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The other day I had one of those realizations that come initially as a total surprise, and then on further reflection seem glaringly obvious.

We are in the middle of campus creative renaissance built on learning design.

Our campuses have become places where learning designers and faculty are engaged in creative collaborations around course design.

Learning designers and faculty are collaborating to fundamentally re-think what we mean by a course.  The course itself is being disassembled and re-built along robust theories of learning. New strategies of course design are being empirically tested and revised based on data. Old paradigms and models around teaching and learning are being re-examined. 

Change is in the air.

What factors sparked this campus creative renaissance built on learning design?

1.  The Ubiquity of the LMS:

Technology enhanced courses are no longer the exception. I believe that the near ubiquitous adoption of learning management systems (LMS's) gets too little credit for this development.   Before the LMS, each course was custom designed and hand-coded.  With the LMS, everyone can, at a minimum, distribute course materials online.  The leap from a course on an LMS as a bulletin board to a course that is designed around a narrative structure and active online student collaboration may be conceptually great, but it is now technologically trivial.

It is the LMS that has enabled people who are not fluent in html to build all those blended and online courses.  The demand for blended and online courses may have existed before the LMS, but building and maintaining these courses was prohibitively expensive.   The LMS opened the door for the widespread introduction of learning designers and the growth of blended and online programs.   Where before the LMS a blended or online course was about building web pages, with the LMS the course can be about effective design for learning.   

2.  The Rapid Growth of Fully Online and Blended Courses:

The amazing year-after-year growth in online learning is a well documented story.  In 2002 about 1.6 million students took at least one online course.  By 2011 that number had increased to 6.7 million.  Today, online enrollment constitutes about one-third of total enrollment.  This compares to less than 10% a decade ago.  

What is less remarked upon is that this growth in online enrollment has been paralleled by a growth in all things learning design, including learning designers.   Some faculty were skilled in building these first online courses, but many benefited from the assistance and partnerships of a trained learning designer.  

My experience has been that the introduction of the learning designer often starts with the online course or program, and then migrates into the face-to-face course.  Faculty enjoy working with a team of learning specialists that they demand these services in their on-ground courses.  

All these learning designers and all these faculty having conversations about course design is largely un-remarked upon because it is also largely invisible.   Students don't realize that many brains and hands have contributed to the course that they are taking because the faculty member remains (quite rightly) the face of the course.    But just because these conversations are not visible to the wider campus community does not mean that they are not impactful.   A new way of thinking about teaching and learning in higher ed is being built one conversation at a time.

3.  The Growing Numbers of Trained Instructional Designers:

Can someone supply some numbers about the number of people trained in instructional design that graduate with a masters degree each year?  How these numbers have changed?   The top programs?   Etc. Etc.  I don't have the data for this, (yet - please help us out), but my sense is that there are many more of these people in our midst.  

I am one of those people who has worked as a learning designer without ever formally training in the discipline.  I learned from colleagues, books, conferences, blogs, and experience.  Mostly I learned from people educated as learning designers.

A quick scan of the job sites reveals a good number of listings for instructional and learning designers.  Have you tried to hire a learning designer lately?  The people are in demand!  They are being recruited into traditional higher ed, for-profits, corporate training, publishers, startups and established ed tech companies.    I predict that we will see a steady growth of learning design positions being created throughout higher ed over the past 10 years.   The growth of new models like MOOCs will only accelerate the demand for these folks.

4.  The Power of Learning Theory:

We are all constructivists now.   Cognitive processes have one out over covering the content.   The fact that learning theory has left the cognitive science and education departments and been mainstreamed into all of our work is a development that should get more attention than it does.   Asking how people learn is no longer the sole domain of the brain scientists and the psychologists, we are all now parties to that conversation.

The growth of interest in how people learn has perhaps not quite made it into our mainstream graduate programs.  Getting a PhD is still mostly about becoming a knowledge creator in a narrow sub-discipline.  But I see evidence that this too is also starting to change.  Graduate students take more interest in becoming better teachers, and the growth of teaching and learning centers, and the arrival of learning specialists on campus, have given these graduate students more options to develop teaching as well as reasearch skills.  

On the other end of this trend are tenured faculty taking the time to re-think how they teach, and enlisting the services of those teaching and learning centers and learning designers to help them out.   

Are you having conversations about how people learn on your campus?

Are you collaborating with faculty colleagues on designing new ways to create and run their courses?

Are you part of a campus creative renaissance built on learning design?


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