Boldly Awakening The Ordinary (4.0): Designing For Human-Centered Learning

Pre-Conference Workshop Session 2
Streamed Session

Brief Abstract

In this DIY-style workshop, you’ll explore the deep connections that digital learning has to design theory. Much more than a sit-and-get session, presenters will introduce open-source (free!) tools and the collective genius in the room to reimagine and redesign learning materials, processes, experiences and even systems. Come explore fundamental design considerations you can use to create engaging learning experiences, and get a treasure trove of resources and tools to take home!


Virtual pre-conference workshops (Friday, March 12) can be added to your conference registration at a price of $125 for one or $220 for a two workshop combo deal.

Add to my Registration


It turns out a bunch of nomadic-yet-related experiences and some determination to overcome imposter syndrome and some bourbon with friends make for an interesting life and career path. Ben is the Lead Design Strategist in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, where he and his team are partnering with local community schools and organizations to reimagine and redesign K12 education. A veteran K12 educator and higher ed instructional designer, Ben is fascinated with what happens when smart and curious people get in a room and work really hard at thinking about and taking the next step toward what could be - and trying to make that happen more.
Adam Croom is a faculty member in the Strategic Communication area of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Croom also serves the university in a separate capacity as the Director of the Office of Digital Learning. Croom completed his Masters at Pepperdine University where he studied education and learning technologies. His research focused on networked approaches to online learning in public relations design courses.
Angela Gunder is the Chief Academic Officer and VP of Learning for the Online Learning Consortium. In this role, she is responsible for gathering, curating, and leveraging the intellectual capital created by and disseminated through OLC. Prior to her position at the OLC, Angela served as the Director of Instructional Design & Curriculum Development for the Office of Digital Learning, managing and mentoring the team that builds the fully-online programs for The University of Arizona. Her over fifteen-year career as a designer for higher education informs her instructional design practice, where she leverages her expertise in web design, usability, visual communication, programming, and standards-based online learning. She is an Associate Editor for the Teacher Education Board of MERLOT, and the recipient of the 2018 MERLOT Distinguished Service Award, the organization’s highest honor. She is also the recipient of two Online Learning Consortium Effective Practice Awards for the creation of a framework for personal learning networks, and for the creation of exploratory installations of education technology, respectively. In 2019, Dr. Gunder was named an OLC Fellow for her dedication to service, innovation, and scholarship in support of student success in online learning. Her research interests include open educational practices, digital literacies, narrative in online course design, and emerging technology for second language acquisition. She holds a B.S. in Computer Science and Fine Art from Fordham University, a M.Ed. in Education Technology from Arizona State University. Angela completed her Ph.D. in Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies at The University of Arizona, where in 2020 she was named an Erasmus Scholar by the College of Education for her commitment to the college, the university and to the community. Pronouns: she/her/hers

Extended Abstract

Design can be difficult to pin down. After all, has many definitions and is at work in countless domains of human activity. But at heart, we believe that the core of design is the praxis of human inquiry and action toward creating something better. As nobel laureate Herbert Simon (1969) famously wrote, “everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” For those of us who are educators, then, we must consider ourselves designers - be it service of expanding learning opportunities, advocating for student equity and voice, or to scale an online program nationally or internationally. 

When we think about how we design across the various within education spaces we inhabit , whether for a course we lead or as a module inside a comprehensive online program, we face a plethora of choices, challenges, and constraints. What information do we want to convey? What do we want students to learn and do with what we create? How do we want them to react or feel? How do we get them to engage with and wrestle with and synthesize the concepts and ideas and prompts in the ways we plan? And how do we do all of that within the constraints of the available tools and capabilities we have?

We have a few answers, but mostly some provocations that we think will provoke you, too. And, perhaps more importantly: we have each other! And we want to share this with you in this come-as-you are workshop on design for human-centered learning.

Japanese designer and theorist Kenya Hara (2007) has offered that design “is the energetic acknowledgement of our own living through the making of things and through communication,” where our making can be understood as our attempt to “boldly awaken our everyday existences, which seem ordinary” (p. 411). From an educator’s lens, we see Hara’s words as a challenge to enliven our intentional acts of design, and to push learners to see beyond the mere directives of a syllabus, the interface of the LMS, or the text of the presentation slides. Rather, we are compelled to awaken new experiences, connections, and possibilities for their own learning, and ultimately, for their own lives.

Building on this, design has important implications far beyond attempting to make things aesthetically pleasing or fancy, particularly for educational contexts and learning experiences. For example, the way a course looks or even feels can impact how people engage with it as a part of their everyday. Embracing teaching and learning from a design perspective (or even just honing in on a few elements of visual design) offers rich possibilities for engaging students and helping to make the often implicit elements of a course more explicit, and thus more effective for teaching and learning. And because this work happens in and through our everyday existences, as Hara suggests, we face real constraints: most faculty have enough to do beyond worrying about how to hire or find a graphic designer to create professional designs for their courses. Moreover, few institutions have support staff in place to scale branding and design for every instructor and/or every course. Even so, instructors who aren't design professionals can still create unique and engaging learning content, DIY-style. 

Now in its fourth iteration as an OLC workshop, we'll spend most of our time in this session doing hands-on work to help you practice and play with building good design principles and practical design elements. Bring your own materials to work on, or use some of the prepared materials we have provided! We'll also unpack some of the research supporting visual design considerations for learning, as well as share a plethora of our favorite open resources for visual design!


Hara, K. (2007). Designing Design. Baden, Switzerland: Lars Muller.

Simon, H. A. (1969). The sciences of the artificial (1st ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.