This chapter provides an overview of recent research and development (R&D) activity in the area of educational design patterns and pattern languages. It provides a context for evaluating this line of R&D by sketching an account of the practice of educational design, highlighting some of its difficulties and the ways in which design patterns and other aids to design might play a role. It foregrounds a tension between optimising design performance and supporting the evolution of design expertise. The chapter provides examples of recent research by the authors on design patterns for networked learning, as well as pointers to complementary research by others. Connections are made with R&D work on learning design and other approaches to supporting design activity.
Slowly but steadily, the core concerns of teaching are moving from the exposition of content to the design of worthwhile learning tasks. The nature and causes of this shift are contested, but one strong driving force is the changing nature of employment: the replacement of unskilled and semiskilled routine work with work that demands flexibility, creativity, and specialist knowledge. The volatility of employment and of the labour market combined with the strengthening of ideologies locate responsibility for learning and skills development firmly with the individual, to create a climate in which capacities for lifelong learning become crucial. Constructivist pedagogies, which centre on learners’ involvement in actively constructing their own knowledge, are coming into alignment with capitalism’s paradoxical need for more autonomous learners (Longworth, 1995; Stewart, 1998; Urry, 2003). Neither radical constructivism, nor classic instructional design, are much help to the teacher who needs to design tasks that challenge learners to take an active part in knowledge construction (Goodyear, 2000).
Educational design is complex and challenging. Empirical research suggests that teachers at all levels of education find it difficult and that the outcomes are often unsatisfactory (Bennett, Desforges, Cockburn, & Wilkinson, 1984; Hoogveld, Paas, Jochems, & van Merrienboer, 2002; Kirschner, Carr, van Merrienboer, & Sloep, 2002). There have been several lines of response to this problem. One approach has been to provide teachers with computer-based tools that are intended to provide support for their design activity (see, e.g., Elen, 1998; Goodyear, 1997; McAndrew, Goodyear, & Dalziel, 2006; Pirolli, 1991; Spector, Polson, & Muraida, 1993). In general, these tools are meant to carry some of the cognitive load entailed in solving complex design problems. In principle, this allows teacher-users to concentrate on what they know best, while delegating other parts of the design work to the computer. The sharing of load happens in various ways. In some cases, the tool manages the overall structuring of the design task, leading teachers step-by-step down a design path and asking them to fill in details. In other cases, teachers provide an overall logic or general specification for a design, and the computer does the detailed tactical work of sequencing or helps locate relevant units of learning material or learning objects (Barrese, Calabro, Cozza, Gallo, & Tisato, 1992; Goodyear, 1994; Gustafson, 2002; McAndrew et al., 2006). In many cases, the underpinning philosophy (implicit or explicit) is to support performance rather than understanding. That is, the primary goal of most of these approaches is to improve the outcome of the teacher-user’s current educational design task. If the teachers also learn something that will help them improve as an educational designer that is seen as a useful by-product. When performance improvement is the primary goal, the teachers and the evolution of their understanding of design take second place.