Developing a Learner-Centered Mindset (and Applying it in Your Work)

Concurrent Session 8
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

We often don’t involve learners directly in our designs.  You can overcome that by developing a Learner-Centered Mindset. In this session, we will demystify and define what it means to be learner-centered, explore activities for continued mindset growth, and examine strategies to put this new mindset to good use.


Justin Lee is the Innovation Design Lead and Lead Media Designer at Capella University where he partners with school leadership and faculty and the product development teams, acting as a conduit for engaging, effective academic media strategy and direction. With nearly two decades of experience as a graphic and web designer, and as a self-proclaimed experimenter, stretching his creative muscles and trying new things is common place for him. Justin has presented and led numerous innovation workshops, including previous OLC Innovate conferences, MinneWebCon, Games+Learning+Society Conference, and DevLearn.

Additional Authors

Bryan Kujawski is passionate about bringing educators together and innovating ways to improve the teaching and learning experience. With a background in experiential education, Bryan currently serves as a Collaboration and Innovation Specialist at Capella University leading workshops and project team through the Design Thinking approach.

Extended Abstract

Through regular practice and simple activities, you can begin to expand your perspective to better place yourself in the mind of the learner. This is extremely valuable as we often don’t involve learners directly in our designs.

During this session we will demystify what being Learner-Centered means and engage in various activities to develop a Learner-Centered mindset and build empathy with your learners through the use of learner interviews, naturalistic observation, learner journaling, heuristic approach, and other forms of ethnographic research.  In addition to gathering information about your learners, we will examine various methods to strategically apply and synthesize the information collected to help guide decision making and design, for example, empathy mapping, journey mapping, persona building, scenario walk-throughs, role playing, etc.

We know that you don’t work in a bubble, as the nature of today’s work in online higher education is often very collaborative.  We will discuss best practices on how to communicate and advocate for learner-centered design, whether through sharing with a peer, discussing with a team leader, or presenting in front of academic and executive leadership.

Below is the outline describing the progression of the topics that we would like to cover within our presentation. It starts with foundational concepts to get everyone on the same page, transitions into how to develop and sustain your own learner-centered mindset, then adventures into strategically putting your new mindset to use, and finishes with how to engage others by advocating for taking a learner-centered approach in your work.

  • What does the term “Learner-Centered” mean?
    • Compare and contrast to other terms like Human-Centered, User-Centered, and UX, UI, etc.
    • How and where it is used…  Used regularly in innovation, often thought that this is only where it should be used, but can and should be used in everyday work.
    • Demystify it and break it down into easy, achievable activities to develop and continue to hone.  (below)
  • What does it entail having a Learner-Centered mindset?
    • What kind of effort does it require?  How is it different than the mindset I have right now?
    • What is the value?  Why should I do it?
      • What is the return of having a Learner-Centered mindset…
        • For me?
        • For my team/department?
        • For my institution?
        • For the learners? (especially!!)
  • How do I get there?  How do I actually do it? Where do I start?  And how do I continue to develop?
    • How to practice and develop the mindset/skills?
    • Who should I involve in my own mindset development and work?
    • How do I apply this to my work?  Daily work & long term work?
  • How do I talk to others about it?
  • How do I advocate for it in my institution?
  • How do I involve others to get them thinking this way too?
  • What am I already doing that is Learner-Centered?  (ZPD, Andragogy, ARCS model, etc)
  • What opportunities that are around me that I can apply Learner-Centered mindset to?


Presenter Background

Having been in the design and user experience industry for nearly two decades (where having a user-centered mindset is mandatory) Justin Lee has been honing his mindset through on-going practice and activities while bringing others along with him through presenting and facilitating on this topic amongst others (innovation, user experience, creativity, etc).  With over ten years of that design and UX strategy experience coming within the context of online learning, along with a formal education in the field of psychology, Justin brings with him a deep understanding of learning and psychology, as well as, a knack for crafting an expertly design, scaffolded learning experience guised as a presentation.

Building off his graduate work in experiential education, his time leading and teaching youth in the classroom and in a wilderness, and his social entrepreneurship and institutional expertise in design thinking and innovation, Bryan Kujawski is primed to give participants a hands-on experience with these concepts of empathy building and mindset development.  With years of workshop creation and facilitation experience, be prepared to work with others sitting beside you in activities where you will hone and craft actions you can take to: further develop your mindset; test, validate, and build on ideas you have; and see the power of diverse collaboration first hand.


Presentation Intentions

With regard to learner-centered design, we plan on walking the walk and not just talking the talk—we plan on deeply understanding the needs of the attendees, based on our experience in attending previous OLC conferences, through interviews with others in the online learning community, and testing our presentation with others.  We also value the idea of being able to immediately apply the concepts being presented/learned to one’s own real life situation.  We would plan to build a worksheet(s) for the audience to use as they learn and apply the various concepts.  And we know that learning is messy and can sometimes be confusing, so we would look for these clarifying questions to arise during the Q+A, as well as try to answer those nuanced and personalized questions individuals might have regarding applying what they are learning to themselves and their institution.