Learning by design

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  • Learning by Design(tm) (LBD), a project-based inquiry approach to science learning with roots in case-based reasoning and problem-based learning.


According to Kolodner et al. (2003), the goal of the LBD group “[...] has been to use what we know about cognition (see, e.g., Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999) to fashion a educational approach for middle-school science appropriate to deeply learning science concepts and skills and their applicability, in parallel with learning cognitive, social, learning, and communication skills. Our intention was that the approach would lay the foundation, in middle school, for students to be successful thinkers, learners, and decision makers throughout their lives, and especially to help them begin to learn the science they need to know to thrive in the modern world”.

The model

The LBD model has two major connected components:

  1. A design/redesign cycle
  2. An investigation cycle

Kolodner, Crismond, Gray, Holbrook & Puntembakar (1998) summarize the essential components of Learning by Design as follows (paragraph breaks by DKS):

The typical sequence of activities in a Learning-by-Design unit has students encountering a design challenge and attempting a solution using only prior knowledge -- individually and/or in small groups. In whole-class discussions, the teacher helps students compare and contrast their ideas, identify what they need to learn to move forward in addressing the design challenge, choose a learning issue to focus on, and design and/or run a laboratory activity to examine that issue. This discussion provides an opportunity for the teacher to identify student misunderstandings and misconceptions and begin the process of supporting those. The teacher might also present demonstrations, assign readings, and/or present short lessons relevant to discovered knowledge gaps.

Following this are cycles of exploratory and experimental work, followed by reflection on what has been learned, application of what was learned to achieving the design challenge, evaluation of that application, and generation of additional learning issues.

Potential solutions to the design challenge are attempted in each cycle and evaluated by building and testing a model or actual device; comparing different design alternatives based on qualitative and/or quantitative understandings; or analyzing using established design guidelines or the ratings of experts.

Within this cycle are several opportunities for students to share their work with others and hear their feedback and ideas. Important during these "gallery walks" and "pin-up sessions" is that students justify their design decisions and explain how their designs work (or would work) using science and engineering vocabulary.

Kolodner et al., 1998, retrieved 18:42, 19 July 2006 (MEST).

For more details, see for the moment What is LBD? and publications below.

Tools and software

  • SMILE (software to help students organize their thoughts into logical subjects). [Note: We have to find out if and where this is available]
  • Observation Prompt Tool (HTML version of a worksheet)
  • LBD Fidelity Report Card (HTML version of a worksheet)

Examples cases

See: http://www-static.cc.gatech.edu/projects/lbd/units.html

  • Launcher units (To launch physical science, experiment design, ...)
  • Digging in (To launch earth science, modelling, ..)
  • Vehicles in motion (Forces and motion)
  • Tunneling Across Georgia



  • Crismond, D., Camp, P.J., Ryan, M. & Kolodner, J.L. (2001). Design Rules of Thumb - Connecting Science and Design. AERA, Seattle, WA, April 2001. PDF Preprint
  • Holbrook, J., & Kolodner, J. L. (2000). Scaffolding the development of an inquiry-based (science) classroom. In B. J. Fishman & S. F. O'Connor-Divelbiss (Eds.), Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference of the Learning Sciences (pp. 221-327). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. HTML Preprint.
  • Holbrook, J. K., Gray, J., Fasse, B. B., Camp, P. J.,&Kolodner, J. L. (2001). Assessment and evaluation of the Learning by Design physical science units, 1999-2000. HTML, retrieved 18:42, 19 July 2006 (MEST).
  • Holbrook, J.K., Fasse, B.B., Gray, J. & Kolodner,J.L. (2001). Creating a Classroom Culture and Promoting Transfer with "Launcher" Units. AERA, Seattle, WA, April 2001. PDF
  • Kolodner, J.L. (1997). Educational Implications of Analogy: A View from Case-Based Reasoning. American Psychologist, Vol. 52, No. 1, pp. 57-66.
  • Kolodner, J.L., Camp, P.J., Crismond, D., Fasse, B.B., Gray, J., Holbrook, J., & Ryan, M. (2003, in press). Promoting Deep Science Learning Through Case-Based Reasoning: Rituals and Practices in Learning By Design\u2122 Classrooms. In Seel, N.M. (Ed.), Instructional Design: International Perspectives, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: Mahwah, NJ.
  • Kolodner, Janet, L. Paul J. Camp, David Crismond, Barbara Fasse, Jackie Gray, Jennifer Holbrook, Sadhana Puntambekar, Mike Ryan (2003). Problem-Based Learning Meets Case-Based Reasoning in the Middle-School Science Classroom: Putting Learning by Design(tm) Into Practice Journal of the Learning Sciences, Vol. 12, No. 4: pages 495-547 Abstract/PDF (Access restricted)
  • Kolodner, J.L., Crismond, D., Gray, J., Holbrook, J. & Puntembakar, S. (1998). Learning by Design from Theory to Practice. Proceedings International Conference of the Learning Sciences '98, pp.16-22. HTML Preprint
  • Kolodner, J.L., Crismond, D., Fasse, B., Gray, J., Holbrook, J., Puntembakar, S. (2003, in press). Putting a Student-Centered Learning by Design (TM) Curriculum into Practice: Lessons Learned. Journal of the Learning Sciences, Vol.12 No.4. Abstract/PDF (Access restricted).
  • Chris Quintana, Brian J. Reiser, Elizabeth A. Davis, Joseph Krajcik, Eric Fretz, Ravit Golan Duncan, Eleni Kyza, Daniel Edelson, Elliot Soloway. (2004) A Scaffolding Design Framework for Software to Support Science Inquiry. Journal of the Learning Sciences 13:3, 337-386