Patterns as an Analysis Framework to Document and Foster Excellent E-Learning Designs

Patterns as an Analysis Framework to Document and Foster Excellent E-Learning Designs

Christian Kohls (Knowledge Media Research Center, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-144-7.ch002
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Patterns capture whole forms of good design. The question is, what makes a part whole and how can we analyze complex situations into self-contained patterns that can be re-used in new scenarios? In order to give an answer, this chapter first investigates the unfolding of structures into patterns. The gestalt principle that the sum is more than its parts is a ubiquitous concept in pattern theory. In this chapter, the importance of wholeness and organized structures is outlined. It is argued that the instances of a design pattern belong to a form category where the members share a characteristic structure with emergent gestalt qualities, rather than an abstract set of features. The symmetry of pattern instances needs to be described in a specific way that does not reduce the million ways in which a pattern can occur to an abstract representation. In order to be generative, a pattern description must describe the design space. Design patterns describe the variation, as well as the creation of forms, their constraints, and limits. Yet, patterns go beyond the mere description of forms. They also discuss the meaning of forms by interpreting them as solutions to problems. Different levels of problem types, their relation to forces, and multiple views on solutions will be discussed. The chapter will give an answer to why there are so many different description formats and show that they are all about capturing and analyzing whole forms.
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Wholeness And Context

The whole does not come after the parts but is rather primacy in that it organizes the parts, making them work together, and effectively influences what the parts are. It is the blended learning scenario as a whole that orchestrates how the single parts are unfolded. However, the parts are not determined by the whole – this would make the whole a super-part: “…a part is a part only inasmuch as it serves to let the whole come forth, which is to let meaning emerge. A part is only a part according to the emergence of the whole which it serves; otherwise it is mere noise. At the same time, the whole does not dominate, for the whole cannot emerge without the parts. The hazard of emergence is such that the whole depends on the parts to be able to come forth, and the parts depend on the coming forth of the whole to be significant instead of superficial.” (Bortoft, 1996, p. 11). Accordingly, the blended learning scenario is made of the parts and at the same time “makes” the parts, i.e. a Discussion Forum can only unfold in a meaningful way in a real context.

The context not only implies how the “inner” parts have to be orchestrated but actually changes what these parts are in a field-like effect. Consider figure 1 in which we use the very same circles in two different contexts. In context (a) the circles are eyes, in context (b) they are part of loudspeakers. Hence what the very same form is depends on the context. Yet the form itself contributes to the context – without the circles we would neither see a face nor the loudspeakers as (c) or (d) show.

Figure 1.

The meaning of the circles depends on their contexts


In analogy, the same structural form of a Discussion Forum (e.g. the same software tool) takes a different gestalt (a different whole) when used in an educational or a corporate context. The blended scenario emits to the Discussion Forum, and the Discussion Forum contributes to the scenario.

At the same time the blended learning scenario is part of a larger whole, e.g. a curriculum or a post-graduate study. As such it depends on the curriculum while actively taking part in what that curriculum is. Likewise, the curriculum is embedded in an even larger context. For example, the university’s observation of which skills are demanded by a society will suggest which curriculums should be offered. This nesting of wholes and parts is core to a holistic view and to design:

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