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Designing compelling learning experiences

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Designing compelling learning experiences
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Parrish, Patrick E
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xiii, 180 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Instructional systems -- Design ( lcsh )
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Instructional systems -- Design ( fast )
Learning ( fast )
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theses ( marcgt )
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 167-180).
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School of Education and Human Development
Statement of Responsibility:
Patrick E. Parrish.

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Full Text
DESIGNING COMPELLING LEARNING EXPERIENCES
by
Patrick E. Parrish
B.A., University of Colorado at Boulder, 1980
B.A., Metropolitan State College of Denver, 1986
M.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 1990
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation
2008


2008 by Patrick Parrish
All rights reserved.


This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Patrick Parrish
has been approved
Joni Dunlap
Andrew S. Gibbons
Date


Parrish, Patrick E., (Doctor of Philosophy, Educational Leadership and Innovation)
Designing Compelling Learning Experiences
Thesis directed by Professor Brent G. Wilson
ABSTRACT
Learning is always more than the acquisition of knowledge; it also comprises an
experience filled with the tangible qualities present in all life experiences. More than
intellectual exercises, learning experiences are propelled by significant emotional
energy and shaded by personal meanings that sometimes impact how people see
themselves and the subject matter. The portfolio of work comprising this dissertation
represents a developing inquiry into the aesthetic nature of learning and instructional
design. Three chapters take a theoretical approach in exploring the nature of learning
experiences and developing a rationale for applying the concept of aesthetic
experience in striving toward engaging and compelling instruction. They draw
primarily from the philosophy of John Dewey, and culminate in a framework for
understanding factors contributing to the quality of a learning experience. Two
chapters describe empirical research into how instructional designers and learners
interpret learning experiences. One study takes a grounded theory approach to
describe how educators apply aesthetic principles in their work and develops a
generalized model of the aesthetic experience of learning. The second study examines
the learning experiences of a set of learners engaged with an online learning module,
focusing on the developing patterns of engagement and those factors influencing
engagement. The final three chapters provide practical guidance for considering the
learning experienceoffering a set of aesthetic principles for instructional designers
and narrative tools for designing with learning experience in mind.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.
Signed
Brent G. Wilson


DEDICATION PAGE
This dissertation is dedicated to my wife Terri Woodward and son Addison
Woodward-Parrish for their support and inspiration to strive for meaningful pursuits,
and to my parents James and Helen Parrish for the value of education and learning
they instilled in me.


ACKNOWLEDGMENT
I want to thank all the reviewers of the papers contained within this dissertation for
helping make them more valuable works, including my fellow doctoral students in the
IDEAL Doctoral Research Lab in the EDLI Program at University of Colorado at
Denver. In particular, I want to thank Professor Brent G. Wilson for his numerous
contributions to my work, in both substance and direction. I also want to thank the
other members of my doctoral studies review committee, Drs. Joni Dunlap and
Elizabeth Kozleski for their guidance and advice in the development of this work.
Finally, Ed like to thank my additional dissertation committee members, Drs.
Elizabeth Boling and Andrew S. Gibbons for the inspiration their work has provided
to my own.
Chapter 2, Embracing the Aesthetics of Instructional Design. Originally published as
Parrish, P. E. (2005). Embracing the aesthetics of instructional design. Educational
Technology, 45(2), 16-25. Reprinted with permission from Lawrence Lipsitz, Editor,
Educational Technology Publications.
Chapter 7, Aesthetic Principles for Instructional Design. In press as Parrish, P. E. (In
Press). Educational Technology Research & Development. Reprinted with kind
permission from Springer Science and Business Media.
Chapter 8, Design as Storytelling. Originally published as Parrish, P. E. (2006a).
Design as storytelling. TechTrends, 50(4), 72-82. Reprinted with kind permission
from Springer Science and Business Media.
Chapter 9, Plotting a Learning Experience. This chapter appears in Handbook of
visual languages in instructional design, edited by Luca Botturi & S. Todd Stubbs,
Copyright 2008, IGI Global, www.igi-pub.com. Posted by permission of the
publisher.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Figures.........................................................xii
Tables.........................................................xiii
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION..................................................1
Portfolio Products.........................................3
Conceptual Background....................................3
Empirical Research.......................................4
Practical Application....................................4
Implications for Future Work...............................5
2. EMBRACING THE AESTHETICS OF INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN ..7
Limits of a Technological Orientation......................8
We Dont Talk About the Aesthetics of Instructional Design.11
Belief One : Manipulation...............................12
Belief Two: Passivity...................................13
Belief Three : Superficiality...........................14
Belief Four: Difficulty.................................16
Practicing Artful Instructional Design....................17
Beginnings..............................................17
Middles.................................................18
Endings.................................................19
Conclusion................................................20
3. LEARNING AS AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE: JOHN DEWEYS
INTEGRATION OF ART, INQUIRY, AND EDUCATION...................22
Linking Learning and Aesthetics...........................22
Art, Broad and Narrow.....................................23
Art Reconciled as Aesthetic Experience....................24
Art as Inquiry............................................26
Inquiry as Expression.....................................28
vii


Additional Conditions for Aesthetic Learning Experiences...29
Conclusion.................................................31
4. A FRAMEWORK FOR UNDERSTANDING LEARNING
EXPERIENCE....................................................33
Introduction...............................................33
A Proposed Framework of Experience.........................34
Temporal Dimensions of Experience........................34
Levels of Experience.....................................35
Situational Qualities Influencing Experience.............37
Qualities of Individuals Influencing Experience..........39
Conclusions................................................42
5. INVESTIGATING THE AESTHETIC DECISIONS OF TEACHERS
AND INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGNERS...................................44
Aesthetic Experience.......................................45
Procedures.................................................49
Data Collection..........................................49
Data Analysis............................................51
Findings...................................................51
Guiding Values...........................................52
Goals for Instruction....................................52
Student qualities........................................53
Opening Qualities (Hooks, Novelty, Comfort)..............53
Narrative Qualities......................................54
Identification...........................................54
Tension (Withholding)....................................55
Limits (Student Acceptance, Practical Constraints).......56
Middle Qualities (Growing Comfort, Boredom, Pattern,
Routine).................................................57
Climax, Turning Point....................................57
Ending Qualities (Closure, Open-endedness)...............58
Teaching as Art..........................................58
Discussion.................................................59
The Aesthetic Experience of Instruction..................59
Conclusion.................................................61
6. EXPERIENCES OF ENGAGEMENT WITH THE ONLINE
viii


LEARNING MODULE, USING THE WRF MESOSCALE MODEL .63
Abstract......................................................63
Introduction..................................................63
Exploring Engagement..........................................65
Module Design.................................................67
Research Questions............................................70
Research Methods..............................................71
Research Results: Engagement Levels...........................72
Level of Engagement.........................................72
Discussion of Engagement Level Statistics...................74
Qualitative Data on Level of Engagement.....................75
Items Correlated to Module Average Engagement...............77
Additional Qualitative Data on Engagement...................77
Limitations of the Results..................................80
Research Results: Design Process..............................83
Summary Discussion............................................84
7. AESTHETIC PRINCIPLES FOR INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN....................87
Abstract......................................................87
Introduction..................................................87
Considering Learning Experience...............................88
The Importance of Aesthetic Experience........................90
Sources of Aesthetic Principles...............................91
First Principles..............................................91
Principle I: Learning Experiences Have Beginnings, Middles,
and Endings (i.e., plots)...................................92
Principle 2: Learners Are the Protagonists of Their Own
Learning Experiences........................................92
Principle 3: Learning Activity, Not Subject Matter, Establishes
the Theme of Instruction....................................93
Principle 4: Context Contributes to Immersion in the
Instructional Situation.....................................94
Guidelines for Applying the First Principles..................95
1.1: Begin by instilling tension, posing a problem, or pointing
out conflicting information.................................96
1.2: Learning experiences should create anticipation of
consummation................................................96
1.3: Create sustained suspense by enhancing the complication ...91
1.4: Pattern, routine, or an established motif can sustain
IX


engagement..................................................98
1.5: Endings should integrate everything that has occurred up
to that point...............................................98
2.1: Accept that learners, as protagonists, are fully human.99
2.2: Allow dialogue to reveal character....................100
2.3: Foster a change or growth in sense of identity; make
learning a rite of passage.................................100
3.1: Theme and plot arise from subject matter but should be
more than subject matter...................................101
3.2: The theme should be believable and connect to
experience.................................................101
4.1: Allow context to support theme and character..........101
4.2: Honor setting in instruction..........................102
The Instructor as Author and Character.......................103
Principle 5: Instructors and Instructional Designers Are
Authors, Supporting Characters, and Model Protagonists......103
Conclusion...................................................104
8. DESIGN AS STORYTELLING...........................................106
Abstract.....................................................106
Design as Storytelling.......................................106
Design as Technical Problem Solving: A Dead End?.............107
Storytelling in the Design Process...........................108
Uses of Design Stories.......................................109
Stories in the Design Phase................................109
Qualities of Design Stories in the Design Phase............Ill
Design Stories in Design Communication.....................112
Qualities of Design Stories for Design Communication.......114
Design Stories in Formative Evaluation.....................115
Qualities of Design Stories for Formative Evaluation.......116
Cultivating Empathy..........................................117
Conclusion...................................................119
9. PLOTTING A LEARNING EXPERIENCE...................................120
Abstract.....................................................120
Beyond Technical Instructional Design........................120
Aesthetic Instructional Design...............................121
Designing for Aesthetic Experience...........................125
Diagramming Narratives.......................................126
x


Diagramming Instructional Designs............131
Plotting Engagement Curves...................133
Using an Engagement Curve to Plan a Learning Experience.137
Conclusions and Caveats......................138
APPENDIX
A. SAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS.....................142
B. RESEARCH EXPLANATION...........................144
C. THE DESIGN NARRATIVE...........................146
D. TREATMENT A SURVEY.............................149
E. DESIGN STORY EXCERPT WITH STORYBOARD...........158
F. CONTENT MATRIX.................................161
G. STANDARDS MATRIX...............................163
H. E2ML DIAGRAM FOR AIM-A-CANE EXERCISE FROM
HURRICANE STRIKE!..............................165
BIBLIOGRAPHY.....................................................167
xi


LIST OF FIGURES
Figure
4.1 Qualities and Levels of Experience......................................41
6.1 Narrative diagram of Using the WRF Mesoscale Model....................69
6.2 Engagement patterns of all participants.................................73
6.3 Box plots of engagement level by section for Treatments A and B,
showing mode, quartiles, and outliers..................................74
7.1 Components of instructional environments................................89
9.1 Aristotles Incline, depicting rising action, the three key divisions of a
dramatic narrative, and the relationship of key dramatic plot points...127
9.2 Aristotles Incline applied to the plot of The DaVinci Code............128
9.3 Freytags Triangle, depicting increasing and falling complication......129
9.4 The Heros Adventure, depicting a passage into an underworld of
challenge and the return to prosperity.................................130
9.5 The Heros Adventure plotted as a graph................................130
9.6 The engagement curve of a typical formal learning experience...........132
9.7 The Students Adventure as a cycle.....................................133
9.8 The Students Adventure as graph.......................................133
9.9 The Hurricane Strike! online module....................................135
9.10 The Using the WRF Model online module..................................136
9.11 An engagement curve used for planning a course on instructional
models for instructional designers.....................................138
9.12 Classifying Narrative Diagrams as a Notation System....................140
E.l Initial Interface......................................................158
E.2 First Question.........................................................159
E.3 Supporting Topics......................................................160
xii


LIST OF TABLES
Table
3.1 Comparing Phases of Inquiry and Aesthetic Experience.............27
6.1 Mean Engagement Level by Section and Average Module Engagement ....74
7.1 Connecting Aesthetic Principles to Learning and ID Theory........105
8.1 Guidelines for Design Stories....................................116
F. l Hurricane Strike! Content Matrix.................................161
G. l Partial Matrix of Hurricane Strike! Content as related to Middle School
U.S. National Science Education Standards.......................163
xiii


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Like many good inquiries, I suspect, this one began with an argument
actually a series of evolving arguments that played out during the early years of my
career as an instructional designer. At first, the argument took the form of my
confronting the initial resistance I felt from faculty toward my new role as an
instructional designer at an urban community college. My orientation to instruction as
science was frequently met with their insistence that it was more art than science. My
own strong interest in the arts made me sympathetic to their stance, but I wasnt yet
able to reconcile these stances and find a way to work comfortably within that
culture. I wondered what it was about teaching that allowed its practitioners to have
such divergent orientations. The question took hold and began to color my view
toward my work in the years that followed.
In a new position as the instructional designer of multimedia products that
taught meteorological science and weather forecasting skills to professional
forecasters, the tables turned and I found that I was the one arguing with developers
and SMEs in support of the aesthetic concerns of our products. Why conversational
tone in the writing mattered, why grounding content with a compelling or challenging
idea would enhance learning, why font choice and attractive graphical interfaces
would make a difference, why developing a story-like flow to the content rather than
simply treating a list of topics was important, and why engaging learners in thought-
provoking activities was crucialthese claims often seeded contentious arguments
about the value of the time it took to achieve them. I was not quite ready to claim that
what we were doing was art, but I became a staunch defender of artistic elements in
our work. But I couldnt yet clearly answer why I was concerned with the merely
aesthetic elements of our work. Beyond their being attractive, what arguments
could I make that would convince a scientist of their value? Why did I feel these
elements were important for learning?
I was finally compelled to action by both the continued skepticism from
development team members and from fellow training staff (non-professional trainers
IDs-by-assignment) from other meteorological training organizations, and by a
growing schism I saw developing the ID field between a drive to mechanize (through
software tools), or even automate (with intelligent ID systems) the design process and
a competing drive to find connections to other design fields in which aesthetics, craft,
and user experience play a more explicit role. What arguments can be made for a


need for aesthetics in instructional design, similar to the aesthetics of architecture?
What might the resulting aesthetic principles look like?
I also began to look backward to the roots of my feelings about learning. I saw
my own lifelong interest in learning as its own reward as indication that learning was
more than acquisition of knowledge for achieving new ends. An inherent joy can arise
from the process of learning, one on par with the elation we feel in the presence of
great works of art, the emotional and intellectual revelations that come from reading a
powerful novel, or the upwelling emotion felt when a compelling musical piece
reaches its climax or heartfelt refrain. This phenomenon had much to do with my
reasons for entering the ID field in the first place, I realizedthe fact that practicing
ID allows me to exercise a love of learning (by working with subject-matter experts
to develop instructional content) and a love of teaching and designing media. I
wondered what it was about the nature of learning experiences that generated an
engagement equal to the engagement I felt when encountering good works of art.
What did learning experiences have in common with aesthetic experiences that
allowed people to enjoy them as inherently rewarding? These experiences and the
questions they raised represent the problems of practice that drove my doctoral work.
I began the inquiry by looking in the obvious places, to the traditional
aesthetic principles of balance, unity, symmetry, focus, dynamism, etc., with which
I could already discern parallels in instructional design. However, simply finding
these parallels did little to justify their application in favor of, or even in addition to,
those more scientifically oriented. An early insight that I now see as a turning point in
my thinking was that principle of unity, or the striving a work of art makes towards
unity, was actually the central and perhaps only necessary principle to describe how
works of art move us. Other aesthetic principles either helped point toward unity or
created tensions that forced us to struggle to achieve unity in our perception of the
work. Moreover, unity and its opposites, separation or disunity, comprise
fundamental psychological and philosophical tensions, connecting the arts to the
broader experience of life. We are at once isolated individuals living under frequently
chaotic conditions, and social creatures harmonizing with society and with nature in
our attempts to create coherent lives. The striving for unity provided a satisfying
explanation for the connection I felt between learning and experiences with art.
After experiencing this breakthrough, one I was not yet quite sure how to use,
I finally discovered Deweys (1934/1989) aesthetic philosophy in which he had
developed a similar concept of natural tension as the source of art. I have always been
oriented toward naturalistic explanations, but have also been drawn to the idea of a
transcendent Romantic imagination with a naturalistic source, so reading Deweys
naturalistic metaphysics had an immediate impact on me. Dewey sought an
explanation of art consistent with Darwinian theories about our origins and the
processes of our growth. I have always been a firm believer in the theory that our
perceptions of beauty in landscape paintings are at least partly due to the evolutionary
2


advantages particular landscapes offer, but of course such a theory does not explain
the power of Picassos Guernica. Dewey made the connection that did explain it. He
suggested that aesthetic experience was only a special case, a heightened form of
experience itself, and that works of art represent recreations, or celebrations, of our
meaning making experiences. His work has continued to open my eyes to the larger
concept of aesthetic experience as not only an explanation of the importance of art in
our lives, but as a way to explain the joy we feel seeking challenges and achieving
successes in our professional and everyday lives. Of course, it has also been the
linchpin for linking learning, the most fundamental expression of the challenge and
success cycle of living, to aesthetics.
This philosophical discovery, as exciting as it was, was only the beginning of
my work, and was not the only source I sought for understanding the relation between
aesthetics and learning. The work of Bruner (1990), Bateson (1972), Eisner (2002),
Jackson (1995), and Davies (1991) offered many interesting directions to pursue, but
making a strong and practical connection to ID practice would require staking new
ground. Egan (1986, 2007), in his development of ideas toward cultivating
imagination within the K-12 curriculum, did offer some further inspiration and like-
mindedness. Philosophers other than Dewey have provided additional supportive
ideas, particularly in regard to understanding experience and its dual affective and
cognitive components, but Dewey continues to be on the mark with his breadth of
explorations not only of art and human nature, but in his direct prescriptions for
education as well.
While I have continued a philosophical inquiry, much of the work represented
in this dissertation is practically oriented as well. In particular, I have been reaching
to the arts and sister design fields to find principles and methods that instructional
designers might apply to connect more directly to the learning experienceand help
them strive for creating aesthetic, and more engaging, learning experiences. The
following section describes the contribution each of the works makes toward the
inquiry.
Portfolio Products
The products in the dissertation contribute primarily in one of three ways,
although most contribute in several ways. The papers are arranged along a
theoretical-to-practical spectrum.
Conceptual Background
These papers take a theoretical approach in exploring the nature of learning
experiences and developing a rationale for applying the concept of aesthetic
experience in making instruction engaging and compelling. They draw primarily, but
3


not exclusively, from the philosophical works on aesthetics, experience, and
education of John Dewey.
Chapter 2, Embracing the Aesthetics of Instructional Design (Parrish, 2005),
was written to introduce a potentially skeptical audience to the concept of aesthetic
experience and its value for instructional designers. It takes a heads-on approach by
challenging common misconceptions about the notion of aesthetics in the section,
Why We Dont Talk About the Aesthetics of Instructional Design. It was the first of
the papers in the portfolio to be published, and, accompanied by a presentation at the
AECT Annual Conference, was my first engagement with a larger audience in the
discipline on these topics.
Chapter 3, Learning as Aesthetic Experience: John Deweys Integration of
Art, Inquiry, and Education, systematically summarizes the philosophy of John
Dewey to make a case for the connection between his theories of art and education by
way of his theory of inquiry. It provides the substantive background a critical reader
might want to accompany many of the other chapters dealing with aesthetics and
instruction.
Chapter 4, A Framework for Understanding Learning Experience, the most
recently written inclusion, offers a model of experience that could contribute to an
agenda of research into learning experience or to developing design strategies for
heightened learning experiences. It provides a more thorough and integrated
theoretical background than that which drove the other work, so it also represents a
culmination to the dissertation.
Empirical Research
The two papers in this section describe research into how instructional
designers and learners interpret learning experiences.
Chapter 5, Investigating the Aesthetic Decisions of Teachers and Instructional
Designers (Parrish, 2004), the earliest work in the dissertation, describes my research
into how practicing educators apply aesthetic principles. Taking a grounded theory
approach, the study was meant to provide a realistic grounding to accompany my use
of aesthetics theory as I developed aesthetic principles in follow-on work. It has been
revised and shortened for the dissertation.
Chapter 6, Experiences of Engagement with the Online Learning Module,
Using the WRF Mesoscale Model, describes a recent study in which I performed
interviews and used surveys to gather descriptions of learning experience by learners
using an instructional product I had designed with aesthetic principles in mind. The
focus was on the pattern of engagement the occurred during the learning experience.
Practical Application
4


In this final set of papers, I begin to develop a set of principles as
recommendations for ID practice, as well as tools to help IDs better consider learning
experience. The tools described are borrowed from those used in other design fields
and in the art of fiction writing.
Chapter 7, Aesthetic Principles for Instructional Design (Parrish, in press),
represents another culminating paper, even though it was begun before the other two
chapters in this section. Using Aristotles Poetics as a starting point, it develops a set
of prescriptive principles and associated guidelines for designing aesthetic learning
experiences.
Chapter 8, Design as Storytelling (Parrish, 2006a), draws from a strategy used
in architectural and human-computer interaction design to describe a method for
considering the narrative nature of a learning experience by writing the story of an
imagined walk-through of the instruction by a learner.
Chapter 9, Plotting a Learning Experience (Parrish, 2008a), the final chapter
in the dissertation, expands upon the previous chapter by describing a graphical tool
for plotting the learning experience in terms of level of engagement. Again drawing
from Aristotle, the narrative diagram, which is used by fiction writings in helping
them create engaging plot lines for stories, provides a way for designers to consider
the impacts of beginnings, middles, and endings in the learning experiences of their
instruction, and guides them toward including dramatic elements to heighten
engagement.
Implications for Future Work
The work represented by this dissertation offers a modest glimpse of what a
focus on learning experience might offer instructional designers and other educators.
With a driving concern about learning experience rather than merely concern about
cognitive and performance outcomes and subject matter, the potential exists not just
for more frequent success in meeting standard outcomes, but also more frequently
stimulating truly transformative learning experiencesones that learners might
consider as significant points of change in their lives, ones that continue to resonate
and stimulate the occurrence of additional positive growth experiences. At minimum,
the potential exists for learning that is more fun and engaging than it might be
otherwise.
Due to persistent attitudes toward aesthetics as a superficial quality, there will
continue to be limitations to the acceptance of this line of inquiry. The rise of the
learning sciences, even though many learning scientists perceive the value of artful
instructional treatments to stimulate engagement, suggests a lowered likelihood of a
developing interest in experience as an important consideration for educators. At the
other extreme, attitudes toward aesthetics as a transcendent experience will likely lead
to overestimation of the importance of superficial qualities of instruction to the
5


detriment of searching for the aesthetic qualities to be found within any subject
matter. With high value placed on surface production values, the truly important
instructional impacts could be lost. Similarly, setting the outcomes bar too high could
lead to frustration by practitioners. Not all learning experiences can be
transformative, and not all learners are ready and willing to be transformed.
Instructional designers can go only so far in influencing the progression of a learning
experience.
Additional outcomes of this inquiry should include an interest in additional
research into learning experience. The complex, systemic, and fragile nature of
learning experiences will make research difficult, but with persistence it could lead to
interesting new perspectives. It is also likely that other models of aesthetic strategies
drawn from the arts will be found to be useful. The aesthetics of architecture, music,
and poetry offer useful ideas ripe for the picking by educators. The connections
between ID and the sister design disciplines also deserve more rigorous exploration
for alternative attitudes toward user experiences. The concept of experience is nearly
as new to other technologists (McCarthy & Wright, 2004), but because many of the
other design disciplines remain truer to their design origins, they are likely to find
fruitful uses of the concept more quickly. New tools for practice that will assist in
designing for and researching end experience are likely to arise in other disciplines
earlier than in our own more conservative one.
6


CHAPTER 2
EMBRACING THE AESTHETICS OF INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN
I can well imagine an atheists last words: "White, white! L-L-Love!
My God! and the deathbed leap offaith. Whereas the agnostic, if he
stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless
factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying,
Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain, and, to the very
end, lack imagination and miss the better story.
Yann Martel
This article addresses a prevalent reluctance to acknowledge the aesthetic
aspects of instructional design (ID), and argues that this mistake can limit the
effectiveness of instruction. Why write such an article for a special section of
Educational Technology devoted to cultural studies and instructional technology? It is
appropriate because it addresses an aspect of ID culture that deeply effects the
learners it serves and the practitioners that comprise it. Forty years ago, C. P. Snow
(1965) described a growing division between the sciences and the arts/humanities, a
division he characterized as two clashing cultures. This division clearly still exists
today, although at least many now acknowledge the unnecessary damage of its
disruption and work to minimize it (e.g., Wilson, 1998). I argue here that ID culture,
while far beyond the stuffiness of both camps in the dispute that Snow described,
leans strongly toward the science and technology camps, ignoring a powerful aspect
of its nature.
The term aesthetics can evoke a variety of meanings, some of which lead to
the reluctance of instructional designers to talk about it. In this article I apply a
conception of aesthetics, drawn from the American pragmatist philosophers, that does
much more than describe the impact of the surface of thingsthe shapes, colors, and
textures that appeal to our senses. While aesthetics has always been used to describe
the relationship of art to culture, as well as to explain how works of art achieve their
impact on us, pragmatist aesthetics sees this relationship and impact as indicative of
something much more pervasive. The pragmatist conception describes a quality that
exists equally in the experiences of everyday life as in the fine arts, and one that
certainly applies to the learning experiences we design as instructional designers.
7


Limits of a Technological Orientation
Instructional designers frequently point to their affiliations with the other
design disciplines and look to them as useful analogues of their practice (e.g.,
Bolling, 2003). The connection between instructional design and architectural design
is particularly appropriate (Gibbons, 2003a; Gibbons, Nelson, & Richards, 2002),
both being disciplines aimed at shaping behavior and experience by creating a context
for activity. In a very direct sense, both ID and architecture seek to facilitate
performance. They can even both be seen as facilitating knowledge construction,
especially when we consider knowledge as distributed within a community (Bell &
Winn, 2000) and embedded within our tools, artifacts, and surroundings (Norman,
1993). Like all design practices, they both rely on a combination of science,
technology, and craft, as well as an understanding of human psychology and culture,
to achieve these goals.
But instructional designers and ID theorists are typically selective in the
connections they draw to other design disciplines. For example, while they are
interested in seeking the technological and problem-solving connections (Gibbons et
al., 2002; Gibbons, 2003b), they typically ignore the fact that architects and other
designers often first and foremost refer to the aesthetic aspects of their work when
they explain it. Architects describe an architectural structure not just in terms of its
ability to stand or in how it provides the facilities and services to support designated
functions, but also in how its sensory qualities have an emotional impact on users,
inspiring them to enter its spaces to participate in intended activities, and in how it
increases the significance of what they do there.
Architecture holds the power to inspire and transform our day-to-day
existence. The everyday act of pressing a door handle and entering into
a light-washed room can become profound when experienced through
sensitized consciousness. To see, to feel these physicalities is to
become a subject of the senses. (Holl, 1999, p. 14)
Architects discuss how a structure relates to its site not just in terms of the
requirements and constraints that factor into a design solution, but also in sensual,
social, cultural, and symbolic terms. They discuss the interior and exterior of the
structure not just in terms of how their size, shape, texture, and layout facilitate
activities, but also in terms of how they create a unified aesthetic experience for
users:
The form of [Nexus, the Denver Art Museum expansion project]
counterposes a lateral horizontal movement to the tower-like massing
of the Ponti building. . This strategy allows for a balance in the
8


entire complex by providing a light and floating form to contrast with
the castlelike solidity of the Ponti building. ... The titanium skyline
will gradually and subtly transform from opacity through translucency
to transparency, with cascades of glazing bringing natural light where
required. The mass of the building dissolves at the contoured glass tip,
becoming a beacon across space. (Libeskind, 2000, pp. 132-133)
Similarly, instructional designers could, but rarely do, discuss the qualitative
immediacy of learning environments: the rhythms of instructional activities; methods
for creating dramatic tension and revealing unity within content sequences; strategies
that provide memorable closure to learning experiences; the visual impact of
computer interfaces, texts, and classrooms.
Instead, instructional designers are often more beholden to the dry, yeastless
qualities of their work, and rarely discuss their role in inspiring and moving learners.
For example, in Gibbons (2003a) insightful work of analyzing what and how
designers design, he makes a strong connection between ID and architecture by
showing how designs in both disciplines can be seen as existing in layers, from their
surface properties (in ID, how media are shaped), to more fundamental properties like
structure (design strategies or also, in the case of ID, models of expertise). Following
Brand (1994), Gibbons begins by assuming that architects see a building as a system
of layers rather than as a unitary designed entity (p. 23). The goals of Gibbons and
Brandsustainability and reuseare admirable enough, and should certainly be
considered by all designers. Yet as a primary design principle, a modular approach in
which these layers are highly separated is linked primarily to a modernist aesthetic,
one that has led to a bleak and hostile legacy ... in cities around the world (Wines,
2000, p. 12). Expressing a realization similar to that of Norman (2004) about the
importance of the emotional qualities of designs, Wines (2000) points out that
without art, the whole idea of sustainability fails (p. 9) because people will choose
not to preserve works that arent aesthetically engaging. Exceptions may seem to
exist, and Brand (1994) points out several low road examples of architectural works
whose longevity is apparently due to flexibility rather than aesthetic value. But even
in these cases, it is the acquired aesthetic qualities that are a primary reason for their
preservationtheir history and accumulated of stories about what has occurred there,
their increased ability to engage tenants to participate in their (re)design, and the
appeal of the anti-high-road statement they make.
While Gibbons (2003 a) acknowledges the importance of articulation
between each of the layers of a design (granting at least a functional value to unity),
he also proposes that instructional designers, as they mature, typically evolve through
a sequence of centrisms, or layer-focuses (mediamessagestrategymodel, in
that order), in reaching the peak of their expertise. Again, the analysis of four-levels
of design is a useful insight, but Gibbons uses this construct to further slight the
9


aesthetic qualities of ID. In effect, media and message qualities (those typically
considered to be aesthetic in nature), while not ignored, are devalued as simpler,
surface qualities in an instructional design. As he sees it, they often capture the full
attention of novices, but experts are correct in giving them lesser emphasis. I would
argue that many instructional designers, due to the emphasis we place in ID education
and research, actually begin their careers with a strategy or model centrism, and never
learn to appreciate the importance of the media or message layers in creating an
integrated experience. If unity were truly valued, as it would be with an aesthetic
orientation, one would hope that a designer would evolve beyond any centrism at all
and embrace all layers of a design as contributing equally to its success. In
architecture, the unity of a work is never simply the result of articulation between its
separate layers. Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, refused many of the modernist
tenets and created organic works in which site, structure, and material merged from
the outset. Wright felt that no house should ever be on any hill or on anything. It
should be of the hill, belonging to it, so hill and house could live together each the
happier for the other (cited in Heyer, 1978, p. 64).
In nearly all the design disciplines, including architecture, industrial design,
and graphic design, aesthetic aspects are of high, if not primary importance to both
designers and end-users (Postrel, 2003). Yet as instructional designers, we hardly
consider them at allor at least one might come to that conclusion given the dearth
of publications on the topic. Only rarely are the aesthetic qualities of instruction
mentioned in our literature (rare exceptions include Davies, 1991). In suppressing the
aesthetic nature of our work, we not only ignore much of the heart of what we do,
much of what makes the profession a rewarding one to undertake, but also risk
promoting practice that could lead to un-engaging, and therefore ineffective, products
(see Allen, 2003; Norman, 2004). In choosing to remain quiet about the aesthetics of
ID, in assuming that the topic is one about which we should be agnostic, we limit the
vocabulary we can use to explore how learners engage with and find meaning in
learning activities. Intuitively, most instructional designers know the value of
attractively designed materials and classrooms, well-told stories, careful pacing and
timing of instructional activities, and balance and closure in instructional units,
courses, or degree programs (Parrish, 2004). Of course, how we decide what is
attractive, well told, well paced, balanced, and closed can be couched in
psychological terms. But told in aesthetic terms, the story of these qualities is richer,
and their persistent mystery is not overlooked or undervalued in the desire for
predictability.
My purpose in this article is not to claim that instructional design is an art, at
least not in the contemporary sense of the term art. I feel that instructional design is
a part of a broader design tradition, and that the design way (Nelson and
Stolterman, 2003) is likely more primary than art, arising from practical attempts to
affect our environment for survival and improvement. However, I am suggesting that
10


the distinctions between art and design are not as obvious as they might at first seem,
because aesthetic qualities are inherent in both. I suspect that the distinctions we
typically draw are more accidental than essential, more a matter of expectations and
cultural priorities. Art and the design disciplines are siblings, with similar motivations
and goalsmost fundamentally, to bring order and meaning to life through conscious
manipulation of our environment. In the next section of this paper I will defend the
artistic aspects of design from what I feel are mischaracterizations, ones of
manipulation and proselytizing (Nelson & Stolterman, p. 67), self-centeredness
(Visscher-Voerman & Gustafson, 2004), and being concerned only with surface
qualities, to the neglect of function (Brand, 1994).
Why We Dont Talk About the Aesthetics of Instructional Design
The reasons we avoid talking about aesthetics in instructional design have a
lot to do with our limited conceptions of that word. Ostensibly, aesthetics describes
our experience of and passion for creating art, but John Dewey and others saw it as
applying much more broadly. In developing a pragmatist theory of aesthetics in his
work, Art and Experience (1934/1989), Dewey considered the aesthetic as a prevalent
and essential kind of experience. He proposed that the aesthetic grows out of the
rhythmic alternation of disruption and order, struggles and achievements (p. 19), in
our lives. In other words, art arises out of the rhythms of everyday experience and
epitomizes our nature as intentional beings establishing and achieving goals. As
Dewey put it:
Life consists of phases in which the organism falls out of step with the
march of surrounding things and then recovers unison with it.... And,
in a growing life, the recovery is never mere return to a prior state, for
it is enriched by the state of disparity and resistance through which it
has successfully passed. . Here in germ are balance and harmony
attained through rhythm, (p. 14)
An aesthetic experience is one that is particularly heightened and especially
meaningful. In this sense, the aesthetic is a potential not only of the arts, but all
activity. For Dewey, the concept of art also had broad application (as it did in ancient
Greece), referring to any effort to make desired changes in the environment that
increase our sense of unity with it. In this sense, art could apply as much to
education, agriculture, and politics as to painting, music, and drama, and aesthetics
could be seen as a key element in each of those practices.
From the standpoint of pragmatist aesthetics (Berleant, 1991; Dewey, 1934;
Shusterman, 2000), works of art are merely refined and intensified forms of
experience (Dewey, p. 3), and not different in nature from more commonplace
11


experiences. I suggest that in creating instructional designs, we are also in the
business of creating refined and intensified forms of experience, yet we avoid
talking about a quality essential to enhancing that experience. We hold beliefs about
aesthetics, drawn from historical, but still prevailing, conceptions of it, that lead us to
feel it has little place in the process of instruction. In the remainder of this section I
examine four sets of beliefs that might prevent us from perceiving its value to
education and training. For each belief, I offer responses from a pragmatist viewpoint
that refute its basis and suggest that instructional designers should consider aesthetic
experience as an important element in their designs.
Belief One: Manipulation
Applying aesthetics is a manipulation that tricks learners into caring about
what they are learning, or even creates the illusion of learning. Contemporary goals
of education include helping to emancipate learners as thinking individuals and
supporting their developing identities as members of community of practice.
Achieving these goals allows learners to become agents in a complex, ever-changing
world. The goal is not to mold learners according to the current canon, leaving them
unable to adapt to the evolving environment. Focusing on the aesthetic qualities of
instruction might be seen as playing against these purposes. After all, the arts can be
full of subterfuge and misdirection that play on audience emotions rather than
encouraging thought.
While some works of art can be manipulative, we typically experience these
works as failures. As Dewey (1934/1989) puts it, in such works,
There is no personally felt emotion guiding the selecting and
assembling of the materials presented. . We are irritated by a feeling
that [the artist] is manipulating materials to secure an effect decided
upon in advance.... The author, not the subject matter, is the arbiter.
(p. 68)
The aesthetic arises out of experience; it is not something imposed upon it.
While an artist can put in place the conditions in which aesthetic experience might
arise, she does not create that experience. It is up to the viewer whether aesthetic
potential is achieved. In Deweys perspective, art is a form of inquiry in which the
role of inquirer is shared. In the creation of the art product, the inquirer is the artist,
but in the appreciation of the product, each appreciator becomes another inquirer. In
the end, the objective of an artistic inquiry, or the work of art, is an experience that
is had by both the artist and the appreciator. In other words, the successful artist is not
manipulating a viewers experience, even though she can be seen as facilitating it.
12


In its generalized form, aesthetic experience begins with tension and
imbalance, or a felt need, but also offers the promise of consummation, or balance
regained. This is seen most clearly in the arts in the use of dramatic or musical
tension. The pattern of tension and consummation is thwarted if the work of art is not
a genuine experience, one which hangs together and rings true. Artful approaches to
educational activities aimed toward achieving this pattern can be a powerful force to
orient learners and integrate learning, as long as the subject matter is the arbiter. If
aesthetic tension and consummation arise from problems and issues emerging from
the subject matter, and are not imposed merely as an arbitrary framework, learning
will be far from illusory.
Belief Two: Passivity
Emphasis on aesthetic qualities encourages passivity and supplants goal
development more directly related to the instructional content. The arts are often felt
to generate passivity, or at most, a shallow and meaningless kind of engagement that
provides primarily escapist value (Shusterman, 1995). In other words, an artful
approach to instruction might be assumed to be one that focuses on an instructors
self-expression, with the learner as audiencecertainly not a desired quality
according to current learning theories. What we desire instead is that students develop
personal and shared goals, with ends centered on becoming more knowledgeable in
the subject area and more able to participate within a discipline.
Contrary to this belief, pragmatist aesthetics views engagement as a defining
quality of the arts (Berleant, 1991). It is the contribution we ourselves make [to the
work of art], a contribution that is active and participatory (p. 4). When we read a
novel or listen to a piece of music, the experience is uniquely ours due to the
contribution we make to its interpretation (Rosenblatt, 1985). But, aesthetic qualities
contribute to our engagement with all the objects and events of life, not just art. In
Deweys conception, experience, including aesthetic experience, is both doing and
undergoing. Instead of signifying being shut up within ones own private feelings
and sensations, it signifies active and alert commerce with the world; at its height it
signifies complete interpenetration of self and the world of objects and events
(Dewey, 1934, p. 19). In searching for the roots of aesthetic experience, Dewey tells
us we must begin
in the events and scenes that hold the attentive eye and ear of man,
arousing his interest and affording him enjoyment as he looks and
listens.. .. The sources of art in human experience will be learned by
him who sees how the tense grace of the ball-player infects the
onlooking crowd; who notes the delight of the housewife in tending to
her plants ...; the zest of the spectator in poking the wood burning on
13


the hearth and in watching the darting flames and crumbling coals.
(PP- 4-5)
What these examples have in common is an engagement that can be
intellectual, emotional, and/or physical, and that implies an investment of attention in
anticipation of future consequences. Just as artworks can be designed to draw in
readers or viewers to puzzle out a plot or empathize with characters, to approach a
painting or walk around a sculpture, or even to have the vicarious somatic experience
of watching a dance, learning experiences might be designed aesthetically to
stimulate each of these forms of engagement.
Contemporary learning theory suggests increased demands for learners to do,
and not merely undergo, so instructional designs that encourage engagement through
aesthetic experience may be a force in creating the conditions for learning. But
aesthetic experience is not achieved through just any activity, it must be motivated by
a felt need in the learner, which can either be discovered by the teacher individually
for each student (a difficult, if not impossible task), or stimulated by revealing
meaningful problems, issues, and puzzles arising from the subject matter.
Additionally, during this activity there must be a sense of impending consummation,
one that is anticipated throughout and is recurrently savored with special intensity
(Dewey, 1934, p. 55). In other words, problems and issues should be presented as
solvable, or at least definable. Learning during such activity becomes an act of
expression on the part of the student in which the turmoil marks the place where
inner impulse and contact with the environment, in fact or in idea, meet and create a
ferment (p. 66). In other words, artful instruction is not teacher-centered at all.
Belief Three: Superficiality
Emphasizing aesthetic qualities can distract us from the true goals of
instruction. Aesthetic qualities are superficial, with little potential contribution to
knowledge construction. The arts are frequently seen as lacking meaning of the sort
we strive for in instruction. Aesthetic qualities are considered to be on the surface, a
pleasant froth, having little to do with the world we want learners to connect to and
perform within. The aesthetic attitude is often assumed to be one of disinterest, in
which the viewer is indifferent to the art object and subject except in its appearance or
representation, and is unconcerned with its practical utility, including its role as a
source of intellectual or sensual gratification (Cooper, 1995, p. 24).
That the aesthetic implies an attitude of disinterest is easy to refute, and yet
difficult to dismiss from argument because it pervades so thoroughly the world view
in which science and rationality take precedence. Any powerful narrative is enough to
illustrate that art is not separate from our worldly concerns, yet we tend to place a
wall between art and science/technology in order to separate unpractical concerns,
14


those purely for enjoyment, from those with practical and theoretical repercussions.
Yet for the pragmatists, this line was not defined. William James saw that both art
and science (as well as philosophy) arose from the drive to gather up the abundance
of the rich variety of the world as it enters into our experience, (Seigfried, 1990, p.
131). As evidence, he points out that the criteria for success in both aesthetic and
scientific work are richness (fullness of data), simplicity (of conception [e.g.,
Occams Razor]), and harmony, (breadth of consistency achieved through richness
and simplicity). Fellow pragmatist Josiah Royce called this the law of least effort,
pointing out that the effort of consciousness seems to be to combine the greatest
richness of content with the greatest definiteness of organization (cited in Seigfried,
1990, p. 131). Furthermore, both artist and scientist proceed by looking for
associations by similarity rather than merely associations by contiguity (p. 132).
Dewey saw both art and science as processes of inquiry. Their distinctions lie
only in their subject matters and in their level of abstraction. In science, meanings
are related to one another on the ground of their character as meanings, freed from
direct reference to the concerns of a limited group (Dewey, 2000b, p. 489). In
contrast, art, as an activity in the realm of common sense (a category in which
Dewey would also place technology), stays connected to the immediate qualities of
experience in order to establish objects of use and enjoyment (p. 488):
Tangled scenes of life are made more intelligible in esthetic
experience: not, however, as reflection and science render things more
intelligible by reduction to conceptual form, but by presenting their
meanings as the matter of a clarified, coherent, and intensified or
impassioned experience. (Dewey, 1934, p. 290)
In fact, the subject matter of artistic inquiry is experience itselfexperience in
all its nuances, not just isolated qualities. This subject matter particularly includes
those heightened and intensified forms of experience that are aesthetic. Aesthetic
qualities are not merely superficial; however, they do not treat the surfaces of things
as unimportant to experience. Art both is and is about experience. In contrast,
science, as traditionally practiced, is about isolated qualities of experience. This
allows generalizations to appear, but often misses the richness of particulars.
Like James, Dewey saw the aesthetic as a necessary component underlying all
activity, whether intellectual or artistic:
Not only is this quality [of aesthetics] a significant motive in
undertaking intellectual inquiry and in keeping it honest, but... no
intellectual activity is an integral event. . unless it is rounded out
with this quality. Without it, thinking is inconclusive. (Dewey, 1934,
P-38)
15


Yet educators are often most concerned with the primary meanings of their
subject matters, treating instruction only as a straightforward inquiry concerned with
the concepts and problems of their fields, and not its mysteries and motivations. In
addition, they may overlook the immediate qualities of the learning experience that
might help to make it an integral event. By helping learners, through artful
instruction, inquire into the motives for learning and practicing a discipline, the
criteria for successful expression of ideas within the discipline, the emotional
dimensions inherent in its practice, and the reigning tensions that exist in the literature
of the discipline, educators may help achieve learning that is enhanced by aesthetic
experience.
For example, the organization in which I work provides professional
development opportunities in the form of classroom courses and computer-based
training for government and military weather forecasters. We could choose to limit
our goals to providing purely science instruction, teaching about meteorological
principles and theoretical concepts that will help forecasters better understand
weather phenomena and the conditions that create and support them. We could add
further aspects to the instruction that situate it in the technical realities of forecaster
practice, including training in the best use of the available data for analyzing and
diagnosing weather conditions. However, to address the aesthetic dimensions, our
instruction would not ignore the frustrations in having to make decisions within
limiting time-constraints and with insufficient data, the pressures to achieve accuracy
even when there are many unknowns, the cultural or political factors that may
underlie the choice between applying one of several competing theories or
procedures, the pressures and motivations that make one either eager or reluctant to
make certain forecasts, or, finally, the rewards of having a forecast prove accurate.
None of these final aspects of practice are superficial or unimportant from an
aesthetic perspective.
Belief Four: Difficulty
Attention to the aesthetics of practice demands heightened sensibilities which
only artists possess. It places unreasonable expectations on the rest of us. Many feel
that the arts are something unassailable, if not inexplicable to most of us. Some claim
that art is a game played by those in an artworld that is inaccessible to the rest of us
except by invitation (Dickie, 1989).
As Dewey demonstrates, however, art has its germ in the everyday struggles
and achievements in a world of things (1934, p. 19). Aesthetic experience is not only
accessible to everyone; it is an inherent quality of our lives. The aesthetic is not found
only in those refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art, but
also in the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to
16


constitute experience (p. 3). While art makes aesthetic experience its subject matter,
it doesnt own it.
Being artful is a matter of common sense, not uncommon sensibility. To
achieve artful instruction one looks for opportunities for learners to inquire into the
inherent mysteries and issues of a subject matter, not, as it might seem, for ways to
make glorious depictions of it. Every expert immersed in her subject matter, and by
extension the instructional designer working with her, has the tools for creating artful
instruction. Just as art is inquiry for both artist and appreciator, designers need to
remember that the process of inquiry is not theirs alone in the design process. Rather
than offering predetermined answers, there must be room for doubt and tension in the
minds of learners that can propel them toward a consummation of learning that is
personal. Of course, to make learning an inquiry into the rich nuances of experience,
designers must also attend to its qualitative immediacy and not simply the
instructional strategies being employed. This includes attention to its unity, emotional
currents, and sensory dimensions. This requirement makes artful instruction a skillful
activity, but not an unassailable one.
Practicing Artful Instructional Design
In this final section I describe three fundamental criteria for artful instruction
and provide brief guidelines for aesthetic strategies. From a Deweyan perspective,
these three criteria are tension, consummation (including its anticipation), and
immediacy. While I dont intend to offer formulas for aesthetic experience, which
would no doubt be a very unartful thing to do, something akin to a very general
model does emerge when we look at the nature of formal learning experiences in
courses and modules of computer-based instruction, and their relation to the
temporally constrained art forms like music, film, and literature. This model is
derived from research into the aesthetic decisions of several teachers and instructional
designers (Parrish, 2004). Like the temporally constrained arts, formal instruction has
a beginning, middle, and end, and how these are treated has a profound impact on the
learning experience. As I look at each of these phases of instruction, I will draw
connections to art forms, particularly music, that provide useful analogies and
suggestions for design strategies.
Beginnings
Because learners may enter a formal instructional situation with a wide range
of anticipatory feelings, potentially including fear or skepticism, the teacher or
instructional designer must initially work to gain interest and trust. The trust of even
an initially optimistic learner may be tenuous, so the presence of motivation does not
preclude the need for trust- and interest-building. Interest is generated through tension
17


or felt need, posing a situation in which frustration or imbalance is introduceda
puzzle or issue about the topic, a challenge or mystery to solve, a problem to engage
with. Trust is gained by demonstrating to learners that the experience will be
worthwhile, that it will lead to consummation. When Cavell (1976) advises artists
about this obligation, he could also be speaking to instructional designers:
In art, the chances you take are your own. But of course you are
inviting others to take them with you. And since they are, nevertheless,
your own, and your invitation is based not on power or authority, but
on attraction and promise, your invitation incurs the most exacting of
obligations: that every risk must be shown worthwhile, and every
infliction of tension lead to a resolution, and every demand on
attention and passion be satisfied . (p. 199)
In music, more specifically in the sonata form used in Classical symphony,
tension is created by shifting from the tonic to the dominant key and developing an
anticipation that the tonic will return to resolve the musical tension created by the
opposition of keys (Slonimsky, 1989). Within instruction, similar tension might be
created by contrasting competing philosophical or value bases within a field, or
seeming incongruencies that exist. Similar to the dramatic conflict found in narratives
(see Egan [1986] for a discussion of how to use narrative conflict in teaching), this
tension might serve not only to create individual dissonance, but also to support
community-building by developing shared goals among learners (Wilson, Ludwig-
Hardman, Thomam, & Dunlap, 2004).
The final quality of artful instruction, immediacy, is addressed in instructional
beginnings by attending to the formal qualities of the instructional environment that
support entry into its activities. Well designed Web pages, effective use of
multimedia, engaging conversation and presentation, frequent and encouraging online
discussionall these not only provide clear instructional communication, but also
offer comfort and enjoyment, demonstrate care and respect for learners, and compel
learners into the inquiry.
Middles
By the middle of a formal instructional experience, if the instructional
designer or instructor has done well, learners will have forgotten fears and overcome
skepticism and find themselves immersed in the difficult and lengthy processes of
learning. Inevitably, some of the luster of the new experience is lost, and only if
learners are willing to continue to suspend disbelief and maintain the temporarily
crafted relationship between teacher and learner will their engagement stay intact.
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In a symphony, as well as in most movies, the middle movement proceeds in a
quieter and more thoughtful pace than does the opening, often allegro, movement.
This is the time for adagio, for deepening reflection and commitment to the
experience. Commitment is often maintained by having a pattern or ritual to activities
and assignments. This may include reestablishing earlier themes, which works to
bring out the underlying unity of the experience. In courses and well-developed
communities of practice, commitment is helped by the sense of community that
emerges in shared experience.
By the middle, it also should be clear that learning goals are achievable. In
this phase, learners may need a road map to help them see where the experience is
leading. The possibility of consummation must be anticipated, even if the path to
those goals still contains difficult challenges along the way. In this phase, tension is
maintained, but it may be a deeper and more personally relevant tension, one
connected to questions of how learning goals will be achieved. In music and
narrative, the tension of a middle movement is broader as well, anticipating a closure
that only the final movement can provide, a closure that is more profound than those
experienced up to that point. If that final closure proves not to be more profound, the
entire experience may feel flat.
Endings
In a Classical symphony, the final movement returns to an energetic pace,
typically even more boisterous than the beginning. Similarly, instructional
experiences typically conclude in a fluster of activity. Final papers and projects are
due, and may seem like a last heroic deed to be accomplished. A final exam may
loom like an impending final battle, ready to swallow the learners energies. The
mental and physical exhaustion that accompanies this conclusion, if it is not excessive
and defeating, adds emotional intensity to the feeling of consummation and restored
order when it is finally complete.
However, in learning experiences, closure is never absolute. Regarding
education and growth, Dewey (2000a) concludes that life is development, and that
development, growing, is life. In other words, there is no end (in both its senses of
finality and goal) to development that will tell us that no further growth is necessary.
In this light, he sees that the educational process is one of continual reorganizing,
reconstructing, transforming (p. 496). Instead of bringing finality, learning
experiences should propagate into new learning experiences; growth should lead to
more growth. Accordingly, while an ending to instruction should provide closure to
the inquiry that pervaded it, offering opportunities for learners to reflect on what
theyve learned and helping to tie the preceding activities into a unified whole, there
should also be a reference to the fact that there is more learning to be achieved
beyond the experience.
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The pattern of pacing for the three phases of formal instructional experiences
described above (energeticmoderateenergetic) suggests quick immersion into the
flow of an activity, a period of reflection and reconciliation of previous patterns of
life with new ones, and finally a full commitment to see the process through to
completion and resolve remaining tensions. Obviously, many other kinds of learning
experiences exist where this pattern does not apply as directly. Also, there are many
other possible interpretations of the aesthetic nature of formal learning, particularly as
we look at what occurs in the individual classes and interactions that comprise larger
learning experiences. If we apply interpretive techniques from other art forms
architecture or the novel, for examplewe could derive other useful models as well.
Furthermore, as the true distinctions that exist between the fine arts and instructional
design become well identified (beyond the false distinctions looked at earlier in this
article), we could also engage in the work of developing a unique aesthetic of
instruction that helps us understand and evaluate this quality.
Conclusion
Many contemporary instructional theories acknowledge the role of inquiry in
learning and thus create an increased opportunity for aesthetic experience to emerge
as learners engage in meaningful activity. All forms of active learning strategies
such as problem-based learning (Savery & Duffy, 1996), case-based learning
(Kolodner & Guzdial, 2000), generative learning (Wittrock, 1990), and intentional
learning environments (Dunlap & Grabinger, 1996)allow learners to experience the
rhythm of imbalance and balance regained that is the root of aesthetic experience. It
shouldnt be surprising that psychology would lead to many of the same conclusions
about experience and personal growth as does art. After all, both are methods of
inquiry into human experience. However, in sticking to its scientific worldview,
psychology may not be seeing the whole picture. Art, as a holistic approach to the
inquiry of experience, sacrifices precision, but may offer something valuable in its
place.
Some have looked at the processes that instructors and instructional designers
use and have drawn parallels with the ways artists practice (Davies, 1991; Eisner,
1998)for example, the way that planning and implementation are often
simultaneous activities. Others have investigated the role of narrative in knowing and
learning (McEwan & Egan, 1995). What I am proposing is more fundamental than
these efforts. I suggest that we examine the ways in which instructional designers can
and do make decisions similar to those artists make in producing their work, look to
strategies derived from the arts that could help in creating artful instruction, and
consider the extent to which the aesthetic experience of learners is important to
learning. Doing so does not minimize the importance of science in instructional
design, but adds aesthetics as a core foundation for instructional practice, alongside
20


science (see Wilsons [this issue] concept of Four Pillars of Practice for a
discussion of other ID foundations).
Aesthetic experience doesnt lie outside the intellectual activity typically
associated with learning. In fact, it undergirds that activity. If learners construct their
knowledge through active participation in the world, it is in part the aesthetic that
provides the purposes for doing so, tells them when they have succeeded, and gives
satisfaction and motivation to continue. In fact, it may be more truthful to say that
people compose their knowledge, rather than construct it, just as much according
to inspiration and a sense of right-feeling, as to logic and expert models. Embracing
the aesthetics of instruction is a pragmatic way to approach the problems of education
and training, not an idealistic gesture. In many ways, it is merely following one of the
core values in the discipline of instructional design, that of systems thinking. As we
continue to broaden our conception of learning ecologies to include not merely the
instructional context, but also the whole learner, it becomes necessary to include
those aspects of learning experiences that are aesthetic as well as cognitive and social.
It becomes important to engage learners more completely, through their hearts,
minds, and imaginations. Accordingly, the field of instructional design needs to be
open not only to the contributions of the learning sciences, but also to the potential
discoveries of an inquiry into the instructional arts.
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CHAPTER 3
LEARNING AS AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE: JOHN DEWEYS
INTEGRATION OF ART, INQUIRY, AND EDUCATION
Linking Learning and Aesthetics
Although too frequently ignored, one of the central problems in formal
learning situations is ensuring learners have sufficient desire to learn and develop the
positive attitudes toward content that will support current and future learning. The
relationship of this problem to aesthetics, however, is too rarely pursued. Aesthetics
as an appreciation of beauty is recognized as akin to desire to learn and positive
attitude toward content, and it remains a separate component of development within
the affective domain of learning outcomes (Martin & Reigeluth, 1999). The affective
domain in turn is placed in contrast to the privileged cognitive domain, and therefore
receives less attention (Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1964). The resulting dichotomy
may lead to the prescription of separate (even if interwoven) educational curricula
based on the assumption that different learning goals and objectives are being
targeted (Martin & Reigeluth, 1999). In other words, in regards to aesthetics, the
separation may call for separate courses dedicated to the arts either to instill an
appreciation of aesthetic beauty or skill in creating beautiful things. In core courses,
instructors may include options for artistic expression by students (even in courses
presumably dedicated to cognitive skill development) as an alternative way for
students to demonstrate their grasp of course content through an aesthetic way of
knowing (Eisner, 2002). In the end though, because a separation continues, the
possibility of applying aesthetics to the problem of instilling desire to learn remains
incompletely explored.
But the interconnection between the cognitive and affective goals of education
is not lost on the authors cited above, even if a surface appreciation of their work
might propagate the dichotomy. In fact, Krathwohl et al. (1964) express reluctance
about their taxonomy, devoting an entire chapter to discussing the arbitrary separation
of the affective and cognitive domains, and demonstrating how nearly all cognitive
objectives have an affective component if we search for it (p. 48). Similarly, Martin
and Reigeluth (1999) also devote substantial introductory comments to the possibility
that emotional development is an essential foundation for and component of
cognitive development (p. 489). My goal in this paper is to explore further the
integration of the affective and cognitive in experience. In particular, I will focus on
22


aesthetic experience and related concepts as central to this integration, with the
intention of deriving implications for teaching and instructional design.
This is not to say that this connection isnt already recognized, at least
intuitively, by many teachers and instructional designers. Their strategies include,
among others, allowing dramatic tension or mystery to arise from the subject matter,
establishing and maintaining trust in a potential payoff for student efforts, and
fostering an integrated learning experience with an immediately apparent, or
developing, unity of activities. Many instructional theories already recognize the
importance of aesthetic considerations, even if these are couched in terms like
motivation rather than dramatic tension or alignment of instruction rather than
unity. However, a better understanding of how aesthetic experience takes place in
learning, especially in profound and transformative learning experiences, could allow
us to expand our repertoire of instructional approaches and suggest more effective
ways to embody existing instructional theory.
John Deweys philosophical works on art, inquiry, and education, especially
when viewed together, provide a useful foundation on which to claim that the
dichotomy of affective and cognitive domains of learning is counterproductive.
Deweys work suggests that experience is the proper unit of analysis for studying
human activity, not the narrower components of cognition, emotion, or physical
activity. From this broader perspective, art practice and appreciation, scientific and
naturalistic inquiry, and education and learning not only demonstrate a common
connection between the person and external things and events, but also share the
common goal of achieving unity or stability in the world by developing an
understanding of our current and potential place within it. This paper draws from
Deweys work to demonstrate that a useful model of learning should include a place
for aesthetic experience.
Art, Broad and Narrow
The concept of art is commonly used in one of two sensesone narrow and
one broad. The narrow sense typically comes first to mind. In this case, art refers to
the fine or popular arts, the collection of activities whose goal is to create products
and performances that stimulate emotionally charged thought or deep feeling in those
who engage with themfiction and poetry, paintings, plays, musical compositions,
etc. The ability to engage fully with art in the narrow sense is often thought to require
connoisseurship or good taste (or at minimum, acquired taste). However, people in all
cultures are attracted to and engage in the arts, and this universal attraction is the
stimulus to inquiry by philosophers of art, or aestheticians.
The second, broader sense of the word art is used in reference to highly
skilled or creative application of our powers to affect our world. Rather than the
narrow set of activities associated with the first sense of art, here it can apply to
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nearly any human activity. We might say, That quarterback makes football look like
an art, Dr. Smith is an artist with his scalpel, This young scientist is the Mozart of
our field, or even, The President is artful at diverting attention from the real issues.
The ability to appreciate art in the broad sense similarly requires a form of
connoisseurship. It requires sufficient insight into the activity to recognize expert
and creative performance.
Although distinct today, these two senses of the word art were not always
considered separate. For instance, ars in ancient Greece referred to any effort to
make desired changes in the environment that increase our unity with it. In other
words, ars applied as much to education, agriculture, and politics as to painting,
music, and drama. Similarly, the six arts of classical Confucian thought included
activities as diverse as ritual, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and
arithmetic (Boisvert, 1998). Clearly, these broader conceptions of art are concerned
less with a type of final product than they are with how an activity is performed and
what it intends to achieve.
Art Reconciled as Aesthetic Experience
John Dewey sought to recover this older sense of the word art and to
demonstrate that aesthetic experience was the glue that held together such diversity of
activities. Furthermore, he proposed that aesthetic experience itself differs from other
experiences not so much in kind, but in quality, and that it has commonalities to all
experience the way mountain peaks do not float unsupported,. . but are the earth in
one of its manifest operations (Dewey, 1934/1989, p. 9) So Deweys agenda was in
reality broader than merely reconciling the senses of art. It was aimed at connecting
and elucidating all types of experience. In Deweys use of the concept, experience is
not just the colloquial, what happens to us, but includes the interactivity inherent in
any engagement with the world. It includes both an active and passive element
peculiarly combined (Dewey, 1916, p. 139). It consists of both trying and
undergoing, and encompasses both us and things of the world responding to us. In
this sense, experience is no longer internal, but a circuit of activity that includes
internal states as well as actions and external repercussions. In experience, mind,
body, and the world are not distinct things, even if we view them as separate in
analysis. We feel, think, do, and are responded to in one indivisible movement.
But experiences are not equal. Some experiences are rote, habitual, or engaged
in only begrudgingly and without investment. Too much of this type of experience
stymies growth by leaving us adverse to and comparatively incompetent in situations
which require effort and perseverance (Dewey, 1938/1997, p.35). However,
experiences in which we also engage in reflection about our feelings, thoughts,
actions, and about the responses our actions receive, those in which the change made
by action is reflected back into a change made in us, are learning experiences
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(Dewey, 1916, p. 139). Instructional providers should strive for a learning experience
that arouses curiosity, strengthens initiative, and sets up desires and purposes that are
sufficiently intense to carry a person over the dead places..(Dewey, 1997/1938, p.
38). It was along the dimension of ability to stimulate growth and desire to learn that
Dewey sought to distinguish types of experience, and it was aesthetic experience that
he placed at the positive extreme along this dimension.
Both narrow and broad senses of the word art are in common usage and can
be easily understood. But the experience that underlies the achievement and
appreciation of both kinds of art, aesthetic experience, is not, and so further definition
is useful. One of the distinguishing characteristics of aesthetic experience is its
integral nature, that it runs its course to fulfillment,... demarcated in the general
stream of experience from other experiences (Dewey, 1934/1989, p. 42). Such
internal unity leads to high levels of reflection and increased growth, and to a desire
for similar experiences of unity. Dewey does not draw a hard distinction between
achieving practical unity that allows an organism to survive in its environment (by
finding food or building shelter from available materials), intellectual or
philosophical unity (decoding the human genome, understanding our place in the
world), and artistic unity (finding beauty in a landscape, hearing a symphony as an
organic whole). Each of these pursuits allows us to be more responsive and effective
human beings, and so aesthetic experience can emerge within each of them. It is the
depth of engagement and achievement of consummation that marks it as aesthetic, not
the undertaking involved.
Aesthetic experience begins with a compelling reason to engagea felt need,
tension, or puzzlement that requires struggle. It continues in an uninterrupted
movement toward an end, a movement infused with anticipation of the final outcome.
(While the movement may be interrupted in time, it is not interrupted in intent.)
Along the way we take action, even if that action is only intent observation, and we
care about the things and conditions that result from our action, especially their
bearing on the anticipated end. Finally, the ending is a consummation (not merely a
cessation) that connects all events in the experience into a continuous, purposeful
movement (Dewey, 1934/1989). The entire movement of the aesthetic experience,
from the initiating tension through its consummation, is focused on an end, but not to
the detriment of enjoying the pursuit. Aesthetic experience is particularly reflective
both in the strong conscious engagement throughout and in the end that recalls all that
comes before it, and therefore particularly conducive to learning.
Art in the broad sense results when individuals engage in their endeavors in
such a way that they can be called aesthetictheir coherent work toward an end
demonstrates skillful, attentive execution and significant unity of purpose. The
appreciation of these endeavors through intent observation also allows appreciators to
have an aesthetic experience, such as when sports fans cheer on a skillful athlete or
when colleagues marvel at the intelligence and creativity of a talented practitioner. In
25


contrast, art in the narrow sense results when people create products or experiences
whose direct aim is to create aesthetic experience in those who will appreciate the
work. Art broad and art narrow are not mutually exclusive. For example, teachers and
instructional designers may demonstrate both. In fact, when education aims for
significant growth by creating immersive and compelling learning experiences, it
exemplifies the narrow sense of the word to a high degree, even if the aim of those
experiences is developing the connoisseurship to appreciate art in the broader sense
when evidenced in a particular discipline.
Art as Inquiry
Like art, inquiry can also have broad and narrow conceptions. Dewey
(1938/1991) saw inquiry as a natural, pervasive human activity, even if it is most
often thought of in its most formal manifestationsscientific research and logical
analysis. Not coincidentally, in much the same way that he sought to reconcile the
senses of art to include both fine arts and the art of everyday experience, Dewey
also sought to reconcile formal inquiry with the informal types we perform in
everyday life, which he called common sense inquiry. In both senses, inquiry is
about responding to our environment in ways that either modify it or our relationship
to it, both of which function to restore the reciprocal adaptation that is required for
a fruitful life (p.66). Examples of modifying the environment through the process of
inquiry range from building a shelter after determining the best site and materials
available, to building and launching a geostationary satellite to enhance
communications and environmental monitoring. These also include a modification of
our relationship to the environment by offering a privileged position within it, but
more obvious examples of a changed relationship range from increasing our
knowledge or recognizing our feelings to forecasting the weather. Each of these can
be seen as efforts to restore the reciprocal adaptation required to lead a productive
life. In other words, they are about creating or restoring unity and stability between
persons and the world they live in. Given this broad role of inquiry, we can see that
the purposes of artfinding or creating unity in experienceclassify it as a form of
common sense inquiry.
Whether it is scientific inquiry, which often seeks to attain knowledge for its
own sake, or common sense inquiry, which seeks knowledge for the sake of
settlement of some issue of use or enjoyment (Dewey, 1938/1991, p. 66), an inquiry
follows a common pattern.
1. Every inquiry is preceded by an indeterminate situationa felt need or
doubt that calls for resolution. The indeterminate situation comes into
existence from existential causes, and is not immediately imposed in
the form of a problem ( p. 109).
26


2. A problem statement or space is defined that initiates and narrows the
inquiry. This happens only following intellectual engagement, and
after the situation is taken, adjudged, to be problematic (p. 111). An
indeterminate situation posed in the form of a problem is already half
resolvedwhat will be an acceptable solution has been determined.
3. Ideas (or hypotheses) are proposed that suggest possible solutions.
Ideas narrow which data will be considered and how they might
support a solution.
4. Ideas are tested for fit as solutions. Data observed and considered may
strengthen, weaken, or modify ideas. In reflective inquiry, the
implication or meaning of the idea is checked for fit within the existing
constellation of meanings and either accepted, discarded, or modified.
5. When ideas can be fully accommodated and the indeterminate
situation is resolved, the experience is unified and inquiry comes to an
end.
The similarities between the pattern of inquiry and the pattern of aesthetic
experience become apparent when we compare them phase by phase, as shown in
Table 1.
Table 3.1
Comparing Phases of Inquiry and Aesthetic Experience
Inquiry Aesthetic Experience
Indeterminate situation, doubt Problem generation, narrowing of focus Proposition of ideas, consideration of data Testing ideas, checking ideas for fit to data Accommodation of results that unifies the inquiry Felt need, tension, puzzlement Anticipation of outcome Intent action or observation, concern for immediate qualities and things Consideration of how observations bear on the anticipated end A consummation that unifies the experience
This nearly identical structure demonstrates that aesthetic experience is indeed
a form of inquiry. As inquiry, aesthetic experience has the express purpose of
increasing our unity with the world around us by understanding how we fit, or how
we can better fit, in our physical or social environment. Because these outcomes are
also the aims of education, inquiry learning approaches (including common sense
27


inquiry) are important means, particularly when that inquiry achieves the level of
aesthetic experience.
Inquiry as Expression
It is worth reiterating that inquiry, whether common sense or scientific, begins
not with a problem but with a qualitative, indeterminate situation or felt need. In other
words, inquiry arises from an affective state. Without an underlying desire to
reconcile a doubt or need, inquiry is rote and is unlikely to procede. Similarly, when
we dont concern ourselves with the antecedent conditions for learning inquiry,
instructional situations are unlikely to possess the impulse toward consummation that
will make them successful.
Deweys concept of expression helps to further develop his notion of the
qualitative origins of inquiry (Dewey, 1934/1989). For Dewey, expression is not
merely an outflow of emotion; it is the act of committing oneself wholly in securing a
change initiated by a driving internal desire or need. Expression begins with an
impulsion, a movement of the organism in its entirety which is the initial stage of
any complete experience (p. 64). When an internal desire or need cannot be met
through self-sufficient means, one has to risk the turmoil in which external resources
not fully under our control are required to achieve the desired outcome. These
external resources might be tools, raw materials, information and data, or merely
words. The turmoil of expression marks the place where inner impulse and contact
with the environment, in fact or in idea, meet and create a ferment (p. 72).
As Dewey expresses it, It takes the wine press as well as the grapes to ex-
press juice, and it takes environing and resisting objects as well as internal emotion
and impulsion to constitute an expression of emotion (Dewey, 1934/1989, p. 70).
Expression requires an element of struggle to be counted as expression, a struggle that
arises from interaction with the environment as a medium. One can see that
expression describes the underlying process of artistic creation, a depiction that
necessarily includes mindful manipulation of materials and not merely emotional
outpouring. One can also see that expression is an alternative way to describe the
reflective experience we call inquirywhen it is performed effectively. However, the
concept of expression more directly highlights the qualitative antecedent to inquiry,
and reminds us that emotion is more effective than any deliberate challenging
sentinel could be at carrying an inquiry to completion, by reaching out tentacles for
that which is cognate (p. 73). Emotion powerfully selects only what is needed from
available materials to satisfy the initiating impulsion, keeping the inquiry directed. In
other words, expression is both affective and cognitive in scope, demonstrating a
form of experience in which that dichotomy becomes meaningless. Expression cant
be subdivided into an affective fuel and cognitive processes.. In expression, neither of
these exists without the other.
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Additional Conditions for Aesthetic Learning Experiences
In the preceding sections, I have shown that Deweys conceptions of art,
experience, aesthetic experience, inquiry, and expression are interrelated in a number
of ways that help reveal the connection between the affective and cognitive domains
of learning. To summarize:
Experience is an interaction between an individual and the world with
the underlying goal of establishing unity or stability between the two.
Inquiry is a type of experience that includes a high degree of
conscious intent and reflection on the part of the individual, producing
learning.
Expression describes inquiry in such a way that its affective and
cognitive bases are equally salient.
Art has broad and narrow senses. In the broad sense of skillful
performance, art denotes attempts at inquiry or expression worthy of
appreciation. In the narrow sense of the fine arts, it denotes the
creation of products that purposefully promote engagement through
aesthetic experience, a highly integrated form of experience having a
particularly high degree of internal reflection.
Aesthetic experience can be had in virtually any human activity, even
though it is most directly called out in engagement with the arts. It
begins with a sense of tension or puzzlement, is infused with
anticipation of an outcome, and ends in a consummation that unifies
the experience.
Art in the narrower sense is a type of inquiry that has aesthetic
experience as its subject matter. In this sense, art is expression seeking
to understand the nature of aesthetic experiences by modeling those
experiences. For this reason, art can also provide guidance for
stimulating aesthetic experience in activities outside the arts.
In everyday settings, learning results naturally from experiences involving
inquiry and the reflection it requires. Driven by a need or desire, we attempt to
change something about ourselves or our environment and learn from the results of
that attempt, whether successful or not. At times natural learning experiences become
aesthetic, exhibiting deep engagement and providing a high degree of satisfaction. In
many cases, it is not only what weve learned that sticks with us, but also the
experience itself. Memories of learning to ride a bike or drive a car, to build a house,
or play the guitar can be among the most significant ones we possess. In contrast, in
formal learning settings like schools and many professional training situations,
29


lacking a driving need or desire to learn, learning experiences wont exhibit the same
degree of engagement, agency, or ownership of outcome. In this section, I will look to
the preceding concepts and several additional ideas drawn from Deweys educational
philosophy to propose general guidelines necessary for formal learning to become
aesthetic experience.
When subject matter is composed only of facts, concepts, and principles
specified by the curriculum, and when the desired outcome is simply the ability to
demonstrate that these have been learned, the potential for aesthetic experience is
very likely thwarted. What is particularly wrong with transmission approaches is that
subject matter is treated as finished, rather than as an unfinished, ever-growing
discipline to be joined and explored. As Dewey suggests, immaturity, or being in an
unfinished state, designates a positive force or abilitythe power to grow (Dewey,
1916, p. 42) This statement applies as much to the discipline as to the learner. If it
didnt, there would be no art in expert performance to strive toward or appreciate.
Experts are those with the abilities to apply knowledge of the discipline in new ways,
to new problems, and in the identification of new problems. It is demonstration of
these abilities that we can appreciate as artful performance. Similarly, aesthetic
learning experiences require opportunities for growth related to increased
responsiveness and effectiveness, not simply acquisition of facts and concepts that
may be useful only in some speculative future. In other words, they require inquiry or
expression in any of the myriad forms that can take, including problem solving,
design and composition, or disciplined inquiry.
Contrary to some popular, extreme claims about inquiry learning (Schank,
2005), this doesnt mean that students should never be told facts and concepts, or that
they should always be required to find them and determine their usefulness during
solitary inquiry. Unguided discovery learning is not the only alternative to finished
subject matter. A better alternative is active participation in a mutual teaching and
learning activity in which the less consciousness there is, on either side, of either
giving or receiving instruction, the better (Dewey, 1916, p. 160). Like experience in
general, a learning experience is both trying and undergoing, and it is wrong to
overreact to weaknesses in traditional teaching approaches by focusing excessively on
trying to the detriment of providing good direction (Wong, in press). In the end it is
the work of the instructor or instructional designer to provide sufficient direction to
guide the learning experience toward a meaningful outcome. Similarly, an artist cant
just come out and tell her audience how to feel or think about the artworks subject
matter, but she has the responsibility to demonstrate that there is a guiding hand
behind the aesthetic experience and that consummation is achievable. In both art and
teaching, direction is not an imposition, it is a requirement. It includes both focusing
and ordering, guiding attention toward useful resources and sequencing activities
such that they build upon one another (Dewey, 1916, p. 25). Direction of this kind
30


leads to increased freedom, not limitation, when administered in a way that also calls
for learner expression.
Direction includes sharing more than ideas and means to achieve success.
Dewey challenges the common sense notion that we learn through imitation of
anothers means. He sees this as putting the cart before the horse by ignoring that it
is shared goals and desires that cause us imitate in the first place (Dewey, 1916, p.34).
It as important for instructors to direct the goals and desires of learners as it is to
demonstrate effective means. This is not to suggest that using persuasion or
manipulating the emotions of students are ethical approaches. But sharing the goals
and desires of the instructor and other practitioners in the discipline is important for
communicating a critical aspect of the subject matterthe affective conditions that
initiate inquiry within it. When these dont naturally exist for learners, it is important
for instructors and instructional designers to find avenues for creating qualitative
situations that can serve as impulsion to carry learners through an inquiry. This can
be done by providing practitioner stories and by establishing authentic, but also
dramatically settings for problems and issues.
Dewey also offers single-mindedness, or unity of purpose, as one of the
critical conditions for effective inquiry (Dewey, 1916, p. 176). Unity is nurtured by
absorption or complete engagement with a subject matter. But engagement is
reciprocally nurtured by the unity of activity within the learning experience. External
motivation and coercion divide attention, but intrinsic interest and effort aroused by a
meaningful reason for engagement and continually reinforced by activities that
directly support the inquiry lead to unified experience. The end of the learning
experience should directly result from the activity that preceded it, and should not
interrupt the flow of an otherwise engaging learning inquiry. A traditional test can
often steal from meaningful learning if it is not a natural extension of prior learning
activities, but generative activities that consummate learning by demanding
application make it more meaningful. An instructor or instructional designer can
unify the experience at its close by making evident the interconnections between
beginning, middle, and ending activities, and reminding learners of the purpose of the
journey they have taken. However, creating aesthetic learning experiences is
emphatically not about imposing an artificial order onto otherwise poorly connected
events. It is about drawing out the natural order of an inquiry that arises directly from
the subject matter of instruction.
Conclusion
It is heartening validation that research by those in the learning sciences, who
also claim Dewey as a source of inspiration, reach many similar conclusions about the
value and patterns of inquiry learning. For example, Krajcik & Blumenfeld (2006)
describe the use of driving questions as a way of impelling students into project-
31


based science learning inquiries, and creating shared artifacts as a way of
consummating the inquiry. However, in taking a purely scientific approach to
understanding learning, the learning sciences ignore the shear joy of learning and
pursuit of meaning that is immediately evident from the aesthetic standpoint. The
stresses are different, even if there is no disagreement. While the Krajcik &
Blumenfeld focus on how driving questions organize and drive activities of the
project, they dont explore the reasons such questions elicit a desire to learn in
students (p. 321). Their standpoint stresses the cognitive outcomes of offering a
reason for learning, and it works backward from those outcomes to find questions
with a reasonable amount of inherent intrigue. They express concern that it may be
hard to find questions that students find meaningful and interesting by taking this
backward approach, but fail to explore the potential of an approach in which affect
and imagination are central in creating compelling learning experiences.
In caring for the aesthetic potential of learning, new avenues for into the
problem of instilling desire to learn open up. For example, because the connection
between art and inquiry is more apparent, we are now justified in looking to the arts
(in the narrow sense), where expression and aesthetic experience play obvious roles,
as models for developing engaging instruction. We can also look to artful (in the
broad sense) performance within a discipline to uncover its qualitative antecedents,
and then use these as guides for initiating learning experiences.
Attending to the qualities of a learning experience that allow it to become
aesthetic means exposing the full set of meanings of an experience, including both its
affective and cognitive qualities. One outcome of this attention is that it shows
learners how to draw rich meanings out of future experiences as well. The value of
art, and the reason it plays such a pervasive role in our lives, is that it values all the
materials of experience that have potential to contribute meaning. It knows that the
surfaces of things are worth attending to, but it also reaches down into both our
thoughts and feelings about experiences to find beauty in the constellation of
meanings that exist for any experience. When learning experiences have similar
breadth, it no longer matters whether they are natural or formal situations, because the
experience itself will be sufficiently complete to affect learners in memorable, if not
transformative, ways.
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CHAPTER 4
A FRAMEWORK FOR UNDERSTANDING LEARNING EXPERIENCE
Introduction
Recent literature in a variety of design fields has called for a shift in focus
from products and usability, and from effectiveness and efficiency, toward a focus on
the characteristics of user-experience (McCarthy & Wright, 2004; Hassenzahl &
Tractinsky, 2006). For example, instead of designers describing their function as
simply making products that work and provide ease of use, the goals of design are
expanded to include providing meaningful and enjoyable use. This desire to move
beyond the purely utilitarian and technical aspects of designs comes from recognition
that the potential power of a design intervention is not fully captured in a focus on
meeting functional needs and avoiding usability problems. A better understanding of
the complex interactions end-users have with designs might provide insight for
stimulating not just effective, but powerful and compelling experiences that have
deep impacts. This response is not purely altruistic; it follows from the increasing
choices available to consumers and the resulting attention economy that leads users
choose products and experiences that are inviting and engaging in addition to meeting
functional needs (de Castell & Jenson, 2004). Facing similar challenges and seeking
similar outcomes, instructional designers have a parallel interest in understanding
learning experience and discovering ways to design instruction with experience in
mind, frequently drawing from the sister design fields and from the arts for ideas
about how to do so (Dickey, 2005; McLellan, 2002; Parrish, in press; Wilson,
Parrish, & Veletsianos, in press).
This increasing inclination to examine holistic experience, to take
responsibility for more than functionality, is also reflected in a growing paradigm
shift in the health professions, a reflection that offers additional guidance to
instructional providers. The new emphases on patient wellness (not just a physical
state, but a relationship of increased connectedness to ones body and the world)
rather than merely curing illness, and on nursing care and presence (being there for all
patient needs, including social, emotional, and spiritual ones) rather than just carrying
out patient treatments, also demonstrate recognition of value in focusing on broader
experience rather than technically effective interventions (Woodward, 2003).
Considering the richer outcomes sought by a focus on wellness and presence,
instructional design practice might find new perspectives for developing learning
engagement and the open-mindedness that creates a healthy desire to learn.
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However, a framework for exploring and influencing learning experience still
lacks definition. Even clearly stating what is meant by learning experience remains
encumbered with difficult questions. What are the criteria that make a situation an
experience? What dimensions of learning experience impact its qualities? What
qualities make an experience compelling and foster engagement instead of leading to
boredom? What kinds of experience foster continued growth versus a tendency to
withdraw or turn inward? What do learners, instructors, and instructional designers
bring to an experience that colors its nature? These questions are critical ones to
explore if we want to impact learning experiences with instructional designs.
This paper offers a framework for experience that can contribute toward a
research agenda and a foundation for design approaches that might impact learning
experiences in positive ways. The framework is consistent with pragmatist and
phenomenological philosophical perspectives of experience, and is also informed by
existing learning theory and research and reflections on the practice of instructional
design.
A Proposed Framework of Experience
Experience is more than the collection of psychological states undergone by
an individual in a given situation, and it is more than merely something that
happens to a person. In other words, it is neither merely an individuals conscious
response to a situation nor just the objective conditions that make up that situation. It
is more useful to view it as the transaction or engagement that takes place between an
individual and the world (Dewey, 1925/2000). Experience in this sense is an activity
that includes a conscious individual engaging with a responsive worlda world that
includes both objective conditions and other individuals. Both the individual and the
world are active in the creating the ultimate nature of the experience. From this
transactional point of view, the value of an experience can be described in terms of
the quality of engagement that develops and its potential impacts on future experience
(Dewey, 1938/1997). In turn, the qualities of the experience worth exploring are those
that impact the nature of the transaction. Before examining several qualities of both
situations and individuals that determine the value of an experience, it will be useful
to look at the temporal dimensions of experience that determine the conditions of its
exploration and outline a hierarchy of experiences in terms of their lasting value.
Temporal Dimensions of Experience
Experience has several temporal dimensions that must be explored to fully
account for its nature and potential value. Each of these dimensions offers their
individual challenges to researchers, but together they create significant complexity.
They also provide limits to the control designers can assert.
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It is immediate. Experience is felt, not just observed or reflected upon. An
individuals relationship to the situation at a given moment, before rational
analysis and when affective influences hold at least equal sway to cognition, is
a critical factor in the ultimate value attached to it. The qualities of immediate
experience can color all other aspects of it, determining how deeply one
engages and the meaning one attaches to it.
Experience unfolds over time. Experience can be seen also in the
accumulation of immediate experiences or, moreover, as an unfolding
sequence of immediate experiences that move toward an outcome. Similar to
the way a piece of music builds or a novel or film grows on you, an
experience may lead to increasing complexity and a rewarding conclusion that
depends upon the totality of unfolding events. Like immediate experience, this
unfolding and its unfolded conclusion are also felt, and not just objects of
cognition.
Experience is composed or constructed. Some experiences stick with us and,
upon reflection, develop qualities that might not have been noticed during the
experience itself. Later experiences might color the prior experience in a way
that recasts it. For example, an illness may have been quite unpleasant at the
time, but reflection might focus on personal struggle successfully faced, social
relationships strengthened, and changes in outlook and habits that resulted
coloring the experience as ultimately positive and stimulating growth.
Finally, experience is historically situated. The meaning ascribed to any given
experience depends in part on the history of previous interactions. This is a
significant factor for students encountering non-intuitive scientific principles,
for the progression of family arguments, and for the experience of minority
children or non-native speakers in educational environments. This notion of
history is central to cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT), and applies to
the learning experience as well (Cole, 1996).
Because experience develops in each of these temporal dimensions, research
into learning experience will not provide a complete picture unless each is taken into
consideration. Gathering data about experience in-the-moment, in-the-making, in-
reflection, and in-historical-context requires a variety of methodologies and
consideration of potentially rapidly changing and perhaps contradictory evidence.
Similarly, instructional designers who want to impact learning experience need a
variety of tactics to influence each of these dimensions.
Levels of Experience
The effectiveness of an experience can be understood pragmatically in terms
of the level of its potential impactthe degree of change it can stimulate in the near
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term or in the growth the might compound in the future experiences to which it leads.
This potential is dependent upon the quality of the engagement that takes place, and
can be demonstrated in each of the temporal dimensions described above. The list
below does not describe levels in the sense of a strictly ordered continuum on a single
variable; rather they describe varying qualities of experience common to everyone
based upon numerous converging conditions and qualities.
No experience. Given the definition of experience as transaction, not all of life
qualifies as experience. If one is unconscious of things in the world or makes
no attempt to influence them, learn from them, or enjoy them, no experience
occurs and no value is had.
Mindless routine. Experience can be characterized by the boredom that comes
from forced or mindless routine. In this case, little investment is made by
either the situation or the individual, or both, and very little transaction takes
place. Growth is stymied, and the only lasting impact is likely an aversion to
similar experiences in the future.
Scattered/Incomplete Activity. At this level of experience, an investment of
engagement is evident, but it is frustrated by interruptions, diversions, and
roadblocks that leave it unfulfilled. Unfortunately, much of life can fall into
this category. An individual can be quite busy and immersed in activity, but
little comes of it in terms of growth. The experience remains unsatisfying and
unmemorable. At the end of a day filled with such experience, one might ask,
What did I accomplish today? and be unable to come up with an answer
other than that it was filled with activity.
Pleasant routine. At the level of pleasant routine, experience begins to have
lasting value. The pleasantness of such routine, as opposed to mindless
routine, suggests significant engagement and investment in the transaction,
both by the individual and by the situation in response. However, the growth
that results from this kind of experience is likely to be evident only in the long
term, developing incrementally and slowly. Tending the garden is a prime
example and metaphor for this kind of experiencethe routine task is not
necessarily significant on its own, but an awareness of what it leads to colors
the task as pleasant and meaningful.
Challenging endeavors. Whether one succeeds or fails, challenging endeavors
lead to significant growth and new knowledge about ones place in the world.
Challenge suggests substantial engagement in the transaction of experience,
again, not just on the part of the individual attempting to meet the challenge,
but also inherently on the part of the world imposing the challenge. The most
significant challenges come about from sustained effort, not instantaneous
reward for confronting a difficult situation. Therefore, its nature is often
36


revealed more fully in-the-making and in-reflection of experience, even
though immersion in the moment is also a critical characteristic.
Aesthetic experience. When an experience stands out from the general flow of
experience, when one can point to it as exhibiting heightened meaning
throughout in its immediacy, its unfolding, and in reflection, experience
reaches its highest level and qualifies as aesthetic (Dewey, 1934/1989).
Aesthetic, in this sense, derives from recognition that works of art, as refined
experiences, are a celebration of our ability to derive meaning from life, and
not separate in kind from everyday experiences (Berleant, 1991). Aesthetic
experience is characterized by meeting an indeterminate situation with
anticipation and active engagement, and following through toward a unifying
consummation. Aesthetic experience can be powerful and life-changing, and
at minimum intensely enjoyable and memorable.
As the levels of experience proceed from mindless to pleasant routine through
challenge to aesthetic experience, increased engagement is assumed. Engagement
may be the best indicator of the level of potential outcomes of an experience. In fact,
from the perspective learning experience, engagement might be considered the
medium of learning. The quality of engagement that develops in an experience is
influenced by both situational and individual qualities, some of the most significant of
which are discussed in the following sections.
Situational Qualities Influencing Experience
The situation in which an experience takes place includes many influential
objective conditions, such as the physical, social, and cultural qualities that afford or
constrain engagement. The list below provides an examination of a very general set of
qualities that describe these conditions. Each of these qualities can be either
influenced or met by designers through the features they choose to include in their
designs.
Immediacy. Experience has an immediate temporal dimension, and therefore a
key quality of situations is how well they absorb individuals in this dimension
by offering substantive immediately felt qualities. In fact, the degree to which
an experience becomes immediate, in the sense of un-mediated or
unencumbered by intervening interpretation or representation, can be an
important indicator of its ultimate power (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
Experience, from the viewpoint of the individual, comes in waves of
perceptions, thoughts, and feelings that arise from active engagement with a
situation. To submit to these waves, even when they appear without apparent
organization, is to appreciate the immediacy of an experience. In contrast,
37


merely considering a situation in the abstract or passively observing it without
immersion will lead to lesser impact. Designers achieve immediacy by
attending to the emotional and sensual qualities of a situation or product, and
when the forms and textures of experience they offer are consistent with an
unfolding meaning.
Malleability. As transaction, effective experience requires give and take, both
doing and undergoing on the part of the individual involved. Experience and
what we gain from it relies heavily upon what we bring to it, what we
contribute to its unfolding, and how we think about it upon reflection. In turn,
situations that provide for effective experience will be malleable, or open to
the contributions of the individuals engaged with it. Situations conducive to
powerful experiences leave room for individualized engagementthe
individual will develop ownership of events rather than feel they are
happenstance. Malleability is also the quality that allows experience to be
composed over time from the raw materials provided by immediate
experience.
Resonance. Experiences show varying degrees of persistence, but they never
just end when the situation is ended. We carry experiences within us and
continue to reflect upon their meaning, sometimes long after, allowing
meaning the chance to develop contours and depth. The richest experiences
resonate with other aspects of our lives, changing the timbre of the other
situations we encounter with the knowledge weve gained and new points of
view weve adopted. If their resonance is sufficiently strong they may
continue to impact our lives indefinitely. Some situations lack the qualities
ripe for persistence. They are perhaps too scattered and incomplete or too
closed in and too pat in what they have to tell us, and so the experience fades
quickly. Situations gain persistence by connecting to our current lives and by
leaving a residue of ideas and attitudes that can attach to the future situations
we touch. Resonant situations leave us energized to ponder them further and
to look for future connections.
Coherence. Much of experience is disjointed and seems to move from event to
event without connection or meaning. More rewarding experiences feel
unified and coherentthey hang together. The quality of coherence is
equivalent to saying that something is meaningfuleither it connects to our
lives and intentions and to previous experience, or it reveals a high degree of
internal unity and can be appreciated on its own terms. As it is with good
works of art, those experiences that reveal significant coherence of intent in
the midst of threatening chaos or achieve successful unification of widely
disparate elements are often those that are felt as the most rewarding.
Experiences richen when one has to struggle toward a consummation (Dewey,
1934/1989).
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High degrees of immediacy, malleability, resonance, and coherence are all
qualities that instructional providers can aspire to in the learning situations they
create. Attention to the textures of experience, providing opportunities for learners to
mold a situation, giving a learning experience resonance by showing connections and
pointing to future experience, and creating learning activities that move in concert
toward a consummation of growth in the learnereach of these are critical in
allowing a powerful learning experience to develop.
Qualities of Individuals Influencing Experience
What an individual brings to a situation influences the experience as readily as
its situational qualities. To a large degree, each individual creates a unique experience
with herself at the center, and all of the individuals involved in a situation effect the
qualities of the experience for each other as well. In a learning experience,
instructional providers are primarily concerned about the experience created by and
for the learner, but they must also remember their own role in shaping that
experience, beyond influencing the situational qualities described above. Like the
learner, they bring personal qualities to the experience that impact its effectiveness.
Some of the more important individual qualities are described below.
Intent. Each person has a particular orientation to the world, indicated by the
goals and interests (intentions in common parlance) carried into a situation,
but intention goes beyond this notion of having an express purpose.
Intentionally also suggests the inherent world-directedness of our
consciousness (Stewart & Mickunas, 1990), a fundamental relationship with
the world that includes our attitudes, values, hopes, beliefs, likes, and dislikes,
as well as assumptions about ones place within the world
(Husserl, 1982/1999). Clearly, the concept of intentionality covers a lot of
ground which psychology typically tries to sort out (Anderman & Wolters,
2006). Ones intent has an important impact on the experience that develops
from engagement in a situation, and the intentions of other individuals
involved (such as instructors and IDs) will also have an impact. When a
person exercises conscious intent, an experience has a higher chance to
develop to its full potential.
Presence. Ones ability to have an experience and the resulting level of that
experience depend upon the degree of presence one brings to it. Presence
begins with being-there, which includes not only physical and mental
presence, including sufficient proximity to the content of a situation for
understanding to occur. But presence also includes the important quality of
being-with, a willing relationship to engage with the other individuals in an
39


experience at multiple levels. Being-with includes a willing vulnerability that
supports others, the practice of empathy rather than focusing entirely on ones
own intentions. With an empathetic stance, one encourages open exchange of
thoughts and feelings. Presence also includes being-ones-self, an attitude of
authenticity and genuine expression of ones own thoughts and feelings.
Being-ones-self is important both for the sake of connecting with others and
for allowing one to have a genuine and deep relationship to the situation in
general (Heidegger, 1962).
Openness. Ones ability to learn from an experience is directly related to ones
openness, or plasticity (Dewey, 1916). Plasticity does not mean entering a
situation like a ball of wax passively giving in to any external force, but
having a conscious willingness to submit to being changed while maintaining
personal integrity. In fact, the ability to change in productive ways requires
such integrity. Dewey also describes openness in terms of a dependency that
denotes a power rather than a weakness, because it involves the creation of
interdependency and increased social capacity (p. 44). Openness is an
essential state for developing engagement within a situation.
Trust. Trust encompasses several essential qualities of the individual in an
experience. It suggests a degree of faith that positive outcomes can immerge
from a situationa willingness to suspend disbelief, demonstrate patience,
and extend ones presence without immediate reward. It also describes having
anticipation, a mental and emotional attachment to the situation that looks
ahead to outcomes based on given conditions or indeterminate qualities that
need resolution. Finally, trust always contains an element of forgiveness that
the experience and the other individuals involved will always, of necessity,
have everyday qualities and fail to meet all our needs and expectations
(Wilson, 1999). The majority of experience cannot live up to the expectations
created by our imaginations, which are fueled by our personal intentions and
desires for a transcendent meaning.
In keeping with the transactional nature of experience, one can see both
parallel and complementary relationships between the individual qualities in an
experience and the qualities of the situation. For example, individual intent can be
seen as parallel to the resonance of the situationthey are qualities that reach outside
the experience. The complement of intentthe situational quality that allows it to be
exercisedis the malleability of the situation. An additional parallel relationship is
individual presence and situational immediacy (how a situation exudes its presence),
and both individual openness and trust have a parallel in situational malleability (a
trust that control is not required). Additional complementary relationships include
individual presence and that situational malleability that can include it, individual
40


openness to a situational resonance, and individual trust (with its expectation for
meaning) that situational coherence will become evident.
Figure 4.1 depicts the relationships between situational and individual
qualities of an experience and the levels of experience. Increasing levels in each of
the qualities will in turn lead to a higher level of experience. Experience exhibits
peaks and valleys through time depending on the convergence of these qualities. The
relationship between intent and experience has additional complexities-intentions
must also match to a sufficient degree what the situation has to offer.
Figure 4.1: Qualities and Levels of Experience
The characteristics of situations and individuals impacting experience are of
course more numerous than those listed above. For example, each experience also has
a particular content or set of contents that are most salient. In complement,
individuals within the experience will come with a particular level of knowledge and
prior experience that influence the level of experience. This relationship is one
instructional providers understand quite well. It is not depicted in Figure 4.1 because
41


malleability and resonance assume a degree of accommodation to prior knowledge
and experience, and intent captures the result of these entry conditions of the learner.
Conclusions
The framework provided here reveals experience as multi-dimensional,
impacted by multiple qualities, and systemic in nature. This of course places high
demands on anyone attempting to research the learning experience that results in any
given instructional situation. Developing a clear picture of learning experience calls
for a variety of research methodologies, including phenomenological and
ethnographic techniques. Because experience itself always has narrative qualities,
narrative approaches to research (Polkinghorne, 1988) will be useful for capturing a
rich description of the qualities a learner brings to bear in response to the qualities of
learning situations, and how these meet in the unfolding story of the experience.
Mixed methods approaches (Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2004) are also appropriate
because the examination of quantifiable outcomes of learning is seen as critical by
many stakeholders in educational contexts. For example, learner ratings of their
engagement levels might provide quantifiability to observed level of experience
(Parrish, 2008b), and observation protocols borrowed from research in technology
usage might provide an additional objective measure of experience (Axelrod & Hone,
2006).
Activity theory is an existing framework that can describe the transactional
nature of a learning experience (Cole, 1996; Jonassen & Roher-Murphy, 1999;
Lemke, 1997), and so may seem to offer a sufficiently strong starting point for
research. However, activity theory, while it accounts for the individual goals and
intentions of the actors within activity systems, sees them as disembodied and
disconnected from consciousness. Also, activity theory does not concern itself with
level of experience as a critical component in an activity system. The framework
provided here deepens activity theorys materialist, outside looking in account of
learning by adding an inside looking out perspective.
Learning experience as a central concern for instructional providers is an
innovation in several ways. Close attention to and valuing of learning experience
leads a crafting attitude rather than adherence to predefined standards and rules,
including additional care and responsiveness in implementation. Consideration of all
four temporal dimensions and the variety of situational qualities offered here suggest
that multiple approaches to content presentation, learning activity design, and context
and relationship building are critical. The framework of experience provided here
calls for an increased accounting of the qualities learners bring to an instructional
situation and strategies for encouraging higher positive levels of these qualities.
Finally, the framework might remind instructional providers of their own roles as
individuals contributing to learning experiences, and ask them to consider their own
42


intentions, levels of presence, openness, and trust. Instruction and learning become as
much about relating and connecting as about knowledge-demonstrating.
Aesthetic experience, the level of experience that offers the potential for the
deepest and most lasting impacts, is not an inexplicable occurrence. It is merely a
powerful convergence of high levels of each of the qualities of experience discussed
above. Aesthetic experience is worth striving for in instructional situations because it
can spill over into other parts of learners lives by offering an empowering
anticipation of the potential to be found in any new experience (Dewey, 1916). It can
instill a desire for the rewards of attending to the immediacy, engaging the
malleability, and finding the resonance and coherence in experience. It can also
inspire learners toward higher levels of presence, openness, and trust, and stimulate
healthy intent. On the other hand, repeated experiences that dont allow these
qualities to manifest themselves may cause learners to shut down to the potential of
experience and growth.
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CHAPTER 5
INVESTIGATING THE AESTHETIC DECISIONS OF
EDUCATORS AND INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGNERS
A math instructor at an urban community college holds frequent sing-alongs
of popular songs in her courses, with the lyrics, humorous in their incongruity,
rewritten to explain complex math concepts and procedures. An instructional
designer, charged with teaching science and safety related to hurricanes, asks learners
engaged with a Web-based learning module to assume the role of the houseguest of a
family threatened by an approaching tropical storm. An instructor of Masters degree
students in instructional technology ends her course with a reflection designed to help
students tie the various activities of the course together, using language that suggests
that completing the course is a rite-of-passage, and that the students are now
qualitatively different people. A training organization with primarily corporate
clients regularly designs Web-based training packages that include a pervasive back
story, a narrative that describes how a fictitious group of people work through
common problems by applying the skills being taught in the training packages.
Another instructional designer trains weather forecasters by engaging them in realistic
forecast problems, offering lessons on meteorological concepts while the learners
take on the role of a weather forecaster making their way through a sequence of
forecast decisions during a puzzling weather event.
The education or training professionals described above have several things in
common. For all, the primary purpose of their work is making sure learners take away
useful knowledge and skills. Yet they also realize that the only way to ensure that
learning will happen is if learners are fully engaged. As compared to many of their
colleagues, they focus on the creation of learning experiences, not simply on
conveying content. Their approaches can be considered aesthetic to the degree that
they place increased emphasis on the qualitative immediacy of experience, on its
unity and wholeness, on its emotional underpinnings, on the temporal unfolding of
events (Jackson, 1998, p. 181), and put great care in developing details of their
instruction that may seem to be, on the surface, only peripherally related to its subject
matter, and only minimally implied by instructional method or strategy.
In my first years as an instructional designer at a large community college, I
was struck by the lack of interest in my discipline showed many faculty members. As
a young instructional designer (ID) fresh out of graduate school and new to an
educational context, I was unaware that instructional design, coming from a tradition
of applying scientific and engineering principles to instruction, would be seen as
44


conflicting with the traditional craft-orientation of education (Rose, 2002). I could not
understand a lack of interest in systematic approaches to instruction rejection of
cognitive psychology as the best basis instructional decisions. In explaining their
perspective, more than one faculty member told me, Instruction is not science, its an
art. At the time, this comment seemed unsophisticated. It indicated to me that they
hadnt enlightened by advances in cognitive psychology and their applications to
learning and instruction. Otherwise, surely they would be as excited as I was about
the potential of instructional design to improve educational practice.
However, the comment stuck with me over the years as I continued to ponder
its possible meanings. Back then, I felt that calling teaching an art was a misuse of the
term, that it simply demonstrated that many instructors did not completely understand
why they did what they did and what made certain instructional decisions more
effective than others. In other words, using the word art was only a way of indicating
that tacit knowledge was an important contributor to their work. I suspected that if
they investigated more deeply they could discern the scientific basis of principles
underlying their practice, principles that would explain why some strategies work and
others not. Over my 20 years of practice as an ID, my opinion has changed. I have
observed that in my own work and that of colleagues there exists an artistic thrust that
guides the design of products considered of high quality by clients and learners. At
the same time, in recent years my understanding of art has grown deeper and my
conception of it has grown broader. I now believe that the same qualities that make
art beautiful and meaningful underlie all our attempts to have meaningful lives,
including our learning efforts. This study is an attempt to better understand the
relationship between art and instruction by looking at the ways in which aesthetics
underlie the designs of teachers and instructional designers. My purpose in
performing this research is not to deny the value of science for instruction, but to
reconsider aesthetics as a core foundation for instructional practice, alongside science.
In fact, my research uses social scientific approaches in its attempts to uncover the
underlying aesthetics of ID practice.
Aesthetic Experience
Ostensibly, aesthetics describes our experience of and passion for creating art,
but John Dewey (1934/1989) saw it as applying more broadly. In developing a
pragmatist theory of aesthetics, Dewey considered it a prevalent and essential kind of
experience, one that is particularly heightened and felt to be especially meaningful. In
this sense, aesthetic experience can exist not only in our engagement with the arts, but
in all activity. But the concept of aesthetics has had many interpretations, and
Deweys is by no means representative. Aesthetics is used in at least two senses, both
of which are applicable to this study. In one sense, aesthetics describes the strategies
or principles employed by artists in creating their work. Works like Aristotles
45


Poetics (trans. 1984) primarily explore this aspect. But aesthetics is also the name for
the philosophical tradition that explores the impact of the arts on our lives, why we
call some things art and not others, the relationship of artists to their work, and why
humans have a passion for creating and engaging with works of art. This tradition,
especially in recent history, has produced many different interpretations. Some have
said that art is our way of making certain things in our world special or distinct
from everyday experiencean attempt to celebrate our humanity or to attach
increased human meaning to things (Dissanayake, 1995). Connor (1999) points to
another school of thought suggests that the function of art is to create a useful
distraction for the miseries we encounter, or to provide a cathartic mechanism for
working out issues and anxieties which for often obscure reasons cannot be
addressed directly (Functionalist theories of the aesthetic, para. 3). Others have
claimed that art is merely a classification of artifacts defined by social institutions as
suitable for appreciation (Dickie, 1989). In other words, aesthetics may not exist
except in the sense of socially created convention. This point of view can be seen as
an attempt to explain the emergence of some relatively bizarre examples of modernist
and postmodernist art. But Berleant (1991) takes perhaps a less timid tack and posits
engagement as the common quality that connects all the artifacts we call art, a
quality that puts his theory most in line with that of Dewey, as I show below. Finally,
in his essay, What If There Were No Such Thing As The Aesthetic, Connor (1999)
concludes that the concept of aesthetics may be of no use given its protean and
unpredictable essence, (The fallacy of counter-aesthetics, para. 6). However, my
stance in this project is that this protean essence lends further credence to Deweys
conception of aesthetics as a pervasive facet of experience.
Dewey (1934/1989) proposed that aesthetic experience grows out of the
rhythmic alternation of disruption and order, struggles and achievements (p. 19), in
our lives. In other words, art emerges from the rhythms of everyday experience and
epitomizes our nature as intentional beings establishing and achieving goals. As
Dewey put it:
Life consists of phases in which the organism falls out of step with the
march of surrounding things and then recovers unison with iteither
through effort or by some happy chance. And, in a growing life, the
recovery is never mere return to a prior state, for it is enriched by the
state of disparity and resistance through which it has successfully
passed. . Here in germ are balance and harmony attained through
rhythm, (p. 14)
With little effort one can see that Dewey was describing a process of learning
as the source of aesthetic experience. The fine arts are refined and intensified forms
of experience (p. 3), but they are not unique in their aesthetic qualities. Aesthetic
46


qualities contribute to our engagement with all the objects and events of life, as well
as our judgments of meaning within our experience.
. . Experience is heightened vitality. Instead of signifying being shut
up within ones own private feelings and sensations, it signifies active
and alert commerce with the world; at its height it signifies complete
interpenetration of self and the world of objects and events. Instead of
signifying surrender to caprice and disorder, it affords our sole
demonstration of a stability that is not stagnation but is rhythmic and
developing. Because experience is the fulfillment of an organism in its
struggles and achievements in a world of things, it is art in germ. Even
in its rudimentary forms, it contains the promise of that delightful
perception which is aesthetic experience, (p. 19)
The rhythm and tension described by Dewey as sources of aesthetic experience are
also significant characteristics of learning experiences. For this reason, artistic forms
can provide useful analogies for instructional strategies.
Necessary to the aesthetic experience of art is the contribution we ourselves
make, a contribution that is active and participatory (Berleant, 1991, p. 4). Dewey
suggests that in order to understand art,
. . one must begin in the raw; in the events and scenes that hold the
attentive eye and ear of man, arousing his interest and affording him
enjoyment as he looks and listens. . The sources of art in human
experience will be learned by him who sees how the tense grace of the
ball-player infects the onlooking crowd; who notes the delight of the
housewife in tending to her plants . .; the zest of the spectator in
poking the wood burning on the hearth and in watching the darting
flames and crumbling coals. (1934, p. 4-5)
From these examples you can see that for Dewey, active engagement is a necessary
quality of aesthetic experience. Rather than an aesthetics of passivity or
disinterestedness, in which objects are regarded specifically for their distinctiveness
from life, Dewey and Berleant propose an aesthetics of engagement. Engagement, in
a pragmatist sense, can be defined as intellectual, emotional, or physical investment
in an activity in anticipation of future consequences. Each of these is represented in
Deweys examples, and also in the processes of learning. Engagement in learning is
obviously intellectual, but emotions are equally instrumental in driving thought and
belief (Martin & Reigeluth, 1999; O'Regan, 2003). Physical engagement is obvious as
well: students travel to and sit in classrooms or at computers, make notes, navigate
Websites, write papers, and engage in discussion or other learning activities. Just as
47


artworks can be designed to draw in readers or viewers to puzzle out a plot or to
sympathize with characters, to walk through buildings or around a sculpture, or to
have a vicarious somatic experience in watching a dance, learning experiences may
be designed aesthetically to stimulate each of these forms of engagement.
According to Dewey (1934/1989), aesthetic experience has qualities of
immediacy and anticipation of consummation. As Dewey puts it, consummation is not
just an ending, It is anticipated throughout and is recurrently savored with special
intensity (p. 55). In a consummation it becomes apparent that all the varied parts are
linked to one another, and do not merely succeed one another (p. 55), it is an
experience of unity or coherence. In cognitive terms, consummation is the integration
of knowledge. But consummation doesnt happen if the immediacy of the experience
is not attended to as well. Dewey claims that what is not immediate is not esthetic
(p. 119), meaning that aesthetic experience is not achieved only in reflection, it arises
from a situation in which the particulars stand out as compelling in themselves.
Instructors and IDs risk creating unengaging instruction if they focus too closely on
methods or models drawn from theory without also attending to the immediacy of the
learning experience. Rather than using instructional models algorithmically, they
might attend also to the quality of individual learner interactions, to the details of
attractive and intuitive interface design, to the use of clear, but evocative words and
illustrations, and to the pacing of instructional activities.
Finding a connection between instruction and art is not new. But simply
calling teaching an art and stopping there does not suggest anything to improve
practice. Several authors have theorized about the artistic nature of teaching, drawing
strong parallels between the similar activities of teaching and performing or creating
works of art (Eisner, 1998; Sarason, 1999). Davies (1991) saw similar parallels
between art and instructional design. For example, teachers and IDs can sometimes be
so skillful and graceful in crafting a learning experience that it can be appreciated as
aesthetic. Teaching and creating instructional materials is also, like art, often a
spontaneous, improvisational activity, and not dominated by prescription. Indeed, the
ends of instruction are not predetermined, but emergent. Wang (2001) more directly
proposed that teachers should emphasize the aesthetic aspects of learning
experiences, particularly in bringing out the unexpected, uncertain, or ambiguous
aspects of their content areas to engage students. Jackson (1998), in his explication of
Deweys concept of aesthetic experience, also speculated on the qualities of aesthetic
instruction. Expanding on Jacksons work, Wong, Pugh, & The Dewey Ideas Group
(2001), have applied Deweyan concepts to call for generating significant anticipation
for learners within inquiry science experiences through the use of compelling ideas
and stories. However, none of these appears to have investigated instructional
practice to learn the extent to which teachers and IDs already think like artists in
making instructional decisions or produce products that demonstrate principles
similar to those demonstrated in works of art. An exception is Jennings (1998), who
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interviewed designers of multimedia-based instruction and educational games to
discover the underlying aesthetics of instructional multimedia for engaging learners
including methods for developing unity, focused attention, active discovery, affect,
and intrinsic gratification. Similarly, but more broadly, the research described here is
an exploration into aesthetic decisions made by teachers and IDs as they create
instructional products and engage in teaching. Its goal is to contribute to an aesthetic
theory of instruction that draws similarities and distinctions between the practice of
artists and educators.
Much emphasis goes into describing psychological learning principles to be
applied by educators. Instructional theories and models typically prescribe strategies
for effective instruction based on the results of scientific psychological research
(Bransford, Brown, Cocking, Donovan, & Pellegrino, 2000; Reigeluth, 1999). But in
the end, these are simply scaffolding for actual instructional activities, and the
educator and ID must use more than these to mold the instructional content into a
form that will engage an audience of learners. Theories and models rarely touch upon
the immediacy of instructional events. This study looked beyond theories and models
to examine how teachers and IDs in diverse settings applied strategies to enhance
learner engagement and influence attitudes toward instructional content. It examined
the design and implementation decisions used by participants in their work on a
specific course or instructional product, such as the visual and other sensory qualities
of the classroom and learning materials; the use of narrative structures in learning
activities; the creation of tension, anticipation, and dramatic impact; the pacing of
activities; the pattern of activities; and methods of creating closure. In addition, in
order to discern relationships between their underlying values and these decisions, it
sought to understand some of their guiding values for instruction, what they
considered general goals for instruction, and how they characterized learners and their
relationship to them in the teaching/leaming process.
Procedures
Data Collection
This study applied grounded theory research methodologies (Strauss &
Corbin, 1998) to examine possible aesthetic bases for decisions made by teachers and
IDs. In keeping with this methodology, I performed a series of interviews to identify
educational applications of aesthetic principles. To develop the set of initial codes
leading to this report, five participants were chosen based on purposive (Krathwohl,
1998) and theoretical (Creswell, 1998) sampling methods, in which I identified
subjects likely to demonstrate use of aesthetic devices in their practice. I sought
participants that demonstrate great care in the quality of their presentations, care
deeply about learning experience, and could articulate insights into their practice.
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To better dimensionalize the data (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 116-121),
participants were purposefully chosen to represent varied arenas of practice, including
both teachers and instructional designers. This range of participants was necessary to
ensure a broad focus on learning, rather than narrowing in one delivery mode. The
products studied were all large components of instruction, either entire courses or
modules of two or more hours of student contact time. I adhered to this criterion to
capture how these practitioners perceived an evolution of learning engagement during
the experience. Participants included
AF, a member of the math faculty at an urban community college;
BI, an instructional designer working within a for-profit organization
that creates custom and off-the-shelf training for corporate clients;
Cl and DI, both instructional designers with a not-for-profit
organization with government sponsors, specializing in weather-
related education and training, (however, the two had divergent
audiencesmiddle-school students and professional weather
forecasters, respectivelyfor their projects);
and, EF, an adjunct faculty member (also a practicing instructional
designer) for a Masters degree program in Instructional Technology.
Each participant had recently taught the course or developed the instructional
product they discussed, so the decisions and experience of the teaching or
development process were fresh in mind. The course materials or products were
available to examine as a second data source. (Participants Cl and DI were colleagues
of the researcher, working within the same organization.)
I first examined the instructional materials (course syllabus, class handouts
and/or descriptions of assignments, Websites), made notes on my initial thoughts
about the instructional strategies and tactics employed, and then interviewed each
participant to discuss the decisions they had made in designing the course or product.
Two interviews were conducted with each participant, totaling from one and one-half
to two and one-half hours. Interviews were partially structured with a set of prepared
questions (see Appendix A) paraphrased for each subject in roughly the same order.
While participants were briefed ahead of time with the general purpose of my
research (see Appendix B), with the exception of the final question the interview
questions did not directly ask participants to consider the concepts of art or aesthetics,
which could have conjured limiting conceptions. Instead, they were designed to
prompt participants to think about how learners might experience the instruction,
repeatedly asking what learners were thinking and feeling during the course of
instruction and what they were doing as designers of the experience to influence those
thoughts and feelings.
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I considered myself an active participant in the interview process (Holstein &
Gubrium, 1995), and at times the interview took on characteristics of a discussion
between two practitioners. As much as possible, I chose to keep the interview focused
on the decisions for the specific product and course to better ground the interview
responses in thoughts during actual situations, rather than asking for general
reflections about practice. The study followed a method similar to that of
phenomenological researcher Aanstoos (1985), who used think-aloud protocol to
uncover actual thinking processes of chess players, rather than those predicted by
cognitive theory. While think-aloud protocol is typically impractical for processes
with a long time-scale, such as instructional design and teaching, focused reflection
on a specific course or product (with the product at hand, when possible) achieved a
similar outcome.
Data Analysis
Following recommendations for grounded theory research (Strauss & Corbin,
1998) transcriptions for each interview were initially open-coded at a high degree of
detail, the unit of analysis varying from phrases to entire paragraphs, depending on
the concept expressed. Verification of the initial data and analysis was performed by
sharing impressions from the first interviews with three of the participants and finding
they were accepting of them. Further verification was made by sharing drafts of this
report for member-checking as analysis and writing continued.
After open-coding for the first set of interviews, codes and data were analyzed
once again to discover more general themes and relationships in a process of axial
coding (Strauss & Corbin, 1998), collapsing the initial codes to a set of 50. These
codes collapsed further with additional passes and as new data from second
interviews with three participants were analyzed (at the same time that a few new
codes were added). As expected, as the analysis proceeded fewer instances of new
concepts arose.
Findings
Differences between participants were apparent as anticipated given their
varying professional orientations and places of practice. For example, the teachers
could rely on being able to read student feelings, and could accommodate and adjust
prior design decisicions to changing student perceptions. They worked toward an
engagement substantially built on a high degree of trust, using language that says
Im here, I care about you (Participant EF) and making students realize that its not
me against them . that Im on their side (AF). In contrast, the instructional
designers of self-paced products realized that even with their efforts to anticipate
reactions to the instruction, they might still be missing the mark with a large
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percentage of learners. It appeared deeply frustrating to them that they would likely
never see the faces of learners to know the instructions impact:
(Participant BI) My problem is that I dont know any learners. Im so
far away from them. I wish I could watch them, I wish I could
interview them, but I dont know any of them. The only one I know is
myself, and the only learning style I know is my own.
Even with this substantial difference between teachers and IDs, very similar
concerns for the aesthetic experience of learners emerged from the interviews and
similar design solutions were described. These are described below, organized into
general themes.
Guiding Values
When asked about guiding values for their work, participants spoke of a need
to connect with the individual needs of learners, to keep them engaged and interested,
and, by doing so, to help them develop useful skills and knowledge to take away from
the experience.
(Cl) Learning is not easy. It takes work. ... So I feel like Ive got to
get the learners to put in effort or theyre not going to get anything for
their time. . Were in an information overload society . and every
moment youre choosing.... If we make something, we better make it
good,... valuable, well crafted, self-contained, and engaging and
appealing.
(AF) Everybody learns differently. . My job is to present the
material in all sorts of different ways so those thirty people sitting
there arent going to change their style to match me.
(BI) I think the instructional designer is sort of the advocate for the
learner... Were kind of the conduit or intermediary between the
knowledge and the learner.
Goals for Instruction
For participants, the goals of instruction are more than information transfer
and skill development. Goals also include developing a deeper respect of the content
area, an appreciation for its importance and value, and even its elegance. This
additional appreciation requires modeling the behaviors of others who value the
content and apply it with success.
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(BI) The other thing we try to do is .. create a back story, a dramatic
back story . about a group of people working through the process. ..
. It needed to be a real story. Something that made sense. .. Its all
about modeling.
(AF) Thats one of the things I try to portray to students, that I do
enjoy teaching it, and love the math and its exciting, and Im trying to
get them to feel that excitement with me. Well talk about something
thats happening and Ill say, Isnt that cool? Isnt that neat the way it
works? ... It doesnt always work, but I try to pull them in.
Student qualities
The qualities of typical students that necessitate engagement strategies include
the fact that they are frequently multi-tasking adults with competing demands in their
lives. Education (or professional development) is only one of these. Students may
come to the instruction with few experiences of academic success, and see instruction
as intimidating rather than inviting. They may come with a limited desire for what the
course has to offer, perhaps because it is required rather than chosen.
(DI) The other stuff I cant have any influence over. So as engaging
and attractive as that [computer] interface isits whats going to key
them in initially and create that relationship.... A lot of the thinking
behind this is based on visits I had to the office [of representative
learners], watching people at work, and [seeing] how tight their
schedules are and how much multi-tasking there is.
(BI) You know, we see all the stats about how people dont make it
[through self-paced instruction]. When Im thinking about the person,
Im just trying to capture their interest for whatever moment I have
them.
Opening Qualities (Hooks, Novelty, Comfort)
As DI demonstrates above, the opening of the instructional event is considered
critical by each of the participants. It is the opportunity to create a lasting impression
and set the tone of the relationship with the learner. It needs to have some kind of
hook that draws learners in and encourages them to stay engaged.
(BI) Were always looking for a hook, [an] emotional, intellectual,
dramatic hook to get the learner into whats going on.
(EF) Its real important to me that theres a conversational tone that
says Im here, I care about you. I want us to learn from each other. I
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think about that heavily. Students new to online learning are nervous
about it. Im trying to make it more comfortable.
(AF) Im hoping that theyre sitting there and thinking, This isnt as
scary as I thought. And interested enough to think, I better come
back tomorrow because who knows what shes going to do next.
Narrative Qualities
All the participants discussed using narrative elements to create a flow to the
instruction and to keep learners engaged through the end. This took many forms, from
simply referring to the course as an adventure (AF) or facilitating a series of
activities that complete a process of building things, (EF) to actually centering the
instruction on a case, scenario, or back story (BI, Cl, DI) that learners work
through.
(AF) I always try to talk about it with the excitement of, Its a journey
and this is where were going to be going, and were going to be
discovering these things.
(DI) By the time they get to question six, theyre really caught up. The
event is taking place now, theres [an] ocean-effect [snowstorm].
There are some quirks about how the atmosphere is setting up, theres
some banding thats not really explained well. So hopefully theyre
engaged enough to want to continue . that the idiosyncrasies of the
case itself will continue to hold their attention throughout all nine
questions.
Identification
Participants recognized that learning includes a process of shifting identity
and asked learners to assume a new identity within the instruction. In some cases, this
was a request to suspend disbelief and take part in a narrative, to have learners
identify with a fictional person with an immediate need of the knowledge they
themselves are attempting to develop. In others, it was a more direct request to
envision their own potential new identity. In both cases, the request can be seen as an
attempt to make learners identities more malleable, preparing them for the shift that
is one goal of the instruction.
For example, in EFs online course about instructional strategies, not only do
students apply what theyre learning in designing a product of their choosing (often
they are practicing professionals or interns, and the product is for a real audience), but
they are told that the course instructors have followed the same process in designing
the course the students are taking. In this way, the students identify at several levels:
54


as professionals given the opportunity to enhance their craft by following a new
model, as IDs in a community of practice sharing reflections on their profession, and
as learners experiencing designed learning activities from a critical perspective.
For DI, identification meant drawing the learner into the scenario using
second-person voiceYou are sitting down to your shift, as if the learner was the
forecaster in the case study. As the scenario proceeds, the learner has to make
decisions and use data identical to those the actual forecaster would have used at the
time, furthering the identification.
In the products created by BI and Cl, as well, learners are asked to participate
directly in a situation in which the instructional content has to be applied, but the
narration is more explicit. In Cls case, the learner is the house guest of a family in
Florida, welcomed at the front door of their home, and asked by the family to help
prepare for the potential of the coming hurricane. For Cl, one of the primary goals of
the module is to connect with peoples lives, and to show that people in this place .
. know about hurricanes. In this way, learners identify with the family in ways that
help them connect that science means something in peoples lives.
For BI, the identification is not quite as direct, but the story is more complex.
Many dramatic situations are presented in the backstory in which a group of
characters work through problems of practice that require the skills being taught.
Frequently, learners are asked to help the group analyze their situation or make
decisions. BI spoke of the difficulty in creating a narrative that learners would relate
to. If its not real or compelling, then it has a tendency to hurt the content, even if the
content is true.
In AFs case, like that of EF in part, learners are encouraged to identify with
the instructor rather than a fictional character. One goal of AFs teaching is to have
students develop a positive attitude toward math, and this is achieved by
demonstrating that attitude.
Tension (Withholding)
In some cases, the opening engagement of the instruction is maintained
through careful use of tension. Some participants even speak of withholding
information in order to create expectation and curiosity. For Cl, this is inherent in the
narrative structure associated with the approaching hurricane: Maybe theres interest
and anticipation on when the hurricanes going to hit. . That was sort of our goal, to
have a little suspense. Tension was also introduced through game-like elements
forcing learners to explore the space of the narrative to find the available resources.
For DI, tension is also inherent in the case study approach, but there is a small
element of misdirection included as well. As the case unfolds, theyre going to be
confronted with the nuances and why they blew the forecast [why the weather event
misled them, which is likely for this case]. Similarly, the backstory in the module
55


designed by BI contains a mystery that is solved only by following the story closely,
and is revealed only near the end. There are all kinds of red herrings that are laid out
throughout. . [The characters] model the content itself in that you dont want to
jump to conclusions. You want to measure, analyze, re-measure. You want the learner
to experience that. You draw them into the misdirection, as well as the characters.
The teachers in the study (AF and EF), in contrast to the designers, were more
reluctant to introduce tension. As AF puts it, I think theres probably more than
enough there already. However, even AF creates a gentle tension with the frequent
unexpected activities, like mathematical sing-alongs. EFs original course design
began with activities that were likely quite new to the learners, and for which limited
guidance is provided. We are clear in what we want them to build, but we are not
obvious in describing it to them. E recalled a comment she had heard that justified
this treatment: When you have someone teaching you, you have to suspend your
own judgment and just go where [the teacher] is going. However, in the follow-on
interview, EF spoke of how the course had been redesigned to make it more
coherent, to have it make more sense to people. In the redesigned course, EF and the
co-instructor provided a roadmap that better explained where students were headed
and why. As a result, no one had dropped the online course at the midpoint, where
several students had dropped out in previous incarnations of the course. Perhaps the
nature of online instruction with its larger transactional distance, and perhaps with the
complex nature of mathematical content (for AF), added tension simply places
excessive demand on learners.
Limits (Student Acceptance, Practical Constraints)
While all the participants strove to develop engagement, they also realized
that some situational factors were beyond their control. For example, students have
limited capacity or willingness to suspend disbelief during instruction. In addition,
practical constraints mean that efforts can only go so far before budget, development
team consensus, and the necessity to cover sufficient content limit them.
(DI) Initially I was hoping I could set more of a roll, use a tone that
you are on shift, playing the whole game of a case scenario. Thats the
first sentence, You are sitting down to your shift. I was hoping to
sustain that tone, but working with subject matter experts, that tone
went away.
(Cl) Right off the bat theres maybe pretty high engagement. Then ...
maybe when they get to this [computer] screen they may be
disappointed. Then theres this worksheet thing, and this inherently
means work, so the average student is thinking, Oh, were going to
have to do a worksheet?
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Middle Qualities (Growing Comfort, Boredom, Pattern, Routine)
Participants noted varying qualities about the middle instruction events. Some
noted that the middle marked a potential growing comfort with the instruction and a
willingness to see it through. If the teacher has been successful, he or she will also
have gained the trust of learners by this point, and will have created an environment
where reaching the end appears achievable. However, some noted that limitations of
engagement strategies rise prominently in the middle, and that it can be a challenge to
hold interest. If engagement is difficult to sustain, the use of pattern and routine can
help learners keep on task.
(BI) If theyve been through it all, they know the team [in the back
story] and they know the problem. Maybe theyre interested. Then
hopefully theyre starting to get interested in some of the tools. How
you can actually measure quality in a service environment. Theyre
starting to get intrigued about what they could do [in their own
workplace].
(AF) I think theyre feeling pretty comfortable [by the middle]. I think
theyve figured out by now that its not me against them.. . Theyre
much more trusting, and theyre believing a lot more of what I do. ..
I think they look back at the beginning of the course and think, I
dont know why I was so scared.
(DI) [By the middle] I think theyll be thinking that these guys really
tried to make it look as if were really in the midst of a true [weather]
forecast.... The engagement might be a little less than I was hoping..
. [but] I think once they get used to the amount of data at their
fingertips, theyll be engaged with the analytical aspects of this.
(Cl) By the time they get [to the middle] they know theres a story,
they know theres a hurricane coming, they know the routinethey
know the drill of the dog thing, then you do the computer thing. They
sort of know what to expect.
Climax, Turning Point
None of the participants had difficulty in pointing to a climax or turning point
within the instruction. This point may have been either a surprise or puzzle that added
an interesting twist, an Aha moment, or a low point to be overcome, making the
rest of the experience easy in comparison.
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(AF) In a math class, that point in the semester you would call a
climax ... I think is more related to a [difficult] concept.... You see
this again and again, this struggle point. . And thats kind of a low
point of the semester. . But I do see a lot of students at this point go,
Its not as hard as I thought. Its a kind of Aha moment.
(BI) [The climax] is when they actually measure and find out what the
problem is [in the backstory],
(Cl) [In the scenario] we had the electricity go off. It breaks up the
whole structure and the pacing. And its timed with how hurricanes
[actually] disrupt things.
(DI) Theres the juggernaut in there of the banding taking place. ... I
still think theres no way that youd ever be able to forecast banding at
that level... But I dont see that as a bad thing ... if it sparks
somebodys interest to go research something else. ... In retrospect,
these cases are great to look at, because they are intriguing.
(EF) Id say [the climax] is when they have to use all the work weve
done in the beginning to design a blueprint for their own course. They
actually have to pull in everything. And the ones who are able to do
that have major Ahas.
Ending Qualities (Closure, Open-endedness)
Participants spoke of mixed goals in providing closure for the instruction.
First, there is the goal of providing a solid conclusion to the story of the course (El)
by reaching a logical ending. There is also the goal of drawing the entire experience
into a unified whole, showing how all the parts of the course were necessary for
reaching its conclusion. At the same time, there is a desire to keep the end somewhat
open, to indicate that the end is another beginning, or that the course is just the
starting point for deeper, more important learning to take place.
For AF, while the last Calculus I class session is a time for celebration, with
an awards ceremony for those who have gotten As on all their tests, there is also the
fact that the final few days of the course were spent on Calculus II content, giving
students a preview of where they may be heading next. Cl felt strongly that the
instructional design was faulty in that it didnt provide enough linkage back to the
classroom, where the teacher and students could carry forward with other related
activities. For EF, the course ends with a reflection and becomes a rite of passage,
where learners are told, Welcome to the group of instructional designers who think
through learning. For BI and DI, the end of the back story and the end of the severe
weather case provide natural closure to the instructional experience.
Teaching as Art
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When asked for their opinions about the artistic aspects of teaching and
instructional design, each of the participants had well formed thoughts on the matter,
indicating that they had considered this question before.
(AF) Watching someone do the teaching process well is like watching
a broadway show. ... I think the feeling that you get is emotionally
similar to looking at great art or hearing great music.
(BI) I think great art changes perception. And .. great instruction
should change perception as well. I dont know that its been done, but
I think that its possible that great instructional design could be an art
form.
(Cl) I feel that teaching is a spontaneous, creative art. Teachers think
they have a plan, and they have strategies, and the content, but theyre
in the moment too... Theres an aesthetic value in and of itself. I
think its important. It makes learning real.
(DI) You know youve got all these theories . but its a very creative
process to actually take your content and put it into a structure... .
And thats a very creative thing, where youre blending theory with
aesthetics and common sense and some usability ideas.
(EF) Its artistic because I can impact peoples lives and their
emotions. Its artistic because there is no one solution.
Discussion
This study described above may be significant for three reasons. First, it
begins to provide a description of instructional experiences from the viewpoint of
practitioners that reveals their aesthetic qualities. A depiction of those qualities that
arose from the data is summarizes below. Second, it shows that the concept of
aesthetic experience may be a useful lens for interpreting and evaluating the work of
practitioners in the fields of education and training. This lens could provide
justification for applying approaches from arts criticism to the interpretation of how
teachers and IDs work. Third, it points to the potential value of aesthetic principles
derived from various art forms as sources for instructional strategies. Because the arts
possess the inherent quality of engagement (Berleant, 1991), these strategies could
lead to improved learning.
The Aesthetic Experience of Instruction
Based on the themes that emerged from this study, one can image an account
of the aesthetic qualities of a learning experience as it unfolds. The composite picture
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below is based on beliefs expressed by participants and describes the impacts of many
of the aesthetic decisions they might make. It is not intended as a model of learning,
but as a story derived from practitioner experience.
As learners enter a formal instructional situation, they may do so with a wide
variety of anticipatory feelings. They may be fearful, skeptical that the
experience will be worthwhile, ambivalent but willing to trust the instructor
(at least for a little while), or ideally, optimistic and highly motivated. Each of
these initial feelings is either justified or modified by their experience at the
start of the course or first engagement with a self-paced product, coloring their
attitude as they proceed. Because negative feelings can interfere with learning
by reducing either engagement or expectations, the instructor or designer
typically has included a strategy to minimize them. If so, learners may lose
their negative feelings (or improve upon their neutral ones) and become
engaged with the instruction, either through enjoyable and familiar activity,
unique or pleasant sensory experiences, or the creation of a sense of drama,
mystery, or anticipation.
By the middle of the experience, if things have gone well, learners may have
forgotten their fears and skepticism. They may experience an increased
feeling of belonging and trust, but the reality that learning is hard work has set
in. The first part may have gone by quickly, but the end is still far way away
and a substantial amount of work remains to be accomplished. The role of the
instructor or ID in this phase is often simply to make the experience as
bearable as possible by providing a routine pattern to the activities and clarity
in the instructional communications. Inevitably, some of the luster and
newness of the experience is lost, and only if learners maintain sufficient trust
in the experience and are sufficiently willing to suspend disbelief to
continue the temporarily crafted relationship of student and instructor will
their engagement stay intact.
Finally, the end comes, typically in a fluster of activity. The shear exhaustion
that accompanies the conclusion of this final activity, if kept in balance, adds
emotional intensity to a feeling of conclusion and restored order. The
instructor or ID can provide further closure by creating opportunities for
learners to reflect on what theyve learned, helping to tie the preceding
learning activities into a unified whole by showing how they were each
necessary to get to this point. Perhaps there is also a ritual of closure that
points out how far learners have come, and there may be reference to the fact
that life goes on beyond the experience, but will forever be touched by it,
adding significance to the parting.
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Trust comes up frequently in the above account because it was strongly
implied by participants as a necessary condition for effective learning. Similarly,
others have pointed to trust as an intrinsic aspect of artistic endeavors. Cavells
(1976) advice to artists could also be advice for teachers and instructional designers
who respect the individual intentions of their students. He tells artists that they must
necessarily take chances, but also to remember that
. .. you are inviting others to take them with you. And since they are,
nevertheless, your own, and your invitation is based not on power or
authority, but on attraction and promise, your invitation incurs the
most exacting of obligations: that every risk must be shown
worthwhile, and every infliction of tension lead to a resolution, and
every demand on attention and passion be satisfiedthat risks those
who trust you cant have known they would take, will be found to
yield value they cant have known existed (p. 199).
Conclusion
This study demonstrated that its participants consciously attended to the
criteria of aesthetic experience discussed by Dewey (1934/1989). One prominent,
primary connection between the practice of participants and the Deweys aesthetics
was their use of tension to enhance engagement in the experience. Dewey suggested
that aesthetic experience arises from the rhythmic tension between experienced
disruption and harmony. Learners may experience tension by confronting complex
content and the desire to complete the course successfully, or instructors and IDs can
impose it by finding dramatic conflict within the content or with purposeful
withholding and controlled release of information (see the above comments on
Tension in the Findings section). The participants also worked to achieve a
consummatory experience for learners, using narrative or other techniques to reveal
how the content of the course fit together. The dramatic structure of several of the
instructional designs inherently created anticipation of this consummation. Finally, as
the data shows, each participant was cognizant of the immediacy of their learners
experiences, and could discuss the expected thoughts and feelings of learners at each
stage of the course or module. They demonstrated clear concern for many details of
the learning environment that would help create a rich, immediate experience for
learners.
This study focused on the design of whole courses or large modules that likely
take more than one session to complete. It would also be useful to look at smaller and
larger scales of learning experiences for ways in which aesthetic principles can and
do come into play. What is the pattern of aesthetic experience for individual lessons
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or class sessions? In what ways do even smaller scale activities play out? What is the
role of feedback in adjusting the qualitative immediacy during instruction? At the
other extreme, one might also ask how larger scale experiences, such as degree
programs, display aesthetic qualities. These questions are only touched upon in this
study and deserve further investigation.
In addition to descriptive outcomes, research on aesthetic practice in teaching
and instructional design could also lead to prescriptive outcomes. Identifying current
practices and observing what appears to create the desired learning impact through
particular aesthetic strategies can lead to a catalog of strategies for instruction.
Educators may be able to elaborate and more clearly describe these strategies by
finding comparisons to strategies applied by artists. Because learning experiences
play out over time, temporally constrained art forms like literature and music might
offer the best strategic resources (Parrish, in press). For example, if we discover that
pacing strategies used by teachers and IDs reveal rhythms similar to those used by
composers of music, this may mean that we can study musical composition to reveal
untried subtleties of those strategies for instructors to employ, not to mention
complete genres of pacing that may have been unconsidered.
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CHAPTER 6
EXPERIENCES OF ENGAGEMENT WITH THE ONLINE LEARNING
MODULE: USING THE WRF MESOSCALE MODEL
Abstract
Mixed-methods were used to investigate conditions and qualities of learning
engagement among learners using contrasting treatments of an online learning
module designed for professional weather forecasters. Participants rated their
engagement level for nine module sections and described enhancing and inhibiting
factors. Surveys also measured attitudes toward module qualities, and four
participants provided think-aloud and interview responses. One treatment included
qualities intended to enhance engagement; the second removed several of these.
Findings showed highly variable patterns of engagement uncorrelated with the
independent variables, including treatment; all participants had high and low
engagement levels at times. Engagement proved to be a significant concern for
learners and appeared to be dependent upon many more interrelationships between
the learner, the materials, and the situation than those investigated.
Introduction
The outcomes of any instructional event are numerous and varied. Some are
immediately visible, such as measured improvements on objective tests, indicating a
growth in knowledge about the content taught. Some are more subtle and difficult to
measure, such as the ability, inclination, and confidence to apply that knowledge in
practical situations in life and on the job. Others are difficult to define, let alone
measure, such as developing positive attitudes toward learning and commitment to
professional practiceoutcomes we might associate more with character growth than
with knowledge gains. Yet all of these are critical in the development of learners into
strong performers, and all can be impacted by learning experiences, as argued by
Wilson, Parrish, & Veletsianos (in press).
These outcomes vary in the degree to which they open themselves up to
research and assessment largely due to concomitant variables that play a role in their
achievement. As we move from assessing objective knowledge gains to affective
changes in learners, it becomes harder to point to single events as the source of the
changeindividual differences and existing environmental factors become more
critical. Also, because the evidence of outcomes like a change in attitude toward
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learning, confidence, or commitment to a profession can be subtle or revealed only in
the long term, research and assessment run into practical constraints.
In assessing learning, it is tempting to settle for easily gathered measures like
appeal (measured most frequently via end-of-course surveys) and immediate
knowledge gain (measured via objective tests). Though important, and perhaps at
times central, these dont adequately demonstrate whether instruction is contributing
to outcomes with broader and longer term effects. When feasible, it will be prudent to
attempt assessment of all outcomes being produced by instruction. Otherwise, we
remain unsure about the broader impacts of our instructional designs and when and
how to apply them.
To get at these broader outcomes, we need to consider all the qualities of the
learning experience, not just whether learners meet its intended objectives and claim
to enjoy doing so. Learning experience, in part, refers to how learners respond to the
instructionwhether their interest is piqued, the degree of challenge, how they
respond to learning activities, and their attitudes toward the content, instructional
methods, and medium used. But experience is not merely a collection of
psychological states. A more pragmatic conception is that it represents the interaction
between an individual and the world, and not just states of mind (Dewey, 1925/2000).
In this sense, learning experience includes the instructional content and its
presentation; the teachers, designers, or facilitators and the roles they assume; the
media and technologies employed; and perhaps most importantly, the quality of
interaction with these. As in any significant life experience, learning experiences
require interaction, or transaction, between objective conditions and the learner
(Dewey, 1938/1997). This transaction takes place when a learner submits to the
experience and becomes sufficiently engaged to exert effort to understand new ideas
or develop new skills, and the instructor or materials respond by providing guidance,
new information, or feedback about the success of the attempt..Contrary to common
conception, experience is not merely something that happens to a person.
Instructional providers and learners have a mutual responsibility for creating an
effective learning experience.
The effectiveness of that experience may be understood pragmatically as its
level of potential impact. For example, experience that is characterized by boredom
and mindless routine is unlikely to have a lasing impact other than to create aversion
to similar experiences. Experiences that are scattered, unorganized, or incomplete
also will be unsatisfying, unremarkable, and likely unmemorable as well. However, at
times experience can be characterized by challenge and anticipation, opportunities to
interact and influence conditions, and ideas and activities that are highly compelling.
If we want learning to occur and have its deepest impacts, the latter type of
experience is what we strive for in instruction. As we progress from mindless routine
to meaningful endeavors, the presence of higher levels of engagement becomes clear.
In fact, the quality of engagement may be the best evidence of potential for broader
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positive outcomes of learning experiences. But how do we know when engagement
occurs? In what ways is it manifested? What influences or deters engagement, and
how do we design instruction to encourage it?
Exploring Engagement
Successful instruction, particularly when intended to result in understanding
versus rote memorization, requires that learners actively engage in learning rather
than passively attending to content delivery (Bransford, Brown, Cocking, Donovan,
& Pellegrino, 2000). Active engagement, in turn, is dependent on the presence of
sufficient desire to learn. A convenient assumption is that cognitive gains are
indicators of all useful learning outcomes, that if they are achieved all the other
qualities of a learning experience are moot. Colored by this assumption, instructional
design decisions may focus entirely on developing logical content sequences and
presenting well explained ideas. If the cognitive outcomes are not achieved, failure
may be blamed on poor sequencing, bad explanation, or more often, limited effort on
the part of learners to understand. Instructional providers are unlikely to blame their
own inattention to stimulating a desire to learn (Garrison, 1997).
This assumption is due in part to the prevalent idea that the cognitive and
affective goals of instruction are separate considerations. Yet even Krathwohl,
Bloom, & Masia (1964), originators of the most often cited taxonomies of
instructional outcomes, express reluctance about an artificial division between the
cognitive and affective domains, suggesting instead that nearly all cognitive
objectives have an affective component if we search for it (p. 48). One possible
meaning of their comment is that all compelling ideas (those with the power to
stimulate new learning) are fueled with emotional qualities along with practical or
logical ones (Dewey, 1934/1989; Wong, Pugh, & The Dewey Ideas Group, 2001).
Learning is itself always an emotional enterprise (Pekrun, Goetz, Titz, & Perry,
2002)either we remain uncompelled and unlikely to learn, or we become invested
in the efforts to the point that it matters to us that we achieve valued outcomes, and
even at times to the point where the immediate pleasures of learning supersede future
considerations. The expressions of deep frustration or significant joy in achievement
made by engaged learners demonstrate the emotional content of learning experiences.
Frequently, learners even attach learning outcomes to their self identity. Anderman &
Wolters (2006) reviewed research to uncover the relationships between affect, goals,
and values, and to show how these influence learning and engagement. They
identified important, although complex and often indirect relationships. Furthermore,
they showed that each of these constructs has multiple dimensions that influence
learning differently. Most significant for this study, they concluded that the highly
contextual and individual influences on student motivation have been insufficiently
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accounted for in educational research, leading to research with often conflicting
results.
Engagement is a broad construct, with its most common definition being
associated with intention or commitment, as in a marriage engagement. In education,
the term is often used in a similar way to describe the social commitment a student
makes to a learning environment, such as the university he or she is attending
(Hoffman, Perillo, Hawthorne Calizo, Hadfield, & Lee, 2005). Engagement is
sometimes conflated with interest, perhaps with interest seen as the psychological
state behind engagement behaviors (Hidi & Renninger, 2006). However, all of these
approaches are counter to a notion of engagement as a quality not of the person but of
the experience, which includes psychological states, behaviors, and conditions of the
world equally. Like Dewey (e.g., 1934/1989), Reed et al. (2002) see engagement as
an activity-related process that subsumes the psychological states of involvement
and interest. At times, engagement reaches levels in which experience is infused with
meaning beyond what can be pointed to as utilitarian, where connection to the
situation is immediate and immersive, and in which people might describe themselves
as feeling fully alive (Berleant, 1991). These heightened experiences of complete
engagement can be referred to as aesthetic in Deweys (1934/1989) sense of
intensified immediate experience that people can have in the course of everyday life.
This kind of engagement is most closely associated with intrinsic motivation and
strong situational interest (Schraw & Lehman, 2001). Situational interest is related
positively to learning, but it describes only psychological states and not the holistic
experience as the unit of analysis. For this reason, it may only partially explain the
powerful impact described by Deweys concept of aesthetic experience (Dewey,
1934/1989). Situational interest does not fully account for the transactional nature of
experience, while aesthetic experience is dependent upon it. However, each of these
related constructs, although varied in their perspectives, suggests useful criteria for
evaluating engagement.
For the purposes of this study, learning engagement has two facets. It includes
a commitment made by the learner to master instructional content, a willingness to
reflect deeply upon its value and application, and a trusting submission to the
instructional situation. Beyond task persistence or having a performance goal
orientation (Anderman & Wolters, 2006), which might indicate merely coercion or
expected extrinsic rewards, engagement may be indicated when learners exhibit a
developing curiosity, anticipate that questions that come to mind will be answered,
genuinely attempt to solve problems presented, generate new ideas about the content,
and have a concern about learning outcomes that goes beyond a passing grade.
Engagement requires an active contribution from the learner to the learning
experience, not just passive reception of information or perfunctory participation.
However, beyond what is brought by the learner, engagement also includes those
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qualities of instruction that enhance the immediacy, malleability, and resonance of the
experience. These instructional qualities include:
Stimulating investment of effort by offering opportunities for interaction
and contribution
Encouraging exploration by presenting stimulating ideas or puzzling
information
Creating anticipation and expectation for resolution of conflicts and
problems
Attempting to find connections to learners experiences outside the
learning environment
Allowing room for learners to own the experience rather than merely
participate
Encouraging reflection and consolidation of meaning
This study represents an initial attempt to understand learning engagement as
exhibited when learners use an online, self-paced instructional module developed by
The COMET Program.
Module Design
In many online learning modules produced by The COMET Program for its
primary audience of professional weather forecasters, the project teams employ
design features such as learning scenarios, numerous application-oriented interactions
with a high degree of fidelity to the work environment, and enhanced multimedia
used to demonstrate complex concepts. The expectation is that for many learners
these more complex features will have both immediate and lasting impacts, that they
can encourage high degrees of engagement, stimulate deeper learning, improve
retention and transfer of learning to the job, and develop more positive attitudes
toward trainingleading to a stronger commitment to future professional
development. Because these materials are used almost exclusively in self-paced
environments, there are few opportunities to interact with learners during instruction
to monitor engagement or attempt to influence it in real time. For this reason, much
care goes into creating features intended to help learners become engaged.
The goal of this design-based research project (The Design-Based Research
Collective, 2003) was to better understand the impacts of these features on learning
engagement with the published Web-based module, Using the AFWA WRF
Mesoscale Model. Because this particular module has both cognitive goals (for
example, those related to understanding NWP model improvements and their impacts
on model weather forecasts) and explicit affective goals (those related to increasing
willingness to use mesoscale model guidance in the forecast process), it provided a
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good basis for looking at broad impacts. The outcomes are meant to inform COMET
about potential refinements it could make in its design and implementation
approaches for future products.
The design processes included several techniques meant to increase
consideration of the learner experience, and several decisions were made to impact
this experience in pointed ways. The intent was to create an aesthetic experience of
learning, one in which compelling problems or ideas, significant opportunities for
interaction, and a defined content and activity structure are meant to lead learners
through a process of anticipation, exploration, and consummation of learning
(Parrish, in press). The study also considers the impacts of these design approaches
on the creation and experience of the end-product.
From the beginning, rather than describing the goals of the module only in
terms of its content or intended learning outcomes, an instructional theme guided its
development. Because the project had experiential goals with assumed outcomes
broader than could be captured in traditional learning objectives, a description of
learning activities was central to conveying those goalsthe activities could not be
considered secondary decisions. For this reason, an action-oriented theme was created
to represent the project to the sponsor and development team and to support several
follow-on design techniques. The theme was couched in these terms:
In the process of working through a series of realistic, interactive
scenarios, learners will gain increased knowledge and appreciation of
the applications, advantages, and limitations of the new WRF
mesoscale model and practice techniques for using its guidance in their
forecast process.
Based on this theme, a design story was written and included in the project
plan to communicate the experiential goals of the project. Design stories, or user
scenarios, provide a concrete but hypothetical walk-through of a representative
learner during the learning experience. Writing stories in the design phase of a project
can help designers consider how their decisions may impact learners in a variety of
ways (Parrish, 2006a). A full version of the story is provided in Appendix C. In this
case, the design story also communicated to the sponsor how the product would meet
both the cognitive and affective goals of the project, and guided the development
team in addressing these goals as the instructional content as it was created.
Once the story was written, the module experience could then be envisioned
as a path along which content segments and activities could be plotted and their
impact anticipated. Borrowing techniques used by fiction writers to help them address
the aesthetic qualities of their narratives, instructional designers can use narrative
diagrams to plot learning paths intended to achieve engagement (Parrish, 2008a).
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Narrative diagrams aid in planning learning activity and content sequences, but the
diagram represents the experiential goal, not the expected experience of each learner.
Increasing
Engagement/
Complexity
(Section 1) Introductory forecast problem (Sections 3-5) Three addition forecast problems explored and solutions described showing WRF improvements I X) Solutions for
L Limitations of the confronting limitations explored and guidelines provided
expiored/ieft unresolved \ Intro problem further explored/solutron proposed demonstrating WRF improvements (Section 2) (Sections 8-9)
WRF model irrtroduced/doubts raised (Sections 6-7)
Figure 6.1: Narrative diagram of Using the WRF Mesoscale Model
Several design decisions regarding instructional approach and content
sequence were made to give the learning experience qualities of a well formed
narrative, as depicted in Figure 6.1. For example, Section 1 provides an introductory
problem; in this case the weather forecasts from two different NWP models provide
conflicting guidance to a forecaster. This is done in the form of a relevant workplace
scenario, and treated somewhat like the opening of a detective novelit is left
unresolved in the introduction in an attempt to create anticipation of the content about
to be treated. The module continues in Section 2 by further exploring the introductory
scenario, followed by three additional scenarios in Sections 3-5, each presented as
problems for the learner to solve prior to receiving explanation in feedback and
summary pages. The problems in these sections, and throughout the module, provide
a rich set of graphical data products to examine along with drawing tools that allow
learners to record their analyses to facilitate comparisons. These four sections
demonstrate improvements offered by the WRF model for forecasting in a variety of
forecast situations. They are intended to create trust and motivation for using WRF
forecast guidance products while demonstrating practical methods for their
application. Their problem-solving format is meant to keep learners engaged while
their interest in the model has a chance to develop.
The final third of the module, Sections 6-9, begins with a challenge to what
has been learned intended to stimulate new engagement, asking learners to consider
limitations to the improvements brought by the WRF model. Sections 6 and 7 discuss
predictability limitations and caveats about using mesoscale model guidance like that
provided by the WRF model. While the preceding content works to enhance the
reputation of the WRF as an improved forecast tool, these sections remind learners
that they cant trust the model implicitly and that more judgment on their part is
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required. Section 8 provides a new scenario and set of interactive problems. It is
meant to resolve the preceding challenges by demonstrating a method to apply critical
judgment in using mesoscale models in conjunction with global models, overcoming
weaknesses inherent in both. This final scenario acts as a consummating activity that
links all that has been learned previously. In contrast, section 9 is a text-only
document that offers a detailed representation of the diagnosis and decision-making
processes demonstrated in the module. It is not meant to be learned in one sitting, and
is in fact also provided as a printable PDF for on-the-job reference. The total run-time
of the modules audio narration is two hours. Time-on-task was nearly double for
some learners.
Throughout the module, multimedia visualizations of meteorological
processes are used to illustrate principles being discussed. In addition, great effort
was made to obtain operational data products to enhance the realism of the scenario
exercises. This attention to the visual qualities of the instruction was done for
explanatory reasons and for realism, but also to create a stimulating visual
environment for learners, who would be using it in isolation from fellow learners and
an instructor. Weather forecasters are also more accustomed to interacting with visual
information than a preponderance of verbal information.
To provide a degree of control and comparison, a second treatment was
prepared by eliminating several elements from the design. Treatment A was the full
module as designed for publication. The leaner Treatment B contained all
instructional content, but eliminated the scenarios and interactions. For example, all
content provided during exercise feedback was instead presented directly. The open-
ended problem in Section 1 was also eliminated since this content was included in the
second section. The instructional content sequence was otherwise unaltered, but the
time to complete the module was reduced by approximately 30 to 45 minutes.
Research Questions
The primary research question for the study rested on a desire to understand in
broad terms the nature of learning engagement with this online learning module:
How does the level of level of learner engagement evolve during
experiences with the module? What is the nature of that engagement?
What features or content contribute to the experienced level of
engagement?
Other questions of interest related to the degree of coherence perceived in the
module, the relationship between learning, engagement, and attitudes toward module
qualities, and how prior attitudes and experience influenced engagement. Finally, the
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study looked at how an explicit orientation toward learning experience may have
impacted the design and development process.
Research Methods
The study employed a mixed-methods research approach (Johnson &
Onwuegbuzie, 2003), seeking to draw from the strengths of both quantitative (e.g.,
quasi-experimental components and Likert-scale survey items) and qualitative
methodologies (e.g., interviews, think-aloud protocol, and free-response survey
items). Mixed methods were used because both types of data were important for the
research questions, and because a small sample size was anticipated, which would
limit usefulness of some quantitative data. The qualitative methods were considered
central for getting at the nature of learner experience, allowing participants to express
their experiences in their own terms and perhaps bringing up unanticipated factors.
Quantitative methods would help uncover relationships between important variables
influencing that experience. Results on tests associated with the module were also
considered useful in demonstrating the value of its design approaches, but not the
only demonstration of value. Mixed methods approaches are often preferred when
investigating complex human phenomena like learning with technology because they
can provide triangulation, complementarity, and expansion of results over single
methods approaches (Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2004). Qualitative results can enhance
interpretation of the quantitative outcomes in the study, and quantitative results may
support the intersubjectively analyzed qualitative results.
Quantitative data collected included pre- and post-test scores, demographic
information, attitude-scales derived from survey data, and single-item attitude ratings
about specific learning experience qualities, (see Appendix D, Treatment A Survey).
A randomized item module quiz was used for both pre- and post-testing, assessing
important cognitive learning outcomes outlined in the learning objectives, including
several performance-based items.
The qualitative component employed primarily phenomenological research
methods (Moustakas, 1994), including seeking free expressions of experience from
four participants during lengthy interviews, and employing think-aloud protocol to
uncover qualities of the immediate experience. Qualitative data analyzed included
interview transcripts, research notes, and responses to open-ended survey questions
provided by those not interviewed.
Research participants were selected from members of the target audience for
the moduleAir Force and Navy weather forecastersprimarily based on
availability and representativeness. The forecasters learned about the study from and
agreed to participate at the request of their organizations training staff. They were
randomly assigned to either Treatment A (N=9) or B (N=l 1).
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Research Results: Engagement Levels
Level of Engagement
Participants were asked to rate their level of engagement for each of 9 sections
of the module on a scale of 1-7, either while using it or immediately after. The
majority used the rating scale in the process of taking the module, which ensured a
response unmodified by reflection. While this was the desired protocol, because it
was assumed that some participants would have taken the module prior to the study,
this was not required.
In order to have participants rate similar qualities of their experience, they
were prompted to consider the following indicators as evidence of their engagement:
Your curiosity about the content grew as you learned more.
You anticipated the answers to questions and solutions to problems posed.
In general, you found yourself thinking a lot about the material and caring
whether you fully understood it. For example, you may have reviewed pages
if you were unsure you fully understood them the first time.
You made significant effort to complete exercises and understand the
feedback provided.
You could easily imagine yourself in the positions of the characters in the
scenarios.
You were concerned about getting useful outcomes from the instruction.
Additional indicators and qualities of engagement were sought from learners during
the interviews and open-ended survey items.
Recalling the narrative diagram provide in Figure 6.1 above, the experiential
goals for learner engagement were a rapid rise at the start through the introduction of
a recognizable and difficult problem of practice; a relatively steady level of
engagement during the middle as improvements of the WRF are explored and
explained in new exercises; and a new rising engagement in the final third as
complication is increased and resolution to that complications is offered. Compare
these goals to actual ratings of engagement by participants in Figure 6.2.
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Figure 6.2: Engagement patterns of all participants.
As Figure 6.2 reveals, the most salient feature in the plots of engagement was
a lack of pattern. Instead, the rated levels of engagement reveal a high degree of
variability, leading to a strong clustering of means at the middle levels. Figure 6.3
uses box plots to depict mode (dark horizontal bar) and values within one and two
quartiles (boxes and vertically extending lines, respectively), separated by Treatments
A (Full) and B (Lean). Table 6.1 shows the median engagement for each section and
module average engagement across all sections by treatment group and for all
participants. No statistical differences were indicated for any of these quantities by
treatment group.
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I
SI
ms2
a S3
S4
S5
S6
OS7
OSS
S9
1
013
-----)------------------------------------------1----
T reatment A Treatment 8
treatment
Figure 6.3: Box plots of engagement level by section for Treatments A and B,
showing mode, quartiles, and outliers.
Table 6.1
Mean Engagement Level by Section and Average Module Engagement
Group SI S2 S3 S4 S5 S6 S7 S8 S9 Avg
Treat. A (N=9) 4.50 4.63 4.38 4.50 4.00 4.88 5.00 4.00 4.00 4.38
Treat. B(N=11) 3.82 4.73 5.18 5.00 5.09 4.64 4.64 4.18 3.36 4.52
Both Groups 4.11 4.68 4.84 4.79 4.63 4.74 4.79 4.11 3.61 4.46
Discussion of Engagement Level Statistics
A few aspects about these data might be noted:
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All sections other than section 8 and 9 show a mean engagement value
above level four (or medium) for both treatment groups. Relative
engagement can be considered moderately good for these sections,
although of course inconsistent.
The desired rise in engagement for Sections 6 and 7 is present only for the
group using Treatment A (and mildly so). More importantly, there is a
decrease in mean engagement for Section 8 in both groups.
As shown in Figure 6.3, with the exception of sections 1 and 9 for
Treatment B, all sections received high engagement level ratings of either
6 or 7 (the highest rating) by one or more participants. In addition, all
received low ratings of 3 or less. Six of nine sections were given
engagement ratings of 2 or 1 by at least one participant.
It is clear that experiences of engagement were highly individualized, that
learners had highly individualized responses to the content and design features. The
individual variability indicated in Figure 6.2 is supported by the facts that the average
highest section engagement rating was 5.89, and the average low rating was 2.68. In
other words, regardless of the use of interactions and scenarios (treatment
differences), for nearly every learner there were at some point during the experience
both high and low feelings of engagement. Furthermore, the occurrence of these highs
and lows did not correspond between learners.
It should be remembered that the ratings of engagement by learners were
relative from section to section. This may have had a tendency to exaggerate the
variability, but the absolute values are less important than the trends and comparisons
between sections. These are what might help us understand factors leading to
engagement and disengagement. To get at these factors, we need to turn to the
qualitative data.
Qualitative Data on Level of Engagement
Each learner was asked to describe which content or features were most and
least interesting or engaging about the module. For this question, ten of 16 chose to
respond by describing content. Five others responded by mentioning features (two
mentioned the multimedia design, while three mentioned the interactions in treatment
A). The final respondent liked all aspects of the module.
Eight of the ten participants choosing to mention content referenced specific
sections, although the sections mentioned varied, as might be expected from the
above statistics. Sections 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8 were all mentioned as being high points by
one or more participants:
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To me, (sections) 4 and 7 were pretty much the meat and
potatoes.. .they were the anchor of it. ... We use meteograms all the
time ... but you dont really break it down too much. .. .But to know
that theres a little more to it than that...
(Section) 7 (on caveats about WRF model guidance) was good; it was
very direct, and not difficult to follow. ...It got right to the point, said
here it is, and walked you through each step of the point.
Another participant also chose section 4 because of its treatment of a
commonly faced problem, even though in the end it didnt meet expectations:
Because I, for one, have struggled with precipitation intensity. I was
really interested to find out how its going to solve that problem. But.
. it didnt go far enough.
Three participants mentioned the discussions on NWP forecasts in complex
terrain, which occurred primarily in Sections 3 and 5:
Section 5, page 7...This part was really good. ...Showing the
difference in the gridding of the terrain for the WRF versus the GFS.
.. .Theres a big difference there, and its all because of the way the
terrain is depicted. Thats really good.
In pointing out what was least engaging about the experience, 7 of 12
participants again focused on content. Three of these specifically mentioned Section 8
(saturation of information was the factor highlighted by two: Going from chart to
chart trying to show differences between model runs and times.), while the others
mentioned module content in general, including incomplete or narrow content or a
generally high degree of difficulty.
Section 8 was also a prominent choice when participants were asked which
parts of the module were most and least useful. Two mentioned it as most useful,
while four mentioned it as least useful. One of the participants citing Section 8 as
least engaging also mentioned it as the containing the most useful content, suggesting
that utility is not in itself a factor sufficient for generating engagement.
I never thought of this before. I dont know why. ... If you got
something thats not doing a good job with the diurnal but its got the
baseline temperature, just move it up. That just seems so simple; it was
just, Thats a really good idea!
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Items Correlated to Module Average Engagement
Pearson bivariate correlations were calculated across all variables and survey
items to check for relationships. Tests of significance were two-tailed, and
significance was assumed at p < .05. Module Average Engagement (the average
engagement level across all module sections for individual participants) was not
correlated to any of the independent variables (including Treatment), nor to test
scores or improvement, so no T-Tests or calculations of ANOVA proved useful.
However, Module Average Engagement was correlated significantly with several
Likert-scale survey items that deserve mention. These correlations suggest that
engagement is likely either an outcome or potential cause of the factors implied by
these items. These include:
Q5.3, / had some powerful learning moments during the module (r .784, p =
.000, N=16). Learning itself, at least that described as significant by learners
(whether or not reflected in objective test results), was most strongly
correlated to engagement.
Q6.3, Time went by very fast while I took the module (r = .641, p = .007,
N=16). This strong correlation suggests that the perception of time changes
during engagement, perhaps because it enhances the immediacy of
experience, making time seem to move quickly relative to other experiences.
Q5.4, I would enjoy taking similar modules in the future (r = .581, p = .018,
N=16). As expected, engagement may be linked to positive attitudes toward
future learning experience.
Q5.1, The module had a clear goal that it achieved (r = .571, p = .021, N=16).
Apparently, perceived clarity of instructional intent and success in achieving it
was a factor in engagement. This reflects perceptions of unity of the learning
experience, a critical aesthetic quality.
Q5.36, This module filled in some important gaps in my knowledge about how
to forecast with NWP (r = .500, p = .049, N=16). Again, a relationship
between learning and engagement is evident, along with relevance.
Additional Qualitative Data on Engagement
Engagement was discussed in many other ways during interviews and within
the surveys, leading to the following list of descriptors of learning engagement
observed by the researcher (R) or described by participants (P), either paraphrased or
quoted directly:
Beginning to get a sense of the content. Recognition of learning (Oh, I get
it.) (P)
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Taking time to carefully study the content. For example, replaying a previous
page or rereading a question and reviewing data AFTER having been
provided feedback (R)
Wanting more examples (P)
Moderate frustration in attempts to learn (P)
Wanting to know why an answer was incorrect (P)
Anticipating that one will learn how to solve important problems. Making
statements like, Im really interested to find out what the module will say
about this (R)
Not noticing negative aspects that might be considerable distractions
otherwise (P)
Paying attention, trying to learn (P)
Being interested (P)
Getting a lot out of it (recognizing its utility) (P)
Recognition that Im concentrating/spending a lot of time (P)
Finding that concentration takes less effort (P)
Stopping to think/reflect (P)
Leaning toward the computer screen rather than away (R)
Looking at all data in the exercises, using the drawing tools provided to circle
significant features in that data while pondering the answer (R)
Facial expressions of pleasure or of recognition (R)
In looking over the list, one can see that engagement was easily recognized by
learners when asked to look for it. They mostly noted an awareness of learning,
efforts to learn, or anticipation of learning. While concern about utility is also present,
it appears that engagement also provides immediate rewards. Engagement mitigates
negative qualities of the experience, like frustration, high effort, and taking a lot of
time.
The next list provides descriptors of learning ^engagement. In this case, all
but the final few are direct quotes of participants.
Trying to decide if I want to listen or just move on (to the next page) (P)
Not caring, just letting it go by (P)
Eyes glazing over (P)
Feeling the content is excessive (P)
Going through the motions (P)
Mind wandering, having to force it back (P)
Restless movements, slouching posture, leaning away from the computer (R)
Stepping through the content quickly, without pausing (R)
Finding excuses for taking breaks (R)
Viewing a minimum of data in the exercises (R)
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Many of the disengagement descriptors contain metaphors of movement away
and obstruction rather than references to knowing and learning, as in the previous list.
Minds wandering, letting content go by, moving on, and eyes glazing over all suggest
inability to attend to what is in the immediate situation. Feelings of being
overwhelmed are implied in many of these.
When we turn to what participants noted as qualities of the instruction that
increase learning engagement, one can again see that qualities of the content are
mentioned more frequently than the nature of the activities.
Direct and well structured content (easy to grasp)
Discussion/practice just sufficient to get across important points (concise)
Relevance/practicality/recognizable situations or problems
Human elements (recognition of realistic human responses to problems in the
scenarios)
Rich explanatory feedback
Learning something new
Stimulating, high-quality instructional visuals
Doing something (rather than being handed something)
Participants offered a longer list if qualities that decrease learning
engagement, but those mentioned most often related to the difficulty of the content.
Even the more experienced members of the group noted that portions of the content
were at a too high level or unnecessarily complex for their professional needs. Some
suggested that the modules utility was limited due to its complexity; others accepted
the complexity as necessary for a complete treatment of the topic, but noted that it
was nevertheless an undesirable quality. The length of the module was another strong
factor in limiting engagement, even though it shows up in fewer forms in the list. In
fact, the module acquired such a strong reputation for high complexity and excessive
length among the learner population at one research location that on the third day of
the planned visit no further volunteers could be found.
Also note in the list below factors that were also listed as indicators of
engagement in the list above. For example, going over content more than once or
questioning content, while noted as disengagement factors, are also signs of struggle
to learn and relate to the content, i.e., engagement. This demonstrates the fine line
that instructors and IDs face in creating engaging material, risking disengagement at
the same time one is striving for it. The list of qualities noted as decreasing
engagement includes:
Unfamiliar technical jargon
Content too difficult, over my head,
Not understanding what its trying to tell me, feelings of confusion
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Having to go over it again (repeating pages of content)
Excessive treatment (not concise, too long for one sitting)
Anticipation for information not met
Not being made sufficiently prepared for practice exercises
Repetitive content
Relevance/practicality not apparent
Not trusting the accuracy of the content based on personal experience
Content not new, already known
Interface usability issues (e.g., pages require scrolling, images too small, not
noticing navigation elements)
Cognitive overhead of media/illustration design (complexity of multiple
media, complex diagrams)
Tedious narration (becoming tired after hearing a single voice for so long)
Scenarios containing details not relevant to the learner
Limitations of the Results
The lack of a significant relationship between treatment and engagement or
improvement for this set of learners calls for further analysis. After all, many of the
treatment differences were directly related to design elements considered important
for generating engagement, some even singled out as important by the research
participants themselves. These included learning scenarios (stories about realistic
weather forecasters and the problems they faced as a basis for the exercises); the
exercises themselves, which provided active learning opportunities and a way for
learners to test their knowledge; and several animations meant to dramatically
demonstrate concepts being taught. The reason could simply be the low number of
participants (N=19 for Average Engagement, N=12 for Improvement) and the
inability to sufficiently factor out random individual differences. It is also possible
that while these factors contributed to engagement, as noted by learners, other factors
came into play. Most obvious is the potential occurrence of observer bias. It is likely
difficult to think about engagement without stimulating it to some degree. The
presence of the researcher or merely having a survey to complete may have
encouraged some participants to work harder to stay engaged. Being asked about
engagement may at minimum stimulate the reflection inherent in some engaging
experiences. This bias may have dampened treatment differences that might occur
under other circumstances. Other potential factors are explored below.
But it is also clear that while treatment showed no statistically significant
effects on either learning or engagement, the lack of interactivity in Treatment B
(Lean) did create a feeling that something was lacking. Use of Treatment B was
strongly correlated with item Q5.17,1 would have gladly spent more time on the
module if it had offered additional exercises and examples (r = .744, p = .001, N=T7).
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Two related items in the survey unique to Treatment B (and therefore not eligible for
correlation statistics) also stood out as the most skewed Likert-scale items. These
were, B5.8,1 would have learned more if there had been exercises in the module that
forced me to solve the problems myself (M=6.0 on a scale of 1-7, N=10), and B5.10,1
preferred it that the module did not ask me to spend time working on exercises, but
instead stated its facts and presented forecast strategies quickly and directly
(M=2.20, N=10). This outcome is supported by comments from the interviews and
surveys as well.
Those using Treatment A invariable liked having frequent exercises:
Instead of just listening and absorbing...I can apply it in a manner.
And thats good.
Throughout the course.. .they gave you these boxes.. .trying to get
you to solve behind it, and then gave you feedback after it. Instead of
just, Heres a question, and then not giving you anything back.
After you get done, youre like, Oh, what was I thinking? ...I was
thinking this when I should have been thinking this way. You might
continue doing it the same way if nobody tells you. It gives you
guidance.
They were a little frustrating, but they made you think. If youre a
little frustrated, it means youre trying to learn.
Those using Treatment B, in addition to the statistical evidence shown in the
survey, also commented on the lack of interactivity.
I think you can alleviate [the feelings of it being too long] by
breaking this up into three presentations. You could do one major area,
interact with it as you go, take a final test for just that area.... Id be
willing to sit through three presentations if there was more interaction
that kept you engaged on how youre doing.
The lack of interactivity, while it was not fatal for engagement or learning,
apparently made engagement more difficult to achieveparticipants had to work
harder to stay engaged. However, the level of difficulty of the interactions (and the
content in general) and the time they added to completing the module were a
disengagement factor for some, perhaps contributing to the balance of engagement
between treatments. Among survey items common to both Treatments, some of the
most negative, if only mildly so, were Q5.18, The module length was about right
(M=3.88 on a scale of 1-7, N=17), and Q5.22,1 felt a sense of accomplishment in
completing the module (M=3.88, N=17). These reflect feelings of excessive length
and, most likely, difficulty. The strong correlation between Treatment and willingness
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to spend more time also indicates that those using Treatment A were not very willing
to spend more time on interactions. They felt saturated.
Content difficulty was mentioned by nearly all participants:
There were a couple of those times (when I wanted to skip
content),.. .usually with this technical jargon. Because to me, Im not
building a model, Im just trying to figure out what to do with it.
Ok, I couldnt understand half the words he was saying, so I was like,
Ok, whatever. I was just taking that in and moving on to the next
one. ...I was like, Pfft, whatever.
It starts getting technical at points where I dont think its necessary.
Because then you kind of get the glazed over look and deer in the
headlights. Okaaay, I dont get it.
When they started to get into the physics and formulas involved in it,
I really lost interest. I didnt care about that. A little too far over my
head.
Too much technical information without detailed explanations ...was
very frustrating. This probably hurt my level of engagement.
Another factor in the non-correlation of Treatment and Engagement is
reflected in the lists related to engagementtheir focus on aspects of content and
learning. This may show that the participants were highly pragmatic in their
approaches to learning, focusing on the utility of the content and their ability to learn
from it as their strongest encouragements to engage. This is also suggested in the
significant correlation between having had experience forecasting in Southwest Asia
(the setting of the scenarios) and item Q6.1, The module kept me interested
throughout (r = .593, p = .025, N=T6). This suggests that providing the right content
at the right level should be considered the priority above how it is expressed and what
teaching methodologies are used. Perhaps because the treatments contained the same
content, treatment on its own wasnt highly significant.
The importance of content is also shown in participants responses to the
question, Would you recommend this module to your colleagues? Why or Why
not? All participants said they would recommend the module, but some said they
would limit their recommendation to those deploying to that region and those who
had lots of time. Participants answering why they would recommend it most
frequently mentioned the value of the forecast tool itself (the WRF mesoscale model),
rather than the module as a learning tool.
However, a final explanation about insignificance of treatment should be
entertained. While scenarios and interactions were removed from Treatment B, the
content sequence and its narrative structure was substantially preserved in Treatment
B, and may have been a strong factor in making it as engaging as it was. However,
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the success of the content sequence was limited in the lack of increased engagement
in Section 8 for most learners. While the module developers felt strongly that this
sections content would be considered engaging, well presented, and highly useful,
many if not most participants felt it was overly complicated and unrealistic. A few
cited the section as containing a strong learning moment, but they were in the
minority, and not restricted to those using a particular treatment. One interview
participant felt Section 8 offered not only one of the moments of lowest engagement,
but also the most utility, the strongest learning moment, and, ultimately, the highest
overall level of engagement of any section. In this case, the redemption of the section
in overcoming from the moment of low engagement may have made it stand out, and
therefore of highest engagement. Engagement appears to walk a fine line indeed.
Research Results: Design Process
The inclusion of the design story received positive remarks at the start from
the sponsor, project manager, and the subject matter experts. It suggested to them that
we were putting more care into the projectthat it wasnt going to be simply a matter
of putting content on a Website, but that empathetic consideration of the learners was
important. While developing scripts, subject matter experts seemed well in tuned to
the need for engaging content, and focused as much on developing engaging and
realistic problems as in explaining their answers. This is not always the case.
Responding to this effort, the participants using Treatment A showed a positive,
though not strong, response to the learning scenarios when asked to rate item A5.3,
The story-like qualities of the scenarios helped to keep me engaged (M=5.00 on a
scale of 1-7, N=7).
The focus on end experience also led the designer and software developer to
consider variety, pacing, and impact in the choice and sequence of multimedia
presentation. While many designers likely do this intuitively in making media design
decisions, the scenarios included in the design, and the design story written to plan
and describe the design, placed an increased emphasis on the multimedia experience.
Solid content, good explanation, and clear demonstration were always paramount, but
along with these, emotional and sensory impacts of the multimedia were strongly
considered. The strong positive response to item Q5.29, The graphics and animations
in the module were effective (M=5.76, N=7), indicates the multimedia design was
successful.
Apparently, however, these considerations were not enough to prevent the
common tendency of content developers (including the instructional designer and the
sponsor representatives who reviewed drafts) to become perhaps too focused on their
own interests in the more advanced content. For this targeted group of learners, the
module content was often not at the right level, became lengthy in its elaboration of
some points, and in some cases was perceived as unrealistic related to job experience.
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Each of these issues were raised as leading to disengagement and risked reducing the
impact of the entire learning experience. Sufficient formative evaluation with targeted
learners in this case might have mitigated these problems, and revisions to the
published version are likely called for.
Summary Discussion
The only survey item that correlated significantly with Improvement (Post-test
minus Pre-test, M=16.42 percent), was item Q5.1, The module had a clear goal that it
achieved (r = .656, p = .011, N=14). The most direct interpretation of this correlation
is that those who perceived the coherence and logical treatment in the module were
those most successful in learning from it. However, an alternative interpretation
should be entertained. It might be that the experience of successful learning itself
(reflected in Improvement) created perceptions of coherence. In other words, a
judgment of coherence might be attributed most to the learners own ability to draw it
out of the experience. Of course, the reverse must be considered as welllimited
learning led to perceptions that the material had an unclear goal. It is prudent to
assume that all of these explanations are at play, especially given the working
definition of learning experience as a transaction between the learner and the
instruction.
In fact, the researcher noted that participants did indeed contribute
significantly to their experiences with the module. Most came to the task of learning
with the module (and voicing their responses to it) with seriousness and a strong
desire to improve both their knowledge and the design of similar products they might
use in the future. They expressed joy in learning something new and frustration and
annoyance when faced with content and design features that didnt help them learn.
Others came to the task with visible reluctance, arriving late for scheduled sessions,
and at times rushing through the module. This is understandable given their multiple
job tasks and competing demands and desires. The participants came with widely-
varying inclinations to become engaged, yet the fact that nearly all rated their
engagement as high in one or more sections attests to their desires to learn once
within the situation.
The study suggests that engagement is due to a clear interplay between the
learner, the content, and the instructional design, and that none of these can be
considered less important when delivering instruction. Even though one treatment of
the module offered strong opportunities for engagement with numerous scenarios and
exercises, engagement did not always occur. And even though the other treatment
removed these opportunities, engagement proved equally likely. Achieving high
learning engagement, like achieving learning itself, is a more complex task than
simple formulas and best intentions can ensure.
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However, engagement as a quality of experience proved researchable and
even, to a degree, measurable, and not quite as elusive as might have been assumed.
The research participants discussed engagement and rated their engagement quite
easily, even though it had many faces and factors contributing to it. This demonstrates
that it is an important facet of learning for them. Even though the study did not
attempt to control factors influencing engagement to high degree, the resulting list of
instructional qualities that appeared to increase engagement closely corresponds to
variables previously shown in the results of experimental research to impact
situational interest (Schraw & Lehman, 2001).
Engagement was shown to be closely linked to perceived learning,
particularly in the qualitative data, proving the strong links between affect and
cognition posed earlier in the paper. The link is likely bi-directionalengagement
facilitates learning, and feelings of success in learning enhance engagement. This
finding is consistent with the complex relationships between affect, goals, motivation,
and learning indicated in prior research (Anderman & Wolters, 2006).
The wide variety and inconsistency of engagement responses to the module
indicate that engagement is highly individualized. But the overall moderate
engagement levels and consistent expressions of frustration about some aspects of the
content support the need for traditional approaches to instructional systems design,
particularly the importance of learner analysis, needs analysis, and formative
evaluation. The desire to push learners to a higher level of competence should be
done with care and caution or disengagement is risked, and learning is jeopardized.
The richness of the data collected points to the potential of further studies of
this kind, perhaps including attention to additional qualities of learning experience.
This study was an initial attempt to discover qualities of engagement in learning
experiences and factors that lead to it. The number of participants was small and
representative of only one part of the learner population using materials produced by
The COMET Program, and so of course not representative of learners in other
environments and professions. Also, the study did not fully examine the systemic
nature of engagement in learning experiences; the primary focus was on the learner
and the instructional materials. It did not fully probe the attitudes and goals of
learners before they came to the instruction, nor did it look for longitudinal effects.
This is an important gap, given that experience has both immediate qualities and
qualities constructed over time based on reflection and input from follow-on
experiences. The study chose to focus only on the immediate experience, and did not
attempt to discover how perceptions of the learning experience may have changed
afterwards. Likewise, the influences of the learning context were explored to only a
small degree. The scope of the domain of learning experience suggests that even
broader mixed-methods research would be useful, including case studies that apply a
variety of qualitative approaches to examine individual experiences, instructional
design variables, and cultural factors.
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Engagement is likely a critical quality of any learning experience. It can be
seen not only as the best indicator of the potential for deep learning and other positive
outcomes, but as the medium of learning itself. Only when engaged do learners open
themselves up to new ideas and potentials; only when learners current knowledge is
challenged and they are enticed to engage with that challenge will instruction have its
highest impact. If engagement is indeed the medium, then it likely manifests itself in
as many ways as learning takes place. Engagement may appear differently depending
on instructional content and instructional strategy, and depending even more on the
learners orientation and relationship to the instructor and situation. While it does not
appear to be an elusive quality to study, it remains complex, somewhat mysterious,
and fragile, and a difficult phenomenon for instructional designers to influence with
certainty.
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CHAPTER 7
AESTHETIC PRINCIPLES FOR INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN
Abstract
This article offers principles that contribute to developing the aesthetics of
instructional design. Rather than describing merely the surface qualities of things and
events, the concept of aesthetics as applied here pertains to heightened experience.
Aesthetic experiences are those that are immersive, infused with meaning, and felt as
coherent and complete. Any transformative learning experience will have significant
aesthetic qualities, and all instructional situations can benefit from attention to these
qualities. Drawn from aesthetics theory and research and informed by current ID and
learning theories, a set of five first principles and twelve guidelines for their
application are described. The principles are not only compatible with existing ID
theory bases but can complement and support that theory by offering ways to embody
it in engaging learning experiences.
Introduction
Recent years have seen a surge of interest in reclaiming the idea that
instructional design (ID) is indeed a design discipline and more than just science or
just technology (Bolling, 2003; Gibbons, 2003b; Rowland, 1999; Wilson, 2004). In
the spirit of this view of ID as design, this article offers principles intended to
contribute to developing the aesthetics of instructional design (Parrish, 2005). By
broadening their concerns beyond immediate learning outcomes and considering all
the qualities of designed experiences, instructional designers can create designs that
have deep and lasting impacts for learners. The aesthetic qualities of learning
experiences, in particular, offer a potent dimension through which to expand learning
impacts.
In offering new ID principles, one must be sensitive to the potentially
overwhelming pluralism of influences and competing theories that already exist,
which can lead to frustration or to retreat into a comfortably narrow set of guidelines.
For this reason, it is imperative, when possible, to show compatibility between
aesthetic principles and existing ID theory. But aesthetic principles offer more than
just compatibility with existing theorythey complement and can support that theory
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