Learning Design Strategy Workshop: Feedback and Continuing Conversation

Leigh Graves Wolf, Assistant Director at the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology

The purpose of the Learning Design Strategy (LDS) at Michigan State University is to: inspire innovation, shape behavior, and guide decisions. The LDS, as it currently exists, is a set of heuristics which have been designed to help make decisions about how we design learning experiences that are shaped by our values, that serve current and future Spartans, and that are creative, excellent and sustainable.

While the LDS website “looks complete,” the LDS is still very much in draft form. As Dean Long said in our planning meetings*, the Learning Design Strategy is not simply a website, or a set of rules – the Learning Design Strategy must be something that we live and experience.” On April 21, 2017, teams from around campus joined staff members in the MSU Hub in a working group to experience the LDS. The purpose of this working group was to begin to engage with the heuristics and to gather feedback on the LDS. The goal of this blog post is to share some of the initial thoughts for revision based upon feedback from our working group and to invite further dialogue and conversation.  

We had about an hour and a half together to discuss how to move the LDS from ideas to action. In our working group, we asked the participants to:

Step 1: Choose a case (sample case on the table) or work from the case that was brought by your team. Briefly discuss the case and make sure all tablemates understand the case.  If there are misconceptions, clarify (there is no right or wrong.)

Step 2: Utilizing Heuristic 1 & 2 as guides, discuss the case and articulate habits and values and a path to a strategic decision with regard to learning design in your case. (Take notes/visualize on the whiteboard next to your table.)

As you are going through this process, keep a running list of notes/feedback/suggestions on the Learning Design Strategy as a whole.

The sample cases were:  

Case 1:

You are developing a new program (articulate the context and mode). Use the Learning Design Strategy to guide the discussion.

Case 2:

Your program (choose online, face-to-face, blended, etc.) is designing (or redesigning) a professional development program for faculty and staff. Use the Learning Design Strategy to guide the discussion.

Case 3:

Your program (articulate the context and mode) is designing (or redesigning) an orientation program for the student body. Use the Learning Design Strategy to guide the discussion.

Teams had about a half hour to discuss and report out. In reporting out, we asked the participants to focus more on the functions of Learning Design Strategy (over the cases they worked on). In our discussion here, we are going to focus on feedback on the LDS heuristics – in future blog posts we will discuss how the heuristics worked on actual cases.

Drs. Ann Austin and Marilyn Amey suggested that rather than placing the learner at the center of Heuristic 2, that we place learning at the center.  This allows us to have a conversation about the learning experience outcomes and objectives — and the viewpoint of the learner should always appear in and through the entire process. 

Keesa, Emily, Patti, Jerry, & Breana posed the following questions:

  • At an institution that promotes research over teaching and learning, how do we make the LDS part of our culture?
  • How do we create a culture of open-mindedness?
  • How do you build incentives and rewards to support this culture?
  • Is the intent to change the culture and bring teaching and learning to the forefront? If so, how will that be balanced with the research culture that is so firmly embedded?

Bill provided the following feedback:

Heuristic 1:

It would be helpful to have additional guiding questions to help me drill down, but I think that could happen pretty easily in a conversation.

I know it’s not a rubric, but it sounds a little like a rubric.  For institutionalization of heuristic 1, it would be fun to see how departments and units create and enhance positive accountability for these kinds of questions.

Heuristic 2:

Framing the work in terms of habits gave me an operational set of tools and goals for creating change. We know how long it takes to change a habit, we can interrupt bad habits, so approaching learning from a standpoint of habits is useful and operational to affect change.

The values question was also useful. I realized today that I have a habit of focusing on values. I like how values + habits make the exercise outcomes more operational.


My main concern with the first heuristic is the gut reaction I had from the perspective of those who might flinch at the notion of learning not being present at an already robust institution of higher education. Now, you and I know that this isn’t out of the realms of possibility, but I do wonder if including “evidence of” learning might lessen the blow of that language for those who may find the original statement unpalatable, especially for those here who are committed to student learning and are experts at doing so. This language change might also help with the cognitive dissonance that appears for those who see learning as a constant variable of the human mind no matter what the environment.

As we continue to iterate and improve the Learning Design Strategy – what questions do you have? We invite you to comment here, to blog your thoughts (we welcome submissions!), post thoughts on Twitter with #MSUhub, post on the lds.msu.edu website, or, contact us to stop by and have a conversation at the Hub.


*The LDS Development Team (alphabetical order): Danielle Nicole Devoss, Jeff Grabill, Brendan Guenther, Chris Long, Stephen Thomas, Heather Turner, Leigh Graves Wolf, Joanna Young  

graves wolf_leighLeigh Graves Wolf

Teacher-Scholar. I like to share and listen. I have a PhD & I work @michiganstateu @msuhub @msucollegeofed & @MSUrbanStem


1 Comment

  • Jessica Knott says:

    I find myself intrigued by the idea of replacing learner with learning, and after a lengthy reflection, I disagree. This is just the beginning of a brief reflection, but I wanted to work through it a bit here.

    As a believer in human-centered design and universal design for learning, I feel that to change the term slightly changes the rhetoric. To me, to replace “learner” with “learning” takes a step away from the student, and a step toward a set of tools that are aimed at them rather than involving them. To leave learner in the center results in a more affective focus, whereas to replace it with learning results in a more cognitive lens.

    As I hear more about our student success projects and the findings stemming from these initiatives, I hear the call for us to shift our thinking slightly. As I consider this strategic draft, I wonder if the rhetorical shift toward the learner can help us think in different and important ways.

    While this comment is largely a short thought piece rather than an attempt to make an argument, I’m excited about the fact that this piece has prompted me to challenge my notions of what “works.” I look forward to reflecting more in the days and weeks to come.

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