Unit 2: Design and Innovation in Action


In this unit, we will examine how design and innovation are modeled in the field and explore how designers make design decisions in practice.  We will analyze real-life applications of the design of learning environments via design cases and discuss the practical implications of designing in the current digital environment.  We will also share our personal experiences of design and innovation in action through the creation of design and innovation cases and work collectively to create a Design and Innovation Casebook to provide evidence-based recommendations and insights for practice.

Learning Activities

  • Week 4: Activity 1 – Taking a Look at Practice
  • Week 5: Activity 2 – Analyzing Design and Innovation in Action



Activity 1 – Taking a Look at Practice

As we saw in the previous unit, designers often employ a range of models, theories, approaches, practices, and methods when making design decisions and it can be helpful to examine how, when, and why different design approaches work in practice.  Moore (2016) claims that design projects are “similar to puzzles” and although there are “multiple methods for piecing a puzzle together, some strategies are more efficient than others. Likewise different instructional designers may reach similar conclusions for their ‘puzzles,’ though they may reach them in different ways” (p. 425).

In his article, Moore describes a hybrid instructional design process that he developed based on existing models to meet the specific needs of his learning environment.  He suggests that design practitioners must adapt their design models according to their context, and offers his TAPPA (Target, Accomplishment, Past, Prototype, Artifact) Process as an adaptive and responsive model for others to build on.  Boling et al., (2017) explain that despite all of the models available, in practice, designers still have to make multiple forms of design judgments in every phase of their work, often with little guidance.  They suggest that designers hold core design judgments, tacit beliefs regarding design, that are fundamental to all design decisions and actions.  Lachheb and Boling (2018) also found that practicing instructional designers use their judgment to choose ‘designerly tools’, and that designers do not reserve or confine certain tools to particular design activities.

DeVries and Harrison (2019) examine the role of instructional designers in advancing open educational practices (OEP) within their institutions and explore the strategies and practices used to advocate for and implement OEPs.  They found that although many designers in their study valued OEPs, they faced barriers when it came to influencing uptake and implementation in practice as they are often in an advisory rather than a decision-making role.  Morgan (2019) also explores the open environment and came to a similar conclusion suggesting that in practice, instructional designers may face a lag between their intentional agency and their operational agency, which can limit their ability to implement OEPs and support academic innovation and transformation.

Examining your Design Practice

Lachheb and Boling (2018) explain that designers often use a variety of tools besides design models to guide their everyday practice and they define tools in the “broad sense to refer to actual tools (e.g., computers), methods (e.g., prototyping), techniques (e.g., negotiation), and approaches (e.g., client-oriented).” (p. 36).  In addition, Meyers (2020) describes instructional designers as ‘superheroes’ due to their super-human abilities, and suggests that in practice, designers take on numerous roles including relationship builders, advocates, innovators, leaders, technicians, and researchers.  You can view Meyers ‘Many Hats: Why Flexibility and an Open Mind Matter‘ presentation from the Virtual Symposium and hear her talk about the role of designers and see some examples of the superpowers of designers (17:48-28:24).

Take a moment to brainstorm a list of the design tools that you currently use in your practice and identify the roles that you play and well as your design superpowers.  Once you have a list, consider how, when, and why you use different tools and powers in your practice.  Please create a visual of your design tools and superpowers and share a copy on your blog along with an explanation of how, when, and why you use these tools and powers in your design practice.


Activity 2 – Analyzing Design and Innovation in Action

Design cases provide a vehicle to share the knowledge that designers have developed through their lived experience of creating designs for learning.  Boling (2010) argues that there is a need for more design cases that can share precedent related to learning and practicing design.  She explains that design cases “offer in-depth explanations of design rationales, rich and multidimensional descriptions of designed artifacts and experiences, and full reflection on design processes” (p. 6).  Boling suggests that both experts and novices can benefit from more widely available precedents in the area of design and that the sharing of design cases across fields of practice can encourage new ideas and perspectives.  Howard (2011) identifies common problem areas that educators struggle with when writing design cases, including situating and describing the design, depicting the experience of the design, and developing trustworthiness and purpose.  He provides specific examples from design cases that have gone through peer review and offers suggestions for effectively writing design cases  In addition, Gray (2020) suggests that design cases can be evaluated for quality using the following dimensions: interest to other designers; rich representation of the design; articulation of transparency and failure; accessibility of style; and acknowledgment of complexity and scope.

Reviewing Design Cases

Please go to the International Journal for Designs of Learning and select two recent design cases of interest.  Review the cases using Howard (2011) and Gray’s (2020) criteria as a lens and reflect on whether the cases effectively situate and describe the design and consider how they depict the complexity and scope of the design and support transparency, trustworthiness, and purpose.  Based on your review of the design cases, identify a recent instance of design or innovation related to digital learning within your organizational context, and begin working on writing your case for Assignment 2: Design and Innovation Case (Individual).

Assignment 2: Design and Innovation Case

The purpose of this assignment is to provide you with the opportunity to examine an instance of design or innovation related to digital learning within your own organizational context, which will serve as the case for this assignment.  Please see Assignment 2: Design and Innovation Case (Individual) for further details of this assignment.


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