Teachers as Architects of Learning: Comparing Expertise with Learning Designers
Are you a teacher considering a career shift into the world of learning design? You're not alone. Many educators find that their skills and expertise in creating engaging learning experiences translate well into the field of learning design. While transitioning from teaching to learning design involves more than just a title change, teachers possess immense potential to excel in this new role, thanks to the many commonalities shared between the two professions. In this blog post, we will discuss how your experience in needs analysis, setting goals, lesson design, and evaluation as a teacher can provide a strong foundation for a successful career in learning design. We'll also explore the key differences between the two fields and offer insights into the unique opportunities and challenges you may face during this exciting transition. So, if you're a teacher eager to embrace the world of learning design, join us as we uncover the reasons why educators like you are well-prepared to make a significant impact in this growing field.
Note: This is one of the longest articles I've written. Why? Because this topic is very close to me due to my experience of working with young and adult learners in different contexts. Starting as a teacher, I believed that the difference was just the title. I mean, experts in both domains share a common goal of creating meaningful and engaging learning experiences. But is it really just a title that's different?
Process of Creating and Delivering Learning Experiences
Experts in the fields of education and learning design both aim to create meaningful and effective learning experiences for diverse groups of learners by following these steps :
Keep reading to delve into the similarities and differences between teachers and learning designers, focusing on the most common phases in the process of designing learning experiences. By understanding the unique contributions and perspectives of both professions, we can foster collaboration, enhance the learning experience, and ultimately improve outcomes for all learners.
The first step in creating valuable learning experiences is identifying WHAT learners need. Learning designers and teachers both conduct needs analysis to identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for learners to achieve specific learning outcomes. Although they share some common objectives and techniques, their roles and responsibilities often result in differences in their approach to needs analysis.
- Identify learning needs: Both learning designers and teachers aim to identify the gaps in learners' knowledge, skills, and abilities that need to be addressed through the learning experience.
- Involve stakeholders: Collaboration with stakeholders is essential for identifying the needs of learners. Depending on the position, these stakeholders could be learners, managers, parents, subject matter experts, and administrators.
- Use diverse data sources: Both learning designers and teachers may use various data sources, including initial testing, surveys, interviews, focus groups, observations, and performance data, to gather information about learners and their needs.
- Scope of analysis: Learning designers often focus on designing learning experiences for a broader audience or an organisation, while teachers generally focus on the specific needs of their students in a classroom setting.
- Familiarity with learners: Teachers often have more direct and ongoing interaction with their learners, allowing them to gain deeper insights into individual needs, learning preferences, and progress. In contrast, learning designers may need to rely more on data collected through various methods and input from other stakeholders.
- Focus on instructional design principles: Learning designers are more likely to apply instructional design principles and methodologies, such as ADDIE or SAM, to guide their needs analysis process. Teachers may be more focused on pedagogical theories and practices to inform their approach to identifying learning needs.
While there are similarities and differences in how learning designers and teachers conduct needs analysis, both groups share the ultimate goal of creating effective and engaging learning experiences that address the needs of their learners.
Setting Goals and Objectives
Both teachers and learning designers set learning objectives to guide the learning process, define expectations, and measure learner progress. While they share some common goals and principles, their roles, contexts, and approaches can result in differences in how they set learning objectives.
- Alignment with outcomes: Both teachers and learning designers aim to create learning objectives that align with the desired learning outcomes, ensuring that the objectives effectively guide learners towards the intended goals. These desired outcomes may come from a curriculum set by the district or school, or company that needs L&D training.
- Specific, measurable, and attainable objectives: Teachers and learning designers strive to create learning objectives that are specific, measurable, and attainable, providing clear expectations for learners and enabling accurate assessment of progress. How to set these SMART goals? Read here.
- Relevance to learners: Both professionals consider the relevance of the learning objectives to the learners, ensuring that the objectives address learners' needs, interests, and context.
- Context: learning designers may work in various contexts, such as corporate training, e-learning, or curriculum development. Teachers typically operate within the educational context, setting learning objectives within the scope of a specific subject, grade level, or curriculum.
- Young and adult learners: Teachers usually work with children or adolescents and tend to focus on pedagogical theories and practices. Learning designers, especially those working in adult learning or corporate training, may emphasise andragogical principles (1), which focus on adult learning. Read more about the differences between young and adult learners in the last paragraph.
- Collaboration with stakeholders: learning designers often collaborate with multiple stakeholders, such as subject matter experts, managers, and administrators, to set learning objectives that align with organisational goals. Teachers may have more autonomy in setting learning objectives but still need to align them with curriculum standards and guidelines, include parents, school principals, and other educational experts.
- Iterative design process: learning designers generally follow a systematic and iterative instructional design process, such as ADDIE or SAM, to set learning objectives as part of the overall design. Teachers may follow a more fluid process that considers their ongoing interactions with learners and the dynamic nature of the classroom environment.
Despite these differences, both teachers and learning designers ultimately aim to create effective and engaging learning experiences by setting clear, relevant, and achievable learning objectives.
Designing and Delivering Learning Experiences
Properly designed and delivered lessons contribute to a supportive, inclusive, and motivating learning environment that encourages learners to take risks, ask questions, and actively participate in their own learning process. This helps learners achieve the desired learning objectives, resulting in increased academic performance, skill development, and overall satisfaction with the learning experience.
- Focus on learners: Both teachers and learning designers centre their lesson designs around the needs, interests, and preferences of the learners to create engaging and relevant learning experiences.
- Alignment with objectives: Both professionals design lessons that align with the established learning objectives, ensuring that the content and activities effectively guide learners towards the intended outcomes.
- Use of instructional strategies: Teachers and instructional designers employ a variety of instructional strategies and teaching methods, such as direct instruction, inquiry-based learning, microlearning, collaborative learning, challenge-based, and problem-based learning, to support diverse learning styles and promote deep understanding.
- Young and adult learners: Young and adult learners require different teaching and training approaches and activities. Although some can be used in both contexts, e.g. role-play, quizzes, games, simulations, etc., these activities have to be adjusted to different learners. Teachers often focus on pedagogical theories and practices suitable for children or adolescents. At the same time, learning designers, especially those working in adult learning or corporate training, may emphasise andragogical principles related to adult learning.
- Flexibility and adaptation: Teachers, due to their direct interaction with learners, may need to be more flexible and adaptive in their lesson designs, making real-time adjustments based on learner responses and classroom dynamics. learning designers might have less immediate feedback and rely on evaluation data and stakeholder input to make revisions.
- Use of technology: learning designers, particularly those working in e-learning or blended learning contexts, may place greater emphasis on leveraging technology to deliver content and facilitate learning. Teachers also use technology in their lesson designs but may need to balance it with traditional face-to-face instructional methods.
Teachers and learning designers both evaluate the effectiveness of the learning process and gather insights for continuous improvement. While they share some common objectives and techniques, their roles, contexts, and approaches can result in differences in evaluating learners' experiences.
- Use of assessment: Both teachers and learning designers use formative and summative assessments to measure learner progress, provide feedback, and evaluate the achievement of learning objectives. Here are two examples:
Formative Assessment: Exit Tickets
At the end of a class, a teacher might ask students to complete an "exit ticket," which is a brief written response to a question or prompt related to the day's lesson. This allows the teacher to gauge students' understanding of the material, identify misconceptions, and inform future instruction.
Summative Assessment: End-of-Unit Exam
A teacher may administer an end-of-unit exam that covers all the key concepts and skills taught during a specific unit. This exam measures students' overall mastery of the material and comprehensively evaluates their learning in that subject area.
- Learning Designers:
Formative Assessment: Online Discussion Forums
In an e-learning or blended learning course, a learning designer might use online discussion forums as a formative assessment tool. Learners can participate in discussions, share their thoughts, ask questions, and collaborate with peers. The learning designer or facilitator can monitor the discussions, provide feedback, and gain insights into learners' understanding and engagement with the content.
Summative Assessment: Final Project
In a corporate training or adult education program, a learning designer might require learners to complete a final project demonstrating their ability to apply the knowledge and skills they have acquired throughout the course. The project could be a presentation, a report, or another work-related deliverable that showcases their mastery of the course content and its practical application.
2. Feedback collection: Both professionals gather feedback from learners through different methods that might include drawings, ratings, surveys, interviews, focus groups, or open-ended questions to gain insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the learning experience.
3. Data-driven decision-making: Both teachers and learning designers analyse evaluation data to inform revisions and improvements to the learning design, content, and delivery methods.
- Role in implementation: Teachers are directly involved in implementing and facilitating the lessons they design, allowing them to observe and assess learner experiences in real time. Learning designers may have limited direct contact with learners and rely more on data collected through various methods and input from other stakeholders, such as trainers or facilitators.
- Long-term impact: Learning designers, particularly those working in corporate training, may place greater emphasis on evaluating the long-term impact of the learning experience on organisational goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). Teachers may focus more on the immediate learning outcomes and the development of learners' knowledge, skills, and abilities within the educational context.
- Flexibility and adaptation: Teachers, due to their ongoing interaction with learners, may make real-time adjustments to the learning experience based on learner responses and classroom dynamics, which can influence their evaluation process. learning designers might have less immediate feedback and may need to rely on evaluation data collected over a longer period to make revisions.
Young and Adult Learners
The age of learners is a critical factor that influences the approach and methods used by both teachers and learning designers in creating effective learning experiences. Identifying needs, setting goals and objectives, designing and delivering lessons and courses, and evaluating learner experiences are different for teachers and learning designers due to the diverse developmental stages, life experiences, and needs of their learners. Here are some main differences between young and adult learners:
- Cognitive development: Young learners are still in the process of developing their cognitive abilities, including memory, attention, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. Adult learners typically have more developed cognitive skills and can process information more efficiently, enabling them to think critically and make connections between new and existing knowledge.
- Motivation: Young learners are often extrinsically motivated, relying on external factors such as grades, praise, or approval from parents and teachers. Adult learners tend to be more intrinsically motivated, seeking personal growth, self-improvement, or career advancement as their primary reasons for learning.
- Self-direction: Adult learners are generally more self-directed and autonomous in their learning, taking responsibility for their own educational goals, learning strategies, and progress. Young learners often rely on guidance and structure from teachers, parents, or other authority figures to help them navigate the learning process.
- Prior knowledge and experience: Adult learners bring a wealth of prior knowledge and life experiences to the learning process, which they can draw upon to make connections and better understand new concepts. Young learners have less prior knowledge and experience, making them more reliant on guidance and support from their educators.
- Practical application: Adult learners often seek learning opportunities that have immediate practical applications in their personal or professional lives. They tend to prefer problem-solving, hands-on activities, and real-world examples that demonstrate the relevance of the learning material. Young learners may not have the same need or ability to connect their learning to practical situations, often focusing more on foundational knowledge and skill development.
Understanding these differences between young and adult learners can help educators and learning designers develop more effective and engaging learning experiences tailored to the specific needs, preferences, and characteristics of each group.
In conclusion, although teachers and learning designers share a common goal of creating meaningful and engaging learning experiences, their roles, contexts, and methods can differ significantly. Teachers typically work with young learners, focusing on foundational knowledge and cognitive development, while learning designers cater to adult learners, emphasising practical application and job-related skills. Despite these differences, the two domains are closely related, as both require a deep understanding of learning theories and the unique needs of their learners. It is important to recognise that the title of "learning designer" is not merely a fancy name for a teacher, but rather a distinct profession with its own set of challenges and opportunities. However, teachers should not be overlooked for such positions, as their expertise and experience in designing effective learning experiences can be invaluable assets to any organisation striving to create impactful learning environments for a diverse range of learners.
Suggested reading on the topic:
(1) The concept of andragogy is mostly used to describe and inform the practice of adult learning and education. You can read more about the use of this term in: Loeng, S. (2018). Various ways of understanding the concept of andragogy, Cogent Education, 5(1), 1496643, DOI: 10.1080/2331186X.2018.1496643