When it comes to developing online content we need to take a lesson from the construction industry. Building online content is much like the construction field, pulling raw materials together forming a functional living space with all the necessary requirements (e.g. electricity, plumbing). For teachers who create or curate content the same basic principles apply – pulling raw materials together forming a functional learning space with all the necessary requirements (e.g. standards, assessments).
Yet, all too often we see teachers think more like interior designers, who come in after the framework and essential elements are in place and attempt to make the room beautiful by selecting decorative items, such as colors, lighting, and artwork. Like the interior designer who dresses up a single room at a time, many teachers start with a single lesson, without looking at the entire online learning environment.
Like the construction worker, teachers need a blueprint of the end product before picking up the hammer and nails. Starting with the end in mind, seeing the entire layout, is much like backward design – beginning with what you want the students to know and be able to do. We understand that picking out the photos and colors of a digital lesson plan are fun and interesting, but if you don’t have a foundation to hang the lesson on, it is doomed to fail – no matter how pretty it may look. Especially as students move within the online environment where the format, styles, and expectations continue to change thus creating a huge cognitive load.
Digital content creation starts with the big picture, breaking this further into units or chapters of learning, and finally into bite size lessons. Designing a quality online learning environment can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be if you use basic design principles.
The concept of universal design emerged from the architectural field. This same concept can be seen popping up in the education field and most definitely should be applied when it comes to developing online content for digital learning environments. The term “universal design” was defined by architects and others as the design of products and environments usable by all people. The idea is to create products and environments that maximize usability and accessibility.
One idea we can take from universal design is the use of consistent icons throughout lessons, across grade levels, no matter the subject area. If a student sees a pen and writing pad icon in math and knows that means it’s time to take notes, then sees the same pen and writing pad icon in social studies he will immediately know what to do.
Join us in the content designer series to learn more about creating high quality digital learning environments and build your students a mansion they will want to learn in.