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The Integration of Learning Design and Public Health

Incorporating harm reduction into universal design.

August 30, 2020
 
 

Public health is emerging as a core expertise of learning design. Harm reduction is now being incorporated into the core principles of universal design.

COVID-19 has forced instructional designers to optimize for health protection alongside student learning.

For some unforeseeable future, colleges and universities will be navigating the twin goals of providing residential learning experiences while protecting the health of students, faculty and staff. Planning for classroom activities now must adhere to guidelines on distancing, masks and density.

Instructional designers and educational developers will need to modify their consulting practices, workshops and asynchronous educational materials to align with COVID-19-driven health requirements.

We are witnessing, perhaps, the birth of a new field of professional practice. This is a new educational profession, one that combines elements of pedagogical and epidemiological theory, data and methods.

What might we call this new field? How about pedo-epi?

Can we imagine a new dual master's program in instructional design and public health? An IDMPH?

Undoubtedly, campus instructional designers are not entirely responsible for ensuring that faculty and students adhere to this new mix of classroom-related COVID-19 best practices.

Instructional designers, and their cousins, the educational developers, collaborate not only with faculty but also with other campus professionals.

Classroom technologists work with campus facilities professionals to map out classroom designs for social distancing. Pedagogical strategies for face-to-face learning are informed by advice from public health and medical experts.

Instructional designers have always worked with partners. Learning design is a collaborative profession.

What is new is that now instructional designers must keep up with both the epidemiological and the pedagogical literature.

Once the instructional designer sat at the nexus between learning and technology, she now works at the confluence of learning and health.

Pound for pound, there are no more critical people in higher ed today than instructional designers. The pandemic has forced those campus organizations that "do learning design" (CTLs, academic computing units, etc.) to scale their services across the institution.

The people who know about how to leverage technologies to enable remote learning have been in great demand.

As students come back to the low-density university, the demand for instructional design expertise will only increase. The difference will be that pedagogical strategies must now account for disease prevention.

An educational approach that works for all learners will now be one that also keeps everyone safe. The new universal design is as much about health as it is about accessibility.

Will COVID-19 permanently change the discipline of instructional design?

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