Design experiences, not courses

“College is about the experience” I’ve heard the platitude over and over in my years here, both as student and staff. It should have an asterisk when it comes to web based material though.

College is about the experience*

*Unless it’s online, then who cares, just slap stuff online and walk away

Experience design is everything, and yet so many just grab off the shelf products, slap some content copy and pasted from Word files (cause how else are you going to get content from experts in the 21st century). I’ll say something blasphemous; I don’t care about your content if it looks like crap. If I’m of the “paying customer” mindset, then this product looks like crap (so I don’t care about quality, perception of quality is just as important).

If I’m of the notion that I’m a learner seeking to better myself, then I’m still pissed because “I paid for what?”. How as a field do we get it so wrong? Constantly copying and pasting, constantly producing hierarchy, constantly producing video that’s well beyond the recommended length (and in low quality), and constantly using placeholder media that provides no value to the material it’s copy and pasted with (Oh, kids enjoying ice cream, now I understand psychology..?)

As instructional technologists and designers and faculty, we need to focus on the thing online we are focusing on “offline”: experience. The experience of a college education is the thing that supposedly can’t be replicated. What happens when your content looks like my content looks like any content that one could have found on wikipedia (yikes)? It degrades the product through degrading the perception of quality.

When you drop content into an LMS, when you ask students to “hand in their work” in the traditional replication of children walking to the front of the room and placing it in a “dropbox”, you replicate the factory model of education that should have been defeated a generation ago. But why then you may ask is this still pervasive? Human nature and normalcy bias.

The normalcy bias is that people will continue doing the same thing over and over so long as everyone else is. Things aren’t outside the norm, so this must get the job done; let’s just do it the way we always have. What is everyone was doing thing wrong though? What if we’ve moved beyond our drag and drop the file in the ‘inbox’ as a society? Well, we’d keep using the roads that we were led on before. How much of our infrastructure is now crumbling because it was built “the way we always have” and follows paths that are there because they are what we did before?

Think of how learners (all of us all the time) engage with content and seeking information:

  • It’s everywhere
  • It’s distributed
  • It’s hyperlinked to let us know what to find and where to find it
  • Search engines help direct the way, and can always be fallen back on for other views / related information
  • It’s always changing (hopefully for the better)

And now you expect your incredibly linear course structures where people click through folders (like chapters in an old, static, never changing book) to light them up? Your hour long lectures (whenever everything is 5 min or less in the world) to keep their attention as you rattle off a diatribe about topic X? We need to mirror the behavior patterns of users out in the real world (the rest of the internet) and utilize the tools they use there (like anything that makes sense).

We need systems that grow and change with them, that are connected heavily, that silo nothing and liberate from the hierarchy of yesterday. If you could build an experience, what would it look like? Not a course, not content, but an experience, and experiences? What if you had platforms that let you directly manipulate them, share them with others? Remix to your will or ingest from platforms where you actually house things (and no, I don’t mean dead formats like SCORM).

What would you build if you had no context of what courses were but only what your imagination can make them? Let’s build something truly different together.