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How We Design for Adults to Improve Child Outcomes

15 Mar 2016 by Matt Owens

When I was a teacher, improving classroom interactions meant changing my behavior. While this wasn’t always easy, I always felt like I had direct control. I could drive the change.

But when I left my classroom last summer, after watching my former middle schoolers graduate high school, I felt like I was turning in my keys. I was aware that I was giving up the honor, responsibility, and control that come with teaching.

I was left with a fear that I might not be able to impact children’s development upon leaving the classroom.

As an instructional designer for Teachstone, this fear has evolved into a constant standard by which I evaluate my work. Our team’s stance is simple. If the learning experience isn’t going to positively impact children: fix it or scrap it. It’s not worth our learner’s time.

To ensure our content positively impacts kiddos, we:

  • Backwards design by making all our decisions with the end in mind. The concept is simple. Let’s say you sign up for a marathon. In the end, you know you need to be able to keep running for 26 miles. To backwards plan, you’d think about how many miles you should be running the week before the race, and then the week before that, and so on until you knew how to train this week. You’d also be wise to train on hills if the course is hilly. There are plenty of “hills” in classrooms, plenty of forces that make effective teaching more challenging. And there are surely hills to climb for those who support teachers. We keep the end in mind by designing for these hills. We create realistic practice scenarios that allow our learners to try out new behaviors in ways that make it more likely for these behaviors to translate to their day-to-day practice.
  • Design in "iterations" by creating fast simple versions of our content that we can “test drive.” Generating lots of ideas, quickly and visually, allows us to get feedback early and often. With each new version (or iteration) of the content, we get closer to the version that is right for our learners.
  • Consult subject matter experts who have the experience and know-how to ensure our content remains faithful to best practices and relevant to learners.
  • User test iterations of content with real teachers and coaches, observing how they interact with content and eliciting their perspective about it. This feedback from our learners is hands down the most valuable in terms of ensuring the impact of our content.

You can see how all of these efforts help us get feedback more often, from the right people (our learners), and about the right things (actual v. desired results). This feedback helps us improve the content we’re currently developing and informs our future designs.

Did you know that you can help us improve? Let me know what you think about one of your Teachstone learning experiences. Or join us at the first ever CLASS Summit where we’ll discuss in greater detail how Teachstone creates content in ways that leads to positive results for kids.


Continue the Discucssion at InterAct: A CLASS Summit