As learning business leaders, much of our work focuses on the design of learning. But if we take that one step further and begin thinking of ourselves as designers of learning environments, we may be able to broaden our influence and have a greater impact on the learning experience.
This is a guiding principle behind the work of Dr. Bucky Dodd, Chief Learning Innovation Officer at the University of Central Oklahoma and Director of the Institute for Learning Environment Design (ILED). His research focuses on innovative instructional design initiatives including the design of learning environments.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa talks with Bucky about Learning Environment Modeling™ (an approach he’s pioneered at ILED), how learning environments impact learning experiences with learning effectiveness, and the changes he sees on the horizon for lifelong and life-wide learning.
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[02:36] – Introduction to Bucky and some background information about his work and ILED.
[04:53] – I know Learning Environment Modeling™ (LEM) is an area of focus for you and kind of the organizing principle behind the work done at ILED. Would you tell listeners what Learning Environment Modeling is, and how it got its start? Bucky talks about how LEM actually started within their university as a way to help people design all sorts of learning experiences, primarily courses. They found that when people began that process they really didn’t have a language to communicate their strategy or design process so they set out to try and fix this. They ended up creating LEM after quite a few years of research and he describes it as a visual strategy and planning system for designing learning experiences.
[06:14] – How long has LEM been in use at this point? Bucky shares that the research of LEM began pre- 2010 and it was used internally for the university for several years. ILED was created about two years ago (2016) as a way to take what was so successful there and share it out to the broadest audience possible. He says most of their work is actually done in adult and continuing education environments.
[06:47] – What’s the difference between “learning design” and “learning environment design”? Bucky explains that learning design is a very common term but when you add the term environment, it emphasizes a very important part that both leaders and designers have in this context. He points out that philosophically, we can’t directly design learning but if you think about this from the idea of an architect who designs a building to support a certain experience, this is the same principle. When we begin thinking of ourselves as designers of learning environments,it actually broadens our responsibilities. Bucky says that in many cases, he’s seen groups and individuals think about learning situations in silos. But if we fail to think about the broader environment, we actually lose a lot of benefit and momentum to help our learners transition and move what they’re learning into practical settings.
[08:58] – Since putting LEM out into the world, what have you learned, and what, if anything, have you changed about LEM as a result of what you’ve learned? Bucky says they’ve learned that people need this—a way to communicate to one another about their learning programs. By taking what’s invisible and making it visible, they are able to help people get really energized and focused around helping others learn. One of the things they continue to see is expanding the suite of tools that LEM is built upon. For example, in it’s very simple form, LEM has a language—the five building blocks of learning environments. But as you expand from that, you can look at how you can use those building blocks but frame it in a way to help people align their curriculum to certain outcomes (i.e. learning goals, revenue goals, performance goals, etc.). Or you might use those same building blocks to help craft a broader strategy around organizational learning. In it’s simple form, it provides the accessibility for people to begin talking about it. But as it grows and as you expand the power of LEM, you can use various tools that help solve some pretty important problems in organizations.
[11:17] – Does LEM work for all types of learning and all types of teams? Or is it geared more to a specific type of learning or organization? Bucky says they’ve actually seen really ubiquitous use of LEM across all sorts of different learning situations. It works wonderfully for the things they typically go to (courses, training programs, online learning). But as they get into other things like marketing campaigns for example, he points out that is also about a learning environment at it’s core. This emphasis on the learning environment really helps them reframe their role as learning leaders/professionals and the role they can provide to the success of their organizations. Celisa mentions the important link between marketing and learning, particularly with content marketing. And Bucky adds that they are helping people expand beyond the idea that information equals learning—that’s a false formula because there are a lot of other things that go into true learning processes. So when thinking about a content marketing initiative for example, Bucky suggests thinking about ways to engage people at a deeper level.
[13:50] – The Institute for Learning Environment Design offers a credential, the Certified Learning Environment Architect (CLEA). And the designation is given to individuals who’ve completed a certification process focused on facilitating learning innovation. What led you to create this designation, and how does it fit with LEM? Bucky explains that LEM is incorporated in the CLEA program. But the real goal of CLEA is to encourage new ways of thinking about designing learning experiences. It goes even further than that to help people look at their own individual tendencies and mindset around learning and helping others around them make that shift too. Much like an architect of a building thinking about the experiences of others and designing environments to support those, CLEA is focused around similar ideas and initiatives.
[15:05] – How long has CLEA been in place? Bucky says it’s relatively new and was born with the institute (so less than two years old). They typically offer it in cycles and they’ve seen really great uptake on it and have certified close to 100 people. And since those people are out there actively working with others helping to transform the learning experiences that are out there, it’s a really interesting, exponential effect.
[15:56] – In your speaking and writing and thinking, you repeatedly stress that “[t]here is an important relationship between learning environments and learning experiences.” What is that relationship? And what’s the relationship of learning environments and learning experiences with learning effectiveness? Bucky explains that when you think of environments, we interact with all different kinds all day and the design of those environments frame and shape our experiences within them. He uses an analogy of walking through a building with really narrow hallways—one path and not a lot of freedom to explore. But if we looked at situations in a new way and allowed adults the ability to explore new ways of learning and things that are exciting to them, it gives us an entirely new way of thinking about the role that environment has in shaping the learning experience.
As far as learning effectiveness, Bucky points out there can be many dimensions to it so when they design environments, one of the building block elements is evidence [of learning]. It’s the idea of how clear they can get around the definition of what effectiveness is for that environment. What they’ve seen is that it’s been a very thoughtful process to create environments that are well designed and well tuned for a certain outcome. So the outcomes around the effectiveness are going to be much greater because first you know what the effectiveness goal is and also because you’re able to work backwards to help support that particular outcome(s). Bucky says the effectiveness is really critical to the design of learning environments and learning experiences but it’s also a dynamic aspect that we have to think very carefully on and always go back to measure to see if the environment is leading to the type of experiences that we intended for.
[21:43] – You’ve argued that as learning technologies have been advancing and evolving, openness has become more prevalent. Would you talk about what you mean by openness in learning environments and what you see as some of the key benefits to openness versus a more closed approach? Bucky says when you think about environments you can have either a closed system or an open system. A closed system could be something where there might be a lot of ideas flourishing about but they’re relatively contained within a certain system. The opposite of that is when you have an open system where there are new ideas, new influences or things that are being incorporated and merged supporting that innovation process.
Bucky says for him this goes back to the idea of who people are as learners. By nature he believes we’re open systems with connection points to all sorts of different things around us that we can learn and be intrigued with and excited about. It’s the idea that if we’re going to be successful at that lifelong, life-wide learning, our environments have to be more on the open side than the closed side. He acknowledges that there are situations where closed learning environments are required, however by thinking about how we can include openness, new ideas, and the use of feedback within environments, he thinks we can unlock some really exciting potentials. Our learning environments have to value diversity and inclusion and when we do that, we actually support the learning innovation process.
[24:17] – If people get on board with openness and they want to embrace it, do you have any suggestions or advice about how an organization might think about either retrofitting existing learning environments, products, and offerings or designing new ones so they really do take advantage of openness? Bucky recommends the first step organizations can do is to understand what they have currently. One process they often guide their partners through is with a diagnostic model, which maps out what they currently do. If the model comes out looking kind of linear, the next question to ask is how might you include new or interesting ideas into it. For example, getting an expert or guest speaker to come in and talk about a particular topic that otherwise may have been delivered by a trainer. This is a simple step to take something that is often contained and begins to incorporate it with new and intriguing ideas. Another way to expand openness would be using technologies that are open and include more external connections to the environment.
[27:16] – What’s on the horizon for learning in general and learning environment design in particular? Are there any big developments or changes you think we’ll see in the next few years, or that you hope we’ll see? Bucky shares it would be around the use and application of data but he wants to go deeper than that. There’s an important thing that really excites him around connecting data with design. We are collecting and analyzing more data than we ever have before but the issues he sees are that we struggle with how to take those insights and move them into a design situation. We have to understand the relationships in the design of learning environments in particular to be able to make those connections.
A lot of the research that they are doing at ILED is really geared around that idea of connecting data and the design process. It’s not only how we measure learning but also how we can measure learning to influence the design and ability to launch future learning experiences that are better and more robust. Bucky says a lot of the critiques that he can see around the use of data in learning are that it’s done after the learning has happened. If you believe that education is more of a transformative process, you have to think more along the lines of what the vision, strategy, and design need to be to help the learners take that next step beyond possibly what you have data for. But we can use data to inform what those trajectories could be.
[29:59] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education? Bucky talks about the experience he’s had with creating, launching and growing ILED.
[32:20] – How to connect with Bucky and/or learn more about LEM or ILED:
[33:20]– Wrap Up
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[35:34] – Sign off
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