Medium-based design

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It is particularly interesting for people like the initial author of this article (DSchneider) who indeed tend to look at available technology (e.g. 3CSM and then create new instructional designs e.g. C3MS project-based learning model. These designs are the result of a teaching process that were grounded on an initial instructional design model like project-based learning, but evolved a lot (while teaching) through interaction with the medium and its affordances. An other "living" example would be a writing-to-learn design that is emerging from getting students involved with writing in Media-Wiki environment like this one.


The following quotes from the creators of this design positions this method which can be best described as a process of reflection-in-action (Schön, 1987) or a "bricoleur design".

  • MBD is different from other design methods: “We argue that MBD is significantly different from other methodologies, such as goal-based scenarios (Schank et al., 1994), cognitive tutors (Anderson et al., 1995), design experiments (Brown, 1992), and the TILT model of learner-centered design (Soloway et al., 1994). While it is true that not all approaches to design are equally successful, other design methods have concentrated on a top-down approach, neglecting the bricoleur designer. The bricoleur style of design is different from but not worse than other approaches (Turkle and Papert, 1991).” (Rick & Lamberty, 2004)
  • MBD is concerned with designing learning environments that favor inquiry, artifact construction, interaction: “Designing systems that foster significant inquiry, enable meaningful artifact construction, and encourage useful interaction is fundamental to the field of learning sciences. In education, these types of environments have a substantial history going back to Fröbel's gifts and Montessori's prepared environment. More recently, these environments have been championed by educational theorists (Bruner, 1966, Zucchermaglio, 1993) and educational technologists (Papert, 1993, diSessa, 2000), under classifications such as microworlds (Papert, 1987), construction kits (Resnick et al., 1996), media creation tools (Kay and Goldberg, 1977), and inquiry tools.” (Rick & Lamberty, 2004)
  • Design is related to building a environment: “While some areas of research, such as cognitive modeling (Bereiter and Scardamalia, 1987) and understanding collaborative activity (Roschelle, 1996, Rogoff, 1994), may appear to be independent of design, they are not.” (Rick & Lamberty, 2004) and “Learning sciences needs to be what Norman calls a "design science" (Norman, 1988) and what Simon calls a "science of the artificial" (Simon, 1998). It needs to create useful designs to understand how people learn and further enable that process (Brown, 1992). As such, a core goal of learning sciences research is designing such systems. Yet, there is very little work in this area that has been studied in a scientific manner. Most of the work falls into descriptions of or theories about the product, rather than about the process of creating that product.” (Rick & Lamberty, 2004)
  • Design is a process of problem solving in multiple search spaces, some of which already "provide" us with adequate methodology: “In addition, we define design as a process of problem solving in multiple search spaces (Klahr, 2000). Designers engage in reflection-in-action in a local point in a search space. At times, the reflection-in-action there will have exhausted its usefulness and it will be time to move on. When this happens, it is often fruitful to switch search spaces to begin a new inquiry process in a completely different space that will inform the design in a different way (Klahr, 2000). Navigating through these design points (reflection-in-action cycles in one search space) is fundamental to good design. We define three sometimes-overlapping search spaces of mind (what is going on in the mind of the learner), activity (how do the activities the learner engages in support the learning), and environment (how does the environment support the learning) that designers can move through when designing learning systems. The first two search spaces, mind and activity, are already well established.” (Rick & Lamberty, 2004) and MBD focuses on the design of the environment.

The model

Within MBD, designing a medium is environmentally-based design and it means to design one medium so that it is the message. “As such, the environment (the medium) becomes central to the design process. This is what separates MBD from the other design methods we mentioned. Part of the MBD approach is that you must investigate / explore what the message is of the medium you are designing. You often don't realize the full affordances of the medium until you have built it (diSessa, 1987). As such, a MBD designer cannot be solely ruled by the constraints of the problem, but must also take into considerations the constraints imposed by the solution (the medium).” (Rick & Lamberty, 2004)

These are the major design steps:

  1. MBD starts with a medium that seems to address important learning goals.
  2. Next, the affordances of that medium for achieving those and other learning goals are explored. As such, MBD starts off with the learning affordances of a medium.
  3. Then, MBD proceeds by investigating the environmental needs and social context necessary for making those affordances recognizable and graspable.
    • “In a conventional approach, it is important to first clarify and investigate an important problem. Because MBD is environmentally based, this proves problematic. The designer may find that the medium actually support learning goals that are substantially different than that first intuition. Instead, in MBD, it is important to first clarify and investigate the solution-the medium. Solving an important learning problem is still essential to the goals of MBD, but that does not necessitate that the method have its initial focus on the problem. In both a conventional and MBD approach, solution and problem evolve together; the difference is that the initial focus is on the problem in the conventional approach and the solution in MBD” (Rick & Lamberty, 2004)

The main design guidelines are according to the authors the following:

  1. Start with a medium you know and care about.
  2. Design by via negativa (solution in search of problem)
  3. Explore the medium to clarify the solution space.
  4. Build appropriate tools to accommodate different learning goals.

See also: Design-based research


  • Brown, A. L. (1992). Design experiments: Theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex * interventions in classroom settings. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2(2):141-178.
  • diSessa, A. A. (1987). Artificial worlds and real experience. In Lawler, R. and Yazdani, M., editors, Artificial Intelligence and Education, Volume One: Learning Environments & Tutoring Systems, pages 55-77. Ablex Publishing Corporation.
  • Kay, A. and Goldberg, A. (1977). Personal dynamic media. IEEE Computer, March 1977:31-41.
  • Klahr, D. (2000). Exploring Science: The Cognition and Development of Discovery Processes. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
  • Soloway, E., Guzdial, M., & Hay, K. E. (1994) Learner-Centered Design: The Challenge for HCI in the 21st Century, Interactions of the ACM, Vol. 1, No. 2, April, 36-48 Abstract / PDF
  • Resnick, M., Bruckman, A., and Martin, F. (1996). Pianos not stereos: Creating computational construction kits. Interactions, 3(6):41-50.
  • Rick, J. & Lamberty, K. K. (2004). Medium-Based Design: Supporting Bricoleur Designers. In Y. Kafai et al. (Eds.), Embracing Diversity in the Learning Sciences: The proceedings of the Sixth International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS). (pp. 630). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. PDF Preprint
  • Rick, J. & Lamberty, K. K. (2004). Proceedings of the 6th international conference on Learning sciences, Poster sessions, Medium-based design: supporting bricoleur designers Poster PDF Abstract
  • Norman, D. A. (1988). The Psychology of Everyday Things. Basic Books, New York, NY.
  • Simon, H. (1998). The Sciences of the Artificial. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
  • Turkle, S. and Papert, S. (1991). Epistemological pluralism and the revaluation of the concrete. In Harel, I. and Papert, S., editors, Constructionism, pages 161-191. Ablex Publishing Corporation.