Instructional Design Service Course, Module 1 Reflection

I will use this space to reflect on information explored through the Instructional Design Service Course. This post will contain reflections for Module 1. This post will be edited as I complete Module 1.

Module 1 focuses on understanding the learners we will be designing instruction for. These learners are adults whom have dropped out of primary or secondary education, and dropped back in as adults.

Module 1, Part 1: Meeting Your Learners

This section of Module 1 features three stories of adults who had not finished their secondary education for various reasons, and discussed their desire and drive to gain their GED and beyond to better not only their lives, but the lives of others. In these stories, there are several common threads – life outside of school causing difficulty, distress, or other issues inside school; struggle in life without a completed secondary education (through working multiple jobs to make ends meet, prison, or other issues); and a drive to better their position in life, and those around them, with an emphasis on serving as a role model and mentoring their children, other children, or adults in similar circumstances.

The variety of reasons that caused these learners to not complete their secondary education is much larger than I initially anticipated. While I am familiar with some of the stories (peer pressure, issues at home, limited self-confidence in themselves, etc.), others were foreign ideas to me. Ebony Nava’s story in particular sticks out as something I never considered – parents signing their children up for homeschooling, and never actually providing the schooling. While I fully acknowledge that I have a bias against homeschooling on social-development and ideological grounds, this was not a factor I had ever considered, especially at such a young age (Ebony was taken out at 2nd grade).

The common thread of wanting to escape what they all saw as a desperate situation and working hard to meet their goals is part of the feel-good end story, though it does make me wonder how many attempt to do exactly what these learners have done, and have not been successful.

You can find the videos used as examples below.


Empathetic Design

The course designers for this MOOC have opted to utilize an Empathy Framework developed by Kouprie & Visser (2009) which uses a four-step approach to developing empathy within design (originally used for engineering and designing products, it translates over to instructional design).

Image taken from the MOOC Course, based on Kouprie & Visser, 2009.

Note: Being the person I am, I went and looked up the article the framework was developed from, read it, and started to write, reflect, and provide a small critique. If you want to read it, you can find it below. If you want to skip it, feel free to.

In their article, Kouprie & Visser acknowledge that the ’empathetic’ portion of ’empathetic design’ is necessary, but vaguely defined. The authors do refer to Koskinen and Battarbee (2003) and Battarbee (2004) for a glimpse into what empathy could mean, with a common thread of understanding the end-user, having the designer do their best to place themselves in the end-user’s shoes, and understanding why certain experiences are meaningful for the end-user.

Furthermore, Kouprie & Visser note that empathy is not only an individual static idea – it is something can be trained, changed, and evolved, provided the designers are open and willing. In particular, the authors note:

One designer in a team can have a large influence on the others, by expressing empathic reactions. To develop empathy is an individual act, but by discussing it in a team, the discussion serves as a trigger for others to make more connections, which will lead to increased understanding.

But how can we, as designers, develop empathy for those we are designing instruction for, and in particular, for the learners identified in this course? While I do not have the data in front of me, I would assume that most of the people who design instruction for a living have not been in a similar situation many of the learners we met in Module 1 have been in. As noted in a recent message through the course, 93% of those enrolled in the course have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, and 66% or more a Masters! The authors of this article provide methods: direct observation and communication (research), communicating findings of user studies to design teams (communication), and evoking the experiences of the designer to the user (ideation).

Side note: At this point I find it necessary to think-out-loud that I kinda sorta miss reading academic articles.

Bypassing the discussion on the origins of psychological research on empathy (which is fascinating in it’s own right, but not relevant to this particular post), we return to the four steps indicated in the image above.

It is at this point that I find myself a bit skeptical about the assumptions provided by the authors. While the steps (Discovery, Immersion, Connection, Detachment) do make sense when building empathy, the connecting assumptions make it a little difficult to swallow. In the research, for example, there is a statement that “the designer’s curiosity is raised” and connects that to the designer’s motivation to explore further. One wonders what happens if nothing raises the designer’s curiosity? Does that stop the process of building empathy at the first step? Does there have to be specific curiosity for the designer to continue to build empathy when designing instruction? We also have a statement that the designer should go into the situation open-minded and non-judgmental. This is a good idea in theory, but there are always underlying assumptions, judgments, and biases which exist in the real world. The authors provide no method or suggestion on addressing this. The authors also state that the Immersion step is the most important phase in this process, leading me to think that it would be just as important to think about how to address the inherent and underlying assumptions, judgments, and biases of the designer.

(This ends the boring, scholarly part, back to the course)


Koskinen, I. and Battarbee, K., 2003. Introduction to user experience and         empathic design. In: I. Koskinen, K. Battarbee, and T. Mattelmäki, eds.       Empathic design, user experience in product design. Helsinki: IT Press,               37–50.

Battarbee, K., 2004. Co-experience: understanding user experience in                            social interaction. Doctoral dissertation. Series ILMARI A51, University          of Art and Design Helsinki.

Kouprie & Visser, 2009. A Framework for empathy in design: Stepping into and out of the user’s life. Journal of Engineering Design, 20 (5), October 2009, 437-449.


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