By Brad Haseman, Executive Vice President, Kadenze, Inc.

Brad is the lead teacher and coordinator of a Kadenze team of teachers and researchers designing and delivering the Professional Development Program Renewing Learning Design through Creativity and Technology.

Photo by Petri Heiskanen on Unsplash

The digital learning designer Luis Alvarado concluded a blog post recently by proclaiming, “Online learning does not suck, but bad learning design does!”  At Kadenze, Inc. (“Kadenze”) we agree. On this blog, since April 2019, we have been wrestling regularly with the problems of established online learning design, especially its failure to adequately manage and respect the longstanding educational practices of the creative arts, design, and creative technologies. After years of scholarly engagement, the creation of hundreds of online courses, and strong reflexive partnerships with leading institutions on the planet, we have articulated our online learning framework called Technology Enabled Creative Learning (TECL). TECL has been a scholarly exercise in interdisciplinary knowledge building; spawned by educators from music, dance, drama, film and media, the visual arts, design, and the creative application of technology and computing power. As it stands the model is applicable to all disciplines and serves as a coherent and mature field of practice, not just some airy, arm-waving promising to inject more generic ‘creativity’ into classes.

This brings us back to Alvarado’s original observation; that many problems in online learning stem from learning designs which ‘suck’. There is a further aspect of this. While many learning designs are not fit for purpose and are dumbly cut to fit all sizes of learning at once, the Professional Development Programs meant to illuminate those learning frameworks are often quite poor. There are many reasons why this is so; all understandable, some forgivable, some not.

Firstly, many expert arts educators are wary about overly short courses claiming to ‘get them online’. Their pedagogic heartbeat is for experiential and active learning in a medium rich with symbolic potential, (such as clay, sound and silence, machine-led computation, moving images, the expressive body) so mediating learning through a screen can only seem to diminish and impoverish. This is not inevitably the case of course, but the caution is reasonable.

Then the pandemic blew in. Suddenly online learning had to happen, and across three weeks in early 2020 wariness was forced to give way to the demands of remote emergency teaching. Immediately necessity triumphed over reluctance, hardly a precondition for the warm embrace of technology in learning.

Thirdly, it is hardly the case too that prevailing learning design models are convincing for all disciplines. Many have been built on sandy scholarship, promulgated with a certainty of success which lacks critical interrogation, and are overclaimed, often with undeserving zeal. Many creative and expert educators, when encountering some of the online learning design approaches for the first time, quickly reach for the snake oil antidote.    

Finally, the need to move quickly, to ‘just do it’, has fuelled an over simplistic pragmatism for learning to teach online. The proliferation of easy templates and repetitive lists of tips and trickery (for fuller engagement for instance), masquerade as scholarship. For teachers genuinely attending to their overarching educational approach and how to realise it in the lives of their learners, these materials are half baked, half truths, with little purchase over the complexity of classrooms and the synchronous and asynchronous strategies they are being called on to deploy.

The question of substance in Professional Development Programs

Going forward the challenge for teachers producing Professional Development Programs is to build substance and consequence, consciously and demonstrably, into their offerings. In this I am not referring to the ‘substance’ found in many certificate courses hosted by universities (involving chunks of theory the learner must evidence in a project of some kind) nor the ‘substance’ found in many informal, short courses led by industry experts (involving the passing on of the ‘blood knowledge’, hard won from the acrobatics of ‘failing forward’).

Kadenze has found that courses delivering substance and effect have several recurring characteristics. Such courses:

  • model the new pedagogies they advocate; maximising the value of the live and synchronous by their astute use of asynchronous activities
  • are informed by Kadenze’s Technology Enabled Creative Learning (TECL)
  • include real world activities, or powerful simulations of it
  • structure opportunities for collaboration and co-creation 
  • link with participants career expectations for advancement
  • adopt phases of a curriculum development process for structural scaffolding
  • ensure adequate time is allowed for exploration, experimentation, and reflection
  • archive lifelong access to session recordings and resources for participants
  • maintain a solutions orientation for practical engagement rather than abstract conceptual content only
  • save learners’ time by blending serviceable theory with core principles of practice 
  • provide fitting challenges, and support when challenges become confounding
  • keep alive the learner’s ‘need to know’.

Embedding these characteristics in Professional Development Programs doesn’t happen by accident or whim. Course development takes time and thrives in a culture of open-minded critique in the knowledge that it is always a build between the science of learning and art of learning. We know this firsthand having spent months designing and resourcing our own Professional Development Program Renewing Learning Design through Creativity and Technology. This online program, incorporating our Technology Enabled Creative Learning (TECL) framework, commences on May 18 and will be conducted throughout May and June 2021.

In building our own course we have steadfastly refused to feature the snack food of cut-out tips, random thoughts and generic advice, holding instead to the belief that they can never fully nourish transformational professional learning. Such an approach just sucks…alongside bad learning design!  To learn more about Renewing Learning Design through Creativity and Technology or to register for the Program launch & information session click here.