Why another book about learning design? Aren’t there enough of them already? This book sought to do something special - create space for learning designers (and adjunct professions) to speak, to provide insights from those right in the heart of the work. It certainly offers ideas, advice, suggestions, even mistakes. At the same time, it is not a simple “how to” book. It is a collection of personal voices, each located in a specific context, each articulating how that context has to be negotiated. It is about both the thinking and the emotions involved. With over 30 chapters and 50 authors, Learning Design Voices offers the work of authors located in 13 countries.
Several chapters in this book highlight learning design as a support role. Students will encounter academics, educators or lecturers in their role as subject-matter experts, and sometimes in the role of facilitators. Learning designers, by contrast, are very seldom directly visible in learning spaces or interactions. We only notice learning design work when it is poorly done - when something breaks, isn’t accessible, or acts to exclude some group of students in our classes. When learning design is successful, the design seamlessly supports the learning, almost disappearing in the experience. This can have the effect of making learning design work and even the designers themselves invisible.
Exacerbating this inherent “invisibility” of good learning design, the bread and butter work of learning design is often carried out by women. In the United States, the work of learning design is predominantly carried out by women with men in the field taking on more managerial roles (Bond et al., 2021); the authors in this book are predominantly women; and in the spaces that the three editors work in, learning designers are almost all women. Given historical patterns around gendering in the workplace, we recognise that the collocation of gender with learning design work can lead to the framing of learning design work itself as “second class”, as somehow “under” work. Instead we see learning design differently, throughout the chapters, we will see the behind-the-scenes work of incredible people who make up the field.
This book aims to make the invisible visible, the unheard heard. It aims to show the challenges, tensions, excitement and innovation in the work of learning design. From the outset, we hoped for a book that would showcase the diversity within learning design practices - from what the work itself is called, to what people call themselves, to conditions of employment, or location within institutions and organisations. For example, in certain chapters, you will see that “learning designers” are sometimes referred to as instructional designers or pedagogical advisors or even change agents. Given that the work described is very similar, this variation in title reflects the diversity and complexity of positions and practices in the field. The titles under which people work continue to evolve, reflecting not only changes in actual roles, expertise and knowledge in the field, but striving to create titles that aspirations and power dynamics in the field.
Many of those who do learning design work are in positions where there is limited space within their jobs for scholarly writing. Additionally, learning and instructional designers come from a wide variety of educational and professional backgrounds with varying access to educational and scholarly writing practices. Given these constraints and the diversity of backgrounds of learning designers and those who do learning design work, we were committed to creating space for a text that did not necessarily require experience in formal educational discourses. Thus, you will notice that the shape of chapters, their tone and intention vary throughout the book. We have deliberately encouraged our contributors to enjoy writing in their voices, to enable perspectives and context to shine through.
The process of making the book was stimulating for us as editors, while also being incredibly challenging given that we started during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, while trying to juggle full-time jobs alongside personal responsibilities. We took on a deeply engaged process by working closely with several authors on their chapters, with back-and-forth conversations to ensure their voices came through, and that the reality of their situation was explained in ways that might be understood across different contexts. Not surprisingly, learning designers shy away from expressing their own voices, when their jobs require them to ensure that other voices are amplified.
While the book is centred around “learning design”, each author engages with the field in a different way. While all authors have engaged with learning design in some way, some are experienced learning designers, some research learning design, some teach it in the field, and some take on all these activities. Additionally, the language used to describe artefacts and activities is varied, showing the rich diversity across contexts. Where possible, to honour the voices of authors, we have retained the language they have used, and offered an alternative term where this exists in the literature or in different contexts. The range of perspectives is both a strength and challenge of this book. We asked each author to focus on the margins and how this may look in their contexts which ranged from higher education to the corporate sector. We also asked authors to explain what they understood to be the margins; for many this pertained to the role itself. For others, this was experienced as being marginal to the more formal field of learning design. And for yet others, this means being located in the global periphery.
When we started the proposal process, we hoped to attract more authors from Africa. We were not able to achieve that ambition as comprehensively as we would have liked. The network reflected in the book skews South African, and aligns with Commonwealth countries and countries with Commonwealth histories. A consequence of working in the Global South is that authors, particularly in the earlier stages of their careers, under the influence of financial imperatives, often look to the Global North to drive connections, making connecting within the Global South more challenging. Learning designers, as opposed to academics who do and/or research learning design work, experience further constraints in this regard.
Many chapters are set within particularly challenging periods of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the lockdowns which were experienced differently in different parts of the world. While these times were especially intense, the lessons and learning continue to be applicable to anyone who does learning design today. The stories told in these chapters also show the need for, and ability of, learning designers to constantly adapt in an ever-changing field. Rapid responses yesterday, Generative Artificial Intelligence today, who knows what tomorrow? Learning designers, as seen in these chapters, are adaptable, resilient, innovative and imaginative.
Our peer review process for these chapters was open, enabling authors and peer reviewers to know each other by name, and to talk to one another. We believe this improves the quality of each chapter. Despite all obstacles and with much persistence, from all the authors and from one another, the book is published after a long time in the making.
Conventional publishing is not hospitable to this kind of book, one which challenged traditional versioning processes, did not require author funding and needed maximum flexibility. For this book the primary challenges were twofold: 1) we were asking contributors to write about practice and to do so in ways that would be accessible to practitioners in the field, and 2) we wanted to provide a publication process that supported the development of connection and community, openness and (in some cases) the growth of contributors’ writing. While higher education argues for inclusivity and alternative forms of knowledge creation, the conventional publishing system is deeply resistant to creating practices that are genuinely inclusive for contributors who do not write in scholarly ways on a regular basis. Ultimately, we had to reconsider the best path for publication well into the development of the book, leading us to publish with Edtech Books which provided the flexibility and openness we considered essential.
The book is divided into three sections, each beginning with a provocation and a response. These two pieces - provocation and response - foreground an area of learning design drawing attention to pertinent questions we need to ask ourselves as learning designers. The provocations are:
How do we imagine this book being of use? As we’ve already suggested, good learning design is often invisible - good learning design can feel like the most obvious, natural form of a learning experience. Furthermore, particularly, in online spaces, the full spectrum of learning design activities are often the role of the unseen contributors to a learning experience, working out of the students’ eye, at odd times, and sometimes in odd spaces. This book allows the reader an opportunity to see the process and product of the unseen work, to understand the processes by which learning designs come into existence. We think this book will be useful to a wide range of readers - students, lecturers and researchers - across a variety of roles and contexts. We know that most readers will find particular chapters to be particularly inspiring and provocative. But we hope that readers might dip into the book more regularly, as a way of interacting with a network of practitioners and potential peers. We envisage that you, as the reader, will feel part of the broader learning design conversation and to feel connected to the authors as individuals, as people.
Thank you to all the amazing learning designers who are quietly doing good work. Thank you to the learning designers who had hoped to contribute to this book but were constrained by circumstance. Thank you to the authors of this collection for their determination, their patience, their shared expertise, their stories and above all their magnificent voices.
Tasneem, Shanali and Laura.
Bond, J., Dirkin, K., Tyler, A. J., & Lassitter, S. (2021). Ladders and escalators: examining advancement obstacles for women in instructional design. Journal of Applied Instructional Design, 10(2). https://doi.org/10.51869/jaid2021102
University of Cape Town
University of Cape Town
University of Cape Town
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