Tag Archives: educational design

Learning design, the gentle way

What would a gentle learning design feel like?

Within the constant hecticness of learning design (or instructional design, educational design), we often need to take refuge from the fray, away from performative pressures and ever-scaling up in learning and teaching. In a world besieged by the fast and the loud, gentle learning design invites us to linger in a quieter, slower, more careful contemplation of our learning and teaching ways.

What would it look like if we give ourselves time to consider the possibilities inherent in the humble power of ‘gentleness’ and to explore how gentleness might be expressed in our existing educative practices?

Can we go gently into, and with, learning design?

Philosophy of gentle…

Gentle is a choice, a way. We are at liberty to invite it, offer it, preserve it, reveal it, and note its presence and absence in our higher education practices. 

Gentle is not one way, but multiple ways, because it supports learners and teachers to find their own way. It meets you where you are.

Gentle does not insist, but gives way. It leaves, and returns as needed. 

Gentle is not an opposing force, but works with and within the existing ways of systems of thoughts, practices and activities. It can be a perspective within that system. 

Gentle sways along a spectrum. It is the movement that ebbs and flows between extremes, the adaptive <>.

It is the structure in freedom, and the freedom in structure.

When the way itself is unclear, start with Gentle, and it will meet you half-way

Gentle is always only ever on the way. Gentle’s destination cannot be known in advance. As such it is friendly to slowness, waiting, partialness, uncertainty, mistakes, reversals, and changing one’s mind. 

Gentle reveals the way itself to be the destination, after all. As such, it has the quality of a gift. 

Nicci and Angela say:

We took a long time to come to this simple message. We thought alot and talked alot about what was important to us. We nearly ran a course. We nearly curated a bunch of resources. But the effort of constructing that seemed somehow to go against the grain of our intention. We thought – what is all this gentleness really about, for us? At heart, it is a philosophy – so we tried to find a few words for that. Thank you for reading it.

Quiet design. Twelve simple design principles.

Reposted November 2017, orginally published on my other blog

In my purse, stashed in behind two photos of my children, is a scrap of paper with the only design principles that have ever made sense to me. Twelve simple principles as an antithesis, to a sea of educational and instructional design frameworks, some of which need maddening interrogation to explain or understand. Twelve simple principles that seem to work, whatever I throw at them.

They are understandable, no matter what your experience in life.

You can use them to approach anything. You can navigate them as a simple list, or delve deep into thick well-thumbed books and frequently cited journal articles.  There is probably even a waiting  list in your local public library for copies of these books.

They are design principles that you can intellectualise or philosophise as you please.

They can be the cleverest thinking tool and yet can also spawn you a robust do list.

You can skim the surface of them, and build immediately. Or, you can approach them as theory and dwell on them.

Flexible. Holistic. Adaptable. Sustainable. Usable. Accessible.

They have become my personal and professional principles – they seem to fit life and learning. Not perfectly, no, nothing is ever a perfect fit. But enough.

As thought principles, they were co-conceived, by two very different minds, with two vastly different personalities, who were not the wizened sages we sometimes expect such thinking to emerge from. They were relatively young, in their early 20s, in a young country, which is generally not seen as one of the historic intellectual powerhouses of the world.

Shared slowly and informally through community, these principles are still shared primarily on the energy of individual enthusiasm,  now right across the world.  They also can be navigated more formally in books, textbooks, and formal courses, as theory and practice, and alone or guided by various leaders bringing their own personalities into our explorations of the principles.  This continual cycle shares the fundamental ideas based on that thinking of those original co-creators. Sometimes these approaches are at odds with each other, but this is part of adaptability, growing almost in the underground – surviving and thriving in constant change and chaos, for new and perhaps, unexpected audiences.

So, ahem, yes, ok….it’s permaculture.

Emerging from the 1970s, and Australia, these principles are still sometimes viewed as a bit of a sub-culture, mostly for those seeking an alternative to modern life, but if you never look further because this doesn’t appeal to you, I think you are missing an opportunity to be surprised.  Despite the fact that permaculture “emerged from within academia  and suffers only from a perception of lack of intellectual rigour, and the populist image..”. (*), these principles are still mostly pigeon-holed as ecology or organic gardening.

If you have only seen the popular visible face of permaculture, and you think that digging soil and planting veggies is not your thing, please,  just urge and nudge that thread of thinking aside, the bit that says…outside of my sphere…not in my domain…not my scene… because that is just one side, the practical side of permaculture.

Have you delved much into its rich and fertile theory?

There is SO much beneath the surface, so very rhizomatic. These are not merely principles for growing vegetables.

Unfurl your mind, to the very frontiers of your thinking:

As a holographic thinker – being open to the idea that anything one observes anywhere is likely to have parallel expressions everywhere – I am led to go beyond the usual boundaries that are put around permaculture….I encourage you to similarly try applying these Permaculture Principles to any area that might benefit from such holistic design theory and practice. Areas that immediately come to mind include human settlements and business enterprises, political and economic systems, and the health field, child rearing and learning environments.

Professor Stuart B. Hill, Foundation Chair of Social Ecology, University of Western Sydney, NSW Australia in Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability

The 12 design principles

Try using the 12 design principles of permaculture. Don’t worry about reading the “official” definitions, yet., or dwelling on each individually. Shape them to your needs.

Just try them as a thinking tool, when you are thinking about something that ignites your mind and soul.  Did they work for you?

Permaculture Design Principles

  1. Observe and interact.

  2. Catch and store energy.

  3. Obtain a yield

  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback.

  5. Use and value renewable resources

  6. Produce no waste

  7. Design from patterns to detail.

  8. Integrate rather than segregate

  9. Use small and slow solutions.

  10. Use and value diversity.

  11. Use edges and value the marginals.

  12. Creatively use and respond to change.


(*) Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren.

Co-founders of Permaculture: