education are totally committed to taking a learner focus, as opposed to a curriculum focus, or worse, a teacher focus. However, old habits die hard. As the oldest member of the team I sometimes need to be reminded to focus on the learner, their motivations, and their needs. That may be a narrow profile that we can target with pinpoint accuracy, more often the learners fit into a broad spectrum of people and then the task is harder.
The principles of Universal Design for Learning and the tenets of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines act as our guide and underpin our work, but really it boils down to giving the learner ownership and offering them choice. Especially with adult learners, but with younger learners too, it's like asking: what do you want to be able to do; what do you need to learn to do that; how do you want to learn it; and how do you want to demonstrate that you can now do that thing you identified at the start? So, what we really design and build these days is not learning, but a framework for learning.
CORE Education is not for profit, but we still need to make money just to survive. To this end, we have established an internal incubator, not unlike Google Labs, but on a more modest scale. Our learning designers are among those who have put forward project ideas. It's burned into our psyche to think: How can my idea improve the quality of our learning designs and implementations? But now we need to think: How can my idea improve the quality of our learning designs and implementations, and be productised, and be monetised?
Productise and monetise are not words that come easily to our lips. We don't like to dirty our hands with the filthy lucre. So it's a challenge, and show me a learning designer who does not rise to a challenge! One popular innovation process that we take to like ducks to water is Design Thinking. We workshop the learning problem. The workshop unfolds in stages: empathise, define, ideate, prototype, and test. At its best Design Thinking is high-energy fun, iterative, productive, and ultimately points to one or more candidate solutions. While you can do it at four tables pushed together in your nearest cafe, ideally it takes place in a specially designed collaborative space with aids like portable whiteboards, projection screens, configurable furniture, and soundproof pods. Either way, that's face-to-face. So, here's the Challenge for our team, because we are a virtual team, and we rarely meet face-to-face. How do we innovate effectively in a virtual incubator?
I don't have the answer, but I'm looking for it. For years, I sat on a domain name, virtualincubator.co.nz, but recently I let it go. I keep having ideas for learning frameworks, most recently, an alternate reality games in education framework (ARGEF). But I continue to stare at the wall, racking my brains for how to productize and monetize it. Such is the life of the budding entrepreneur. What gives me hope are the experiences of most start-ups today: the business model is elusive; there is usually a long freeware phase; the freeware phase often morphs into a freemium model; and, the sun has set on the boxed product. Risk taking and failure are wholly acceptable in this brave new world. Success stories usually reference several preceding failed attempts. Perseverance seems to be the key.