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A learner-centered design process

Design of Learning Environments

A learner-centered design process


You can use the learning environment design process to create effective learning environments, to use research to inform design, and to develop research questions based on design.

In the last two years projects created from this process have gone on to be...

... implemented in real learning environments:

  • Fieldtrip curriculum for K-12. Northwestern Geology Department.
  • Workshop for design research/observations, workshop and process guide section fo project scoping workshop. Design for America, Segal Design Institute (+13 other universites).
  • Curriculum for Digital Design for Change for Undergraduates. Northwestern SESP.

...published at conferences:

  • Phelan, P., Rees Lewis, D, Gerber, E., Easterday, M. (2013). Using mobile technology to support learning design observations. Computer Supported Cooperative Learning 2013, University of Wisconsin, Madison. competitions:

Alumnae have used techniques from this class in a number of jobs such as:

  • Designing Education Technology for K-8 (Education Technology Researcher at The Education Technology Center: Center for Children and Technology)
  • Designing Product on Interface Experiences (Specialist, Designer, Ethnographic Field Systems Engineer at GfK User Centric)
  • Designing on- and off-line interactions, process guide, and workshops for User-Centered Design Education (Instructional Designer at Design for America)
  • Designing for Management Education (Leadership Development Consultant at Allstate)
  • Designing and evaluating museum and zoo design (Researcher at Garibay Group)
  • Designing Learning Management System work tools for adjunct professors (Instructional Designer at Integrated Marketing Communications, Northwestern University)


As Learning Scientists we are interested in how to help people develop new abilities so that they can be successful, lead fuller lives, and create a better society. This forces us to make decisions about what we as educators should actually do with our resources.  Design is the means by which create new products, services and technologies that intentionally fostering new understandings, skills and dispositions that we believe are important.

The Design Process

This human-centered design basic techniques from cognitive science, interaction design and lesson study to design instruction.  In the understand phase of the process, you'll conduct task analyses and student interviews to understand the knowledge, skills and dispositions learners must acquire and the learning challenges they face. Next, you'll use basic interaction design methods like brainstorming, personas, scenarios and diagrams to generate and sketch possible instructional solutions. The later part of the processes focus on prototyping lessons and lesson observation (testing). The final task will be to design a process book that communicates your design skills and achievements to potential clients. As time allows, interested students may also design a research plan for testing a learning principle used in the design.

And so...

Let's get started! Click on the process link at the top to begin the journey.