Thoughts on Designing a Lesson

For the past 3 three weeks we’ve been busy creating sample lessons in a preferred LMS and I have to say it was more time consuming than I had planned. I wanted to start developing a couple of courses that I’ve been bouncing around in the idea stage for quite a while, so I picked one topic and went with it.  While content was plentiful, the backwards design process was what slowed me down and added hours of storyboarding, planning and thinking about what the whole course would look like vs. just one part of it.  Here were some challenges I encountered.

Challenge 1: It’s hard to design a course around just one lesson.

I am a planner and love the process of ideation. Asking “why create this course?” Then sketch out the mock-ups, take-down, mock-up again, step back and look, then dive in again to change this objective or that activity to line up with the ultimate goals of the course.  And then finding resources to reinforce the concepts. The course framework doesn’t have to be all there for me to create a lesson from it, but it does have to exist and it does have to have solid objectives for each lesson to feed into.  So a great deal of the time spent in creation of this single lesson assignment went into framing the whole design of the course and making sure the objectives, activities and content were going to support the overall purpose of the course.

Challenge 2: It’s not just about the content.

On top of the course content planning, there’s the user experience planning, especially for an online course. Hybrid, web-enhanced or fully online? Doesn’t matter. The online portion of the course and how it is delivered is analogous to the helpful routines of classroom management, or the little work areas set aside in the physical classroom to have group work and discussions or creative time.  I try to design an online environment that is visually clean and easy to understand and navigate, with little routines that are consistent and simple for students to pick up and repeat each week.

Challenge 3: It’s a little bit different every time.

I wish I had enough instructional design hours under my belt ( 10,000 hours would be nice) to say that I have a tried and true system that works without fail. But I’m not there yet.  It seems like I’m still trying to find my stride as far as what works for me as a designer. So I am still experimenting with various methods for creating a course from scratch. It is tremendously valuable to have the access to the sample courses others have put together in my grad classes. I steal ideas all the time and I can see their methods of thinking and designing in the final course lessons they produce.

We don’t do enough of this kind of sharing in academia and I’m fortunate that I’m taking courses where we have the opportunity to openly create, evaluate, critique and discuss each other’s work.  In the real world, the barriers go up and faculty course design and implementation gets hidden from view – maybe due to fear of criticism and lack of trust or just plain thinking the design of the course doesn’t matter.

It All Starts Out as An Idea

What is a course anyway? It starts out as an idea, really. It’s someone’s idea about how best to explain something to someone else. And if you plan it and execute it really well, your students benefit from that planning and come away from the experience with new knowledge and hopefully some passion for learning more on their own. So how do you get better at designing that kind of experience? I used to think it just comes out of the blue, or that some people just have the knack for creating this. But now I know better and I know it is a skill I can practice to get better at.

I take away from this design assignment the thought that I should be doing more mini-course lesson planning projects. It may be a course that is never taught or it may become part of a larger course, but I need to be practicing my ID skills, working on streamlining the creation process and always watching for better ideas for how plan, create and implement instruction.  Two of my favorite blogs when it comes to inspiration for creating, planning and implementing  ideas are 99u and IDEO. They both look at the world as one big pot of problems needing creative solutions. And then they go about designing solutions to the problems. Doesn’t matter how big or small the problem is, it deserves a creative solution. I go to both of these blogs when I need reminding that creative solutions are the result of a design process, not a bolt of lightning from the sky.