The modern field of instructional design is a product of an ongoing industrial and technological revolution. As such, it brings with it the priorities of such an era:

  • standardization and uniformity,
  • mass production,
  • efficiency,
  • quantification,
  • centralized power / authoritarianism,
  • mechanization,
  • and applied scientific knowledge (also referred to as technology).

These are incredibly important and useful in the modern world. Such priorities help innovators, businesses, governments, communities and individuals to achieve goals and create products that past generations would have considered magic: cures and treatments, the ability to travel and communicate across time and space, identifying patterns and solutions to complex problems.

Yet, there is a serious problem in the field of instructional design and modern education as a whole. These 7 priorities have become so central and foundational that they risk driving us to thinking of learning and education as first and foremost a technological endeavor instead of a human one.

Education is about people, their growth, formation, and development. This is a deep, ancient, meaning-rich, and incredibly human-centered endeavor. Reducing it to a technological or systematic transaction risks dehumanizing education.

Because these industrial priorities remain so dominant in the modern world, an intentional humanization is needed in education, and this calls for rebuilding the very foundation of how we go about planning or situating learning experiences. The good news is that we can design (as industrial as that word may be) our way out of the problem. If the 7 priorities of industrialization are currently at the foundation of much instructional design and education, then replacing them with 7 deeply human priorities has promise to bring balance and breath new life into countless classrooms, schools, and learning communities.

While there are many priorities from which we can choose, we offer the following as starting points for a new and human-centered approach to instructional design:

  • adventure & quests,
  • agency & action,
  • compassion & connectedness,
  • experimentation & play,
  • mastery & growth,
  • meaning & purpose,
  • and wonder & mystery.

There are other good, important, and deeply human priorities; but these 7 were selected because of their incredible potential to quickly reorient our approach to learning resources, learning communities, and instructional design. Each priority in this list has a significant body of modern research to inform and support its use in education, connecting it to our industrial and technological age. At the same time, each one brings with it a rich history that taps into some of our most persistent myths and ancient sources of human wisdom. Not only that, each of these 7 can be observed across time and civilizations.

Reorienting our design of learning experiences, resources, and communities around these deeply human priorities does not mean that we must abandon the advancements and developments of a technological age. It is just that the 7 industrial priorities at the top of the article are an inadequate foundation for education or a meaning-rich life. Intended or not, the industrial priorities, if made the foundation, will continue to drive us away from a more humane or human-centered education. And because of the misalignment between the technological and the human, they will:

  • demand that people in education learn to be and act more like technologies or machines;
  • demean the incredible diversity of gifts, talents, experiences, backgrounds, interests, and perspectives of learners;
  • or disappoint and dumbfound people when they try to understand why so many learners are bored, disengaged, dropped out, or disconnected.

The proposed solution is not a neo-luddie approach to education. We can, should, and will gladly and boldly embrace the benefits of the industrial and technological world. Yet, if we pursue an approach to learning community design and instructional design that begins and ends with rich and timeless values like adventure, wonder, compassion, and curiosity; we will find ourselves having created a far more meaning-rich, rewarding, inspiring, and transformational education ecosystem.

That is the mission of Birdhouse Learning Labs. It is to bring balance and breath humanity into the education system. It is to create an education rich with curiosity, experimentation, wonder, adventure, mastery, compassion, and personal agency.

If this resonates with you, consider sharing this article with others and joining the BLL League of Extraordinary Educators.