The mindset of a learning designer

The mindset of a learning designer

While meeting a variety of educators, entrepreneurs, change-makers during MoveMakers learning journey, I have started to ponder WHO is this person, who sets out on a journey to walk away from the conventional into the land of unknowing and creating something new? I have been triggered by the question: What is it I need to learn or unlearn in order to do my work for the world? I have witnessed that learning is a process that you cannot force on anybody, therefore as you create the space for learning you need to do it in a very gentle and humble way. David Bohm, the quantum physicist, has left us with the following thought:  you can influence the field by your intention and way of being. At some point during the learning journey, I became curious – what is this WAY of being that describes a person designing learning experiences? I got curious towards myself – can I develop them in myself to do my work as an educator?

A learning designer is a person who consciously creates meaningful learning experiences with a focus on the learner at the core. A learning designer is always searching for what works to maximise the learning for an individual or a group.

As I listened to the stories of changemakers, some of the essential attributes making a great learning designer stood out. These attributes may be considered as a mindset describing a learning designer in action. Mindset as a philosophy of life is something that everybody can cultivate. As educators we are keen on new tools or methods, but cultivating mindset or your inner quality of being becomes even more important.

Dare to ask questions. Professor Keri Facer from University of Bristol and the author of Learning Futures is emphasising the importance of asking BIG questions right now: What is education for? What does it mean to live well in the world? How do we create a world where the point of life is life? The paradox of the current time is that we don’t really create time to ask these fundamental questions. But asking them is crucial if we want to stay on the edge of constantly learning and designing education that matters.

Follow your curiosity. Maybe that is the ONE and almost ONLY essential element of always being in learning – being curious about oneself, the others and the world around. Following your curiosity is about looking to the world as to an open field, people you meet as a source for inspiration, and your own questions as guiding you closer to possible answers. Curiosity is looking deeper for what you already know while asking what is behind or beyond? Curiosity is looking into the eyes of a learner with the will to know his or her story. You need to stay most curious about yourself – your role in supporting learning, your limits as an educator, your abilities and craft, etc.

Dare to experiment. While designing learning spaces and experiences we are always in the Land of Unknowing. We never really know whether the road we have taken will take us to the desired outcome or whether methods or approaches used will actually support learning. As a designer of learning you could see your work as an endless opportunity to experiment on the playground of learning. But it takes courage to try out new things, invite people to the unknown, or even admit that you don’t know the answer.

Be mindfully critical. The narrative of the need to change education is tremendous and the articles on ‘How to…’, ‘Ten ways to…’, ‘We need innovations…’ are endless. Although the truth is out there, it is becoming more difficult to know what is the ‘right way’ in designing meaningful learning experiences or what the future of education will be. In your quest for answers, it is important, while learning, thinking and acting, to be mindful and critical and explore your assumptions from different perspectives with an open mind. Part of it is your readiness to change your perspectives along the way.

Take compassionately care of yourself. Sometimes we forget ourselves. Being passionate about your work for others may let you drift away from the most important person in the picture – yourself. On our learning journeys we met several pioneers in education, as well as innovators and entrepreneurs. While listening to inspiring stories of making things happen, we also heard about their tiredness, anxiety, and overwork.  We need to take care of our energy and find practices to sustain us, whether spending time in nature, practicing yoga, mindfulness, movement or artwork, etc. Sometimes it also means walking away from the system that is too rigid for you to continue your work.

Probably there are other important essentials as well. Feel free to inquire into these essentials individually or with your colleagues. Although I stated before that curiosity may be the one or only essential, I have changed my perspective already. The most important essential is to dare to always be in learning. As educators we might fall into the trap of ‘knowing, having seen/done that’ mindset. But it is an art to take familiar road with an open mind. So stay curious, ask questions, be critical, dare to experiment, express yourself. Sounds simple enough, but if we meet at your field of work, how do I see you practising them? Really?

Piret Jeedas,

*Longer version of this article will be found soon in our ebook “Making New Moves in Education and Learning”.

* Keri Facer (2011) Learning futures. Education, Technology and Social Change. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.