Have you ever wondered where those tiny handles come from on some maple syrup bottles? The ones that are too little for most fingers that are strong enough to lift the bottle? This is a specific example of a skeuomorph – something that retains design elements from structures that were only necessary in the original design. Recently I read a random article about maple syrup bottles that reminded me of this word, and made me think how we have so many of these in ed tech.

Many LMSs are full of skeuomorphs. The LMS itself might be in danger of becoming a skeuomorph. We have tools online that host content much better. We have better tools for facilitating interaction. We certainly have tools that are more ADA compliant. We have better tools for creating social presence. We have better methods for protecting privacy online. And so on.

Of course, what might be a skeuomorph to one may not be a skeuomorph to another. Those that have some experience in a topic might find a linear instructivist path through course content to be a skeuomorphic design paradigm that hinders their ability to determine their own learning. A person that is new to the topic might find it a perfect fit.

Maybe I am stretching the analogy of skeuomorphs in Ed Tech a bit too far. But the reason I love the dual layer design that we have been working on with various LINK lab MOOCs is that it allows those that need certain design elements to still utilize them, while others that find them to be left over design structures from when they needed more instructivism (and now don’t) can skip them and dig into a more relevant learning designs.

The problem with our first stab at the dual-layer model was that the interface was too complex and difficult for many participants to find what they needed in the moment. So the next set of MOOCs to utilize a dual-layer design will focus on simplification of that user interface. What is needed is a system that will direct learners who need guidance and instruction to that instruction, while those that already know the content to some degree – who might find an instructivist path to be skeuomorphic – are led to the more connectivist, sense-making, chaotic side.

On one level – this is pretty easy. Find a clean, minimalist WordPress theme, remove a few elements that still might be distracting, and set it to only display the most recent post. That post will contain the basic outline of what needs to be accomplished that week, links to the the place where the two layers will occur, and links to previous posts for those that are behind. The other level that is more difficult is working behind the scenes to make sure that all of the tools that support the various layers integrate in a seamless way for a smooth end user experience. Well, not necessarily difficult as much as time consuming to map out logically and then program. Anyone that knows programming knows that is can happen as long as the tools that are used are willing to co-operate (and many are).

Looking at the graphic used in the previous dual-layer DALMOOC, this simplified interface would be in place of the “Main Weekly Email” at the top. There would also need to be some work to make sure that all of the tools in the rest of the diagram work seamlessly. This structure would probably also mean running a lot of the main registration and log-ins through this simplified interface (which may or may not be okay with some entities involved). Instructional design would also need some tweaking to make sure that the design also flows smoothly.

edugeek-journal-avatarThe basic idea is to simplify the end user experience as much as possible to let each participant decide how much complexity to add, what path to take, what is skeuomorphic to them in their context, and how to connect with others in the course.

(image credit: Sara Karges, obtained from freeimages.com)

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *