“A design pattern describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice” (Alexander et al., 1977). In the field of e-learning, design patterns are frequently advocated as a powerful way of providing structured, teacher-friendly, textual representations of learning designs, or of expressing the design rationale underlying learning objects. The purpose of this chapter is to look at e-learning design patterns from a critical perspective. We provide a historical, multidisciplinary excursus of the notion of design patterns. We propose a taxonomy of e-learning design patterns, providing examples in the various categories. Finally, we discuss both the benefits of design patterns for e-learning professionals (particularly, novice ones) and their drawbacks, and investigate how such pros and cons may affect the role of patterns for learning designs.
Designing effective technology-enhanced learning environments in an efficient and affordable way is a demanding task, which requires creativity and a significant amount of expertise (Goodyear, 2002). People new to e-learning design need advice from experts, experienced peers, and users to avoid investing a large amount of resources in “reinventing the wheel” or in creating solutions that may yield an educationally ineffective result.
E-learning design experience is often shared informally in the every day language of teaching practice, or through published research and evaluation studies, or even through sets of action-oriented guidelines. A number of initiatives have been launched in the last decade to foster exchange of experiences and to help instructional designers reuse effective learning design solutions. Among them, a remarkable one is the Australian University Teaching Committee (AUTC) Project. This initiative was set up in an attempt to collect and share generic/reusable learning design resources in order to assist instructional designers, teachers, or academics to create high quality, flexible learning experiences for students (http://www.learningdesigns.uow.edu.au/).
While the existing definitions of “learning design” vary, the main common elements comprise a focus on “context” dimensions of e-learning (rather than simply “content”), an “activity”-based view of e-learning, greater recognition of the role of “multilearner” (rather than just single learner) environments, and an attempt to make the design solutions related to all the above aspects easily reusable. In order to standardize the description of learning designs, the IMS Learning Design specification (IMS LD) has been proposed (IMS LD, 2003). Rather than attempting to capture the specificities of the various pedagogical strategies, IMS LD provides a notation to describe a “metamodel” of instructional design; it offers educators a generic and flexible machine readable language to specify the design of online and off-line activities that involve interaction between learners and learning resources, learners and other learners, as well as learners and teachers. IMS LD gives more emphasis on instructional design as a “product” than on the “process” of developing educational design solutions that has evolved out of the (positive or negative) experience of a number of designers. This may imply that one who reuses an IMS LD artifact might not easily grasp its rationale and perspective. In addition, IMS LD is mainly shaped to foster the collaboration between experienced instructional designers and professionals who may need to repurpose the design specifications As such, it is less appropriate to leverage the exchange of knowledge, practices, and expertise between educational experts and novices.
Instructional designers may need new ways of sharing and transmitting to novices their instructional “philosophy” and their pragmatic approaches, which consist of how their e-learning experiences are designed, built, and associated to the specificities of the subject matter, the environmental context, the human actors, the educational strategies, and the available learning resources and tools (Laurillard, 2002). For this purpose, an important contribution can be offered by e-learning design patterns, which are the main focus of this chapter. A design pattern “describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice” (Alexander, 1979). This provides a descriptive structure to integrate the analysis and the solution to a recurring problem, in such a way that it becomes context-sensitive, informed by theory and evidence, and reusable with a minimum degree of customization.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Design Pattern: Describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that one can use this solution a million times over without ever doing it the same way twice.
Design-by-Pattern: The process of creating design artifacts by reusing, adapting, and composing existing design patterns
Learning Design Process: Concerned with research and theory about instructional strategies and the development and implementation of those strategies.
E-Learning: The systematic use of networked multimedia computer technologies to empower learners, improve learning, connect learners to people and resources supportive of their needs, and integrate learning with performance and individuals with organizational goals.
Learning Style: A composite of characteristic cognitive, affective, and physiological factors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how a learner perceives, interacts with, and responds to a learning environment.
E-Learning Experience: A “situation” in which people learn or attempt to learn something, individually or in group, using (networked) multimedia computer technologies.
Learning Tool/Service: A set of functionalities incorporated into a (networked) multimedia computer system that supports one or more activities involved in e-learning (e.g., the interaction between learners and learning objects or learners and teachers, the formation of learning communities) and maintains a common space for sharing and reusing educational resources.
Pattern Language: A collection of patterns with the rules that interrelate them.
Pattern Taxonomy: A classification or categorization of design patterns according to certain criteria, with the aim of providing a conceptual framework for discussion, analysis, or search and retrieval of patterns.
IMS LD (Learning Design): Provides a notation to describe a “metamodel” of instructional design; it offers educators a generic and flexible machine readable language to specify the design of online and off-line activities that involve interaction between learners and learning resources, learners and other learners, as well as learners and teachers.