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February’s Theme – Design Thinking for Wicked Problems Enabling Learning Experiences

As the first month of the Future Learning Experience Project comes to a close, so too does our explicit focus on definitions. Let me take a few sentences to recap what exactly we defined in the last month:

Given the flood of information that was distributed in January, it’s high time we reveal some details about the design thinking that puts these activities into a context and as we continue this conversation throughout February, we will answer a fundamental question:

How does all this activity get us to where we’re going?

The short answer is that we’re doing a lot of early prototyping, but that answer doesn’t provide much context. These prototyping activities are part of a process most commonly identified as “Design Thinking.” Design Thinking is “the integration of signs, things, actions and environments that addresses the concrete needs and values of people in diverse circumstances” (Richard Buchanan, Professor of Information Systems at Case Western and the former Director of Doctoral Studies at School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University).

Design Thinking is an approach that has yielded striking successes in addressing what are commonly described as “Wicked Problems.” As Daniel McKenzie cites from Jennifer Riel, Associate Director of the Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking at Rotman, one knows they’re dealing with a wicked problem when…

  • The causes of the problem are not just complex but deeply ambiguous; you can’t tell why things are happening the way they are and what causes them to do so.
  • The problem doesn’t fit neatly into any category you’ve encountered before; it looks and feels entirely unique, so the problem-solving approaches you’ve used in the past don’t seem to apply.
  • Each attempt at devising a solution changes the understanding of the problem; merely attempting to come to a solution changes the problem and how you think about it.
  • There is no clear stopping rule; it is difficult to tell when the problem is “solved” and what that solution may look like when you reach it.
  • In order to solve a wicked problem, you must get at the nature of the problem itself, and the way to get at the nature of the problem is through design thinking.

[Read more: http://danielmckenzie.com/blog/2009/12/design-thinking-101]

As ADL begins this project, making sense of the myriad of ways in which people are directing their own learning and how facilitators of learning do so is a complex and fuzzy picture. Many technologies are employed in many different ways. The tools that soldiers, practitioners, students and teachers in all fields use aren’t limited to what might “traditionally” be viewed as learning technologies. Learning appears to occur in the overlaps shared amongst “learning” and “communications” and “performance.” Learning has become wonderfully complex — and increasingly difficult to make sense of — which makes the subject a wicked problem.

Observation, Imagination and Configuration are tools of design thinking. The team in ADL continues to observe and imagine the ways to explain what we’re observing. Over the next several weeks, we will begin to introduce prototypes of technologies for both our team and the public at large to employ as our first attempts to configure possible approaches addressing how to make sense of learning experiences; for you, the public-at-large, these prototypes introduce a means to both observe how these prototype technologies are employed and to imagine how they may be improved (or might be the right or wrong approaches) — all to help make more sense of the wicked problem we’re looking to solve.

In the next couple of days and weeks, we will expand more on Design Thinking. In the meantime, if you have any questions, thoughts or comments, I hope you’ll reach out to us through our discussion groups on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Google Groups.

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