Monday, March 19, 2007

A Chaotic Theory of Learning Design

I read Tom Haskins' post on Blogs Defy Categorization. As usual, he got me thinking:

What if blog postings are emergent outcomes? What if we don't make blogs happen, they simply happen to us and through us? What if our blogs are really out of our control? What if blogs are co-created with every other blogger interdependently? What if the boundaries between blogs are illusions? What if blog postings come about synergistically: by the countless interaction effects between all the blogs we subscribe to and read (and blogs that link to those). What if blogs are fallout (side effects, unintended consequences) from intentional processes of thinking and writing?
My first thought: "I wonder if chaos is where the formal theories of instructional design are headed?"

I always viewed instructional design and the development of the supporting products (eLearning tutorials, documentation, exercises, etc) as creative acts. Blogging is also a creative act.

Creativity is a messy process. Despite our attempts to organize, codify, and systematize things.

So I'm going to take Tom's idea in a different direction:

- What if instructional design is something that happens to and through us? What if the results are truly out of our control? I think we're seeing some of that with the anguished discussion of "informal learning".

- What if instructional design is truly created synergistically - the result of the influences of blogs, books, media, conversations and experiences. More access to information and people = more influences.

- What if instructional design is a truly living beast - never static, always evolving. The result of consequences - both intended and unintended. The good instructional designers I know seem to constantly evaluate their work. Good trainers reorganize and repurpose the products of instructional design during delivery to meet the needs of their class. There seems to be a constant feedback loop in play. Michael Lorenzen's article on Chaos in Education puts it nicely:

Education and teaching are forced to deal with chaos. The initial, and all subsequent conditions, are not know to an infinite degree of accuracy with any given student or class. Hence, chaos must ensue. This chaos can be seen in two ways. First, every class session is uncertain until it occurs. Despite the best developed lesson plans and class management techniques, the class will be subject to an infinite number of possible occurrences. Second, it is difficult to see the connection between teaching and learning. How can a teacher know what is taught is best for the student's learning in the short and long terms. Sometimes, good assumptions can be made by studying students. However, all students are subject to a variety of chaos in their lives at school and in the world. Which effect beyond teaching could have effected the result? Educators will always deal with uncertainty in both how and what they should teach.
I think some of us may be looking for a level of stasis that just doesn't exist....and never has....in our quest to find theories we can hang our instructional design onto.

1 comment:

Tom Haskins said...

Thanks for the links and taking our thinking about chaos further, Wendy. I wonder if our "tolerance for ambiguity" will increase with our data glut or we will all turn into a bunch of control freaks. I'm seeing signs of both.
Tom