Art & Creativity
Culture & Community
Education & Training
Media & Communication
Mind & Body
People & Life
Philosophy & Wisdom
Science & Nature
Soul & Spirit
Trade & Commerce
Work & Career


Web This Site


creative commons.png
Creative Commons 2.5

Design: The Object of Design vs. The Source of Design

The verb design means to plan and make something for an intended use. The source of design refers us to the origin and/or originator; the object of design refers us to the intended use and/or user. What is essential to understand with respect to learning is whether people are being treated as the object of design or as a source of design. Education via curriculum [see Curriculum: The Design of the Prerequisite] and instructional design [see Instructional Design: The Propagation of Curriculum] position the student and teacher as the object of design; learning by default means that each of us is a source of design...

Design will quickly progress from an essentially reactive to a gradually more proactive stage. New technologies should become the object of design, rather than being the source of design. Design will find more rewarding fields in exploring patterns of interfacing than in the production of objects. ...The main role of the artist or designer in the context of unlimited power and access is to probe history, natural and social - to cull guidelines from mankind's more suceesful experiments in living.
- Derrick de Kerckhove called The Skin of Culture: Investigating The New Electronic Reality

Education: People Are The Objects Of Design

The basic assumption in educational design is that students and teachers are the object of design, not the source. The plan of this design is called curriculum. Inside the curriculum are prerequisite typologies of knowledge and skill that students are to acquire. The origin of curriculum is something external to the student and very often they are left completely unaware of it. The authentic everyday experiences of the student are often ignored. The agent of curriculum is called instructional design - or the ways and means by which the curriculum is delivered to students.

The underlying proposition in the communication of curriculum via instructional design is that there is prerequisite knowledge and skill that students need to acquire. Further, an unproven assumption exists that curriculum and instructional design are the most effective means to transmit predetermined knowledge and skill to others. In other words, design in education is fundamentally a system of mass communication.

This leads us to the design proposition that education is mass communication. From this perspective we would identify the systems of authority that create and enforce curriculum and instructional design as being the source of design, and students and teachers as being the object of design. A number of metaphors such as the assembly line or the empty glass have been used to characterize this process.

Design and Educational Innovation

An innovation is "the implementation of a new or significantly improved idea, good, service, process or practice which is intended to be useful." Of course, what constitutes "new" or "significantly improved" is the critical issue. When we renovate something we fundamentally alter the underlying sturcture in some manner. When we redecorate something we may change its appearance but not its underlying structure. Redecoration often parades itself as innovation.

If we are to create fundamental innovation in education then designers will focus on changing the underlying assumptions it is built on. This means that they first have to know what they are [see Curriculum: The Design of the Prerequisite]. For example, if the underlying structure of education is mass communication, then an innovative designer will challenge that assumption and seek a new alternative. They will not be concerned with adding a different colour of paint.

The basic question asked by this type of designer is, "If education is not a form of mass communication then what is it?" This kind of question relieves the designer from the burden of existing practices in curriculum and instructional in order to plan and make something innovative. However, it also places the designer in direct conflict with the existing system of authority that has entrenched existing practices, careers and job titles.

Innovation in education demands that the object and source of design be challenged. Many theories of education have had this basic question at their core. But is far easier to develop a theory than it is to implement a practice that challenges the exisiting status quo. Innovation in education has, for too long, meant changing the colours on the wall, but not improving the foundation it is built upon.

E-Learning: An Electronic Decoration

Our experiments with e-Learning are a reflection of the difficulty we have in changing the underlying structure of education and training in any meaningful way. The phenomenon of learning is something distinctly human, not technological, yet we assume that the letter "e" can be attached to learning.

In many ways, e-Learning has magnified the fundamental problems of curriculum and instructional design. In other words, e-Learning is simply a somewhat sterile and banal electronic extension of education that most people tire of quite quickly. The underlying assumption in e-Learning remains the student as the object of design and this orientation does not reflect the valuable insight made by Derrick de Kerckhove above that new technologies should be the object of design, not the source. In other words, e-Learning designers simply do not understand the underlying problem.

Interactivity: An Essential Tension

Of course, we can not be too literal in isolating the object and source of design. There is a constant interplay or interaction between the two. And perhaps it is here that fertile soil exists for creative design.

The Connected Intelligence Program represents an example of creative design aimed at challenging the idea of education as mass communication. In one sense, the new assumption being made was that education is a form of massive interactivity. If there was a curriculum, it had little reference to our traditional understanding of it. Instead of predetermined knowledge and skills, the Connected Intelligence curriculum focused people's activities on building connections, relationships, associations and partnerships locally, nationally and globally. Knowedge and skills, still important were constantly evolving and considered to be by-products of underlying design. In other words, knowledge and skills were emergent and in constant motion.

Of course, this presented quite a shock to the education bureaucracy. Accepted understandings of the traditional roles and activities associated with education were brought into question. In other words, the authority of traditional education was brought into question, not in a demeaning manner, but certainly in a manner to question its validity. Without this design element, innovation is not possible.

Design and Experience

The relationship between design and experience is an important one. Design in some way alters the experiences people have. In addition, the experiences that people have will in turn affect the underlying design so that growth takes place. This means that an effective design is responsive to the people using it. There is a constant interaction between the two so that, unlike education, it becomes entirely impossible to deliver the same knowledge in the same course to a similar audience one year later. Further, it would be entirely impossible to predetermine knowledge and skill requirements, unless those knowledge and skill requirements embraced the idea that both knowledge and skill are forms of communication that are in constant motion.

It is through interaction and motion that design begins to embrace an essential element of learning, and that essential element is uncertainty. In all learning there is an element of the unknown, the unexpected, and the mysterious. One of the greatest mistakes in curriculum and instructional design is the attempt to sterilze experience from the uncertain, to promote answers at the expense of the right questions, and to embrace routine and repetition at the expense of creativity and imagination.

Until designers challenge the underlying assumptions in education little will change in any meaningful way. Educational theories are of little utility and there are too many now in any case. To turn education into the object of design means the people experiencing the practical everyday reality of it must become the source. And to achieve this in education, the designer has no choice but to challenge the underlying system of authority that has entrenched the assumption that education is mass communication.


  • Wikipedia: Design
  • Wordnet: Design

Related Entries

Theme: Media & Communication | (Jan 3/05) | Home | About | References | Site Index | Other Features | feed2.png |

Bookmark: | Connotea | Delicious | Digg | Furl | Y! MyWeb |


Recent Entries

Note: Comments on all entries are closed after two weeks to prevent comment spam. You can e-mail your comment on any entry to . Please be sure to specify which entry your comment references. I will also consider suggestions for future entries. Your feedback is welcome.

Theme: Media & Communication | (Jan 3/05) | Home | About | References | Site Index | Other Features | feed2.png |

Copyright: Creative Commons 2.5