Let's nerd-out about learning and design.



Hello. My name is Mike Kolodziej, and I am an Instructional DesignNerd.

As someone who was chronically disengaged in school, I hope to positively impact formal learning environments by better aligning our teaching and learning practices with what we know about how people learn naturally, as illuminated by research in The Learning Sciences.  I’m a doctoral student at Pepperdine University, in the Learning Technologies program, currently finishing my dissertation.

Instructional DesigNerds are people who love to think about how to make learning easier and more effective for people.  There are many ways to approach helping one to learn, all of which are founded in assumptions of an ontological and epistemological nature.

My philosophy of education has been influenced significantly by the writing of John Dewey, the great American educational philosopher who argues that the ultimate goal of a learning experience is “that a person, young or old, gets out of his present experience all that there is in it for him at the time in which he has it.” (Dewey, 1938)  I couldn’t agree more with him, argue that the goal of the Learning Designer is to maximize the potential for learning through the design of assessments,  assignments, learning resources, worked examples, and more.

I have been convinced that learning is most meaningful to people when they are engaged in the actual practice of what is being learned.    While one could certainly attempt to teach someone to play golf or do accounting through detailed explanations of what the activities are like and  what one needs to know in order to do them, (i.e., what is done in most formal learning environments), this approach falls short in nearly every instance.  Researchers and theorists in the areas of Situated Cognition and Sociocultural learning theories agree on this general idea that the context for learning and application matter. Lev Vygotsky wrote extensively about the learner and their social and physical environment based on his observations of children, which helped illuminate the impact of More Knowledgable Others within the Zone of Proximal Development.

One example in my own life that helps illustrate this idea, is my 10 year old daughter Leah’s on-boarding to the Crossing Guard group at her school.  Any parent of a 10 year old who is bestowed with the responsibility of conducting traffic and ensuring the real world, honest to goodness safety  of living children and adults, probably understands how frightening that idea is to me.

The point of the story, is that when it mattered, when there was a time constraint, when efficiency and avoiding poor application of the principles that needed to be learned in order for the kids to be able to do their job, there was not a book, worksheet, or standardized test to be seen.  Instead, they learned by first watching the previous crew in action, then participating in small amounts, and finally fully participating with support in the form of expert mentor crossing guards and adult supervisors which help to ensure they are comfortable and guide and coach them.

Lave and Wenger describe the concept of learning by doing under the direction of a more knowledgeable expert as learning through Legitimate Peripheral Participation, and have evolved their description of their seminal sociocultural learning theory Communities of Practice to Landscapes of Practice. Through a deep analysis of natural learning environments, largely apprenticeships, they uncover the importance of the culture that surrounds the practice being learned.  For example, in a given subject domain, Business, Health Science, there are certain hierarchical planes that are commonly discussed as a natural conversations and thought patterns associated with the practice of whatever.

The professional practice of Instructional Design is grounded in a variety of theories and research, primarily in the fields of Education and Psychology.  As understanding the theories of learning has evolved through published research and theories, and as philosophers and scientists have debated their meanings and significance, many different lenses have been offered to explain how learning occurs and predict how best to create environments in which meaningful learning is likely to occur.  From behaviorist theories, to cognitive and sociocultural, ways to discuss and understand learning continue to expand, providing a solid foundation of understanding about a great number of things which can be incorporated into the design of courses and learning experiences.


Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Macmillan.

Note: All of the content and opinions expressed by me on this site are my own and do not represent that of any employer or affiliated institution.

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