The User Centered Design Education Essay

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Abstract- E-learning is being used by most of the educational institution as an approach for delivering knowledge and enhancing the skills of the learners. The design of educational application is a complex task, high in domain dependency and multidisciplinary nature. There is a common element between the curriculum and technology design methodologies for educational technology developers who focus on science of design learning to create and intend to teach in the learning materials and the design concepts and methodologies. The need to blend various learning environments and approach the learning design has to be taken care of in which learners can decide what to learn, where and how to learn in respect of their request and individual differences. When conducting research with users in order to design E-Learning, the practitioner has a variety of methods from which to choose. The three methods, User-Centered Design (UCD), Participatory Design (PD), and Understanding by Design (UbD) are reviewed in terms of their principal, processes, and deliverables.

Keywords- Participatory design, user-centered design, understanding by design


There are many methods that are often used by researchers and designers as they help develop e-learning. The methods are includes User-Centered Design (UCD), Participatory Design (PD), and Understanding by Design (UbD). Web designers and researchers are not the only ones to employ these methods in the course of their work. These methods apply readily to such related disciplines and activities as technical communication, information architecture, usability, Human-Computer Interaction, human factors, and content strategy. Regardless of whether the given related discipline or activity is evaluative in nature (like usability) or generative (like information architecture), these methods can be brought to bear upon the work at hand. To better understand similarities and differences among these three methods in business settings, each method in terms of its principal, processes, and deliverables will be reviewed.

User-Centered Design

The term user-centered design was firstly used in the area of human-computer interaction in University of California San Diego in the 1980s (Norman and Draper, 1986). The first applications of user-centered design approach in this area referred the needs and interests of users and focused on the usability of computer design. Those applications proposed easily understandable and usable actions and systems in computer design. This attempt places the users at the center of the design process. The designer who acts as the facilitator and mediator in the design process facilitates the task for the user and enables the use of the product with a minimum effort to learn how to use it (Norman, 1988).

The recent discussions describe user-centered design as a design approach in which the users influence the design process (Abras et al., 2004). In this process, the designer designs products and services for a specific purpose in terms of operations and the tasks that users request (Rubin, 1994). By considering the satisfaction of the users, this design approach aims to increase the use, success and performance of the designed product. At the end of the design process, the user can use the final product with minimum effort and optimum efficiency. Therefore, the user centered design process specifies the user as an active participant in the design of the product (Johnson, 1998).

User-centered design objects to optimize the usability of designed products rather than forcing users to change their ways to act to use the product. Usability of a product depends on the context of use, the features of the designed product and the profile and satisfaction of users. Within this framework, user-centered design process includes analysis of needs, limitations, preferences and expectations of users, creating design solutions, and evaluations of users about the final version of the design after their use (Peerce et al., 2002). The field of education concentrates highly on learnability and success of students who are the users of the education system.

User-Centered Design is an established and proven process for designing conventional hardware, software, and web interfaces[2]. UCD considers usability goals and the users' characteristics, tasks, environment, and workflow in the design of an interface. While usability and UCD have been topics in conference presentations, books, and education programs, design that considers the needs of people with disabilities is still relatively uncommon in education and practice. As a result, the range of users who can use products and the situations in which products can be used are both less inclusive than if the needs of people with disabilities were considered in design. Designers must define the range of user characteristics and environments in the design process, consciously or unconsciously.

It is common to design for ourselves if we not considering others without a well-structured process. Therefore, many web sites are designed based on the individual designer's preferences, skills, and environment. A large percentage of web site designers are young, experienced with computers, without disabilities and operating with the latest technologies. That is the user profile they tend to design for and it is often. The range of users considered is often too narrow even when specific user analysis is conducted. This is because of a simple lack of awareness; designers are likely not to include people with disabilities and people operating in more unusual environments in their user analysis.

User-Centered Design Principles

Figure 1. UCD Process

The UCD process comprises three phases including design research, design, and design evaluation. During research, the designer's purpose is, among other things, to assess who the users are and what their needs are. The second phase, design, should be obvious: based on findings from design research the designer designs (the user interface, the document, the information architecture, etc.)[1]. Once a design is drafted, the UCD practitioner then evaluates the design with users and revises it as needed based on the results of the evaluation. These three activities are merely the core activities of the UCD process. The UCD practitioner may also contribute to sales and project management related tasks like defining project scope and schedule, and he or she may also engage members of the project team such as creative visual designers and web and software developers in order to explain the design and even revise it as project or technical demands dictate.

Participatory Design

Participatory Design (PD) is an approach to the design, development and assessment of technological and organizational systems that lays a premium on the active involvement of workplace practitioners in design and decision-making processes. There can be no single definition of PD because PD practitioners are so diverse in their perspectives, backgrounds, and areas of concern. However, a few tenets shared by most PD practitioners and advocates can be formulated.

Respect the users of technology, regardless of their status in the workplace, technical know-how, or access to their organization's purse strings. View every participant in a PD project as an expert in what they do, as a stakeholder whose voice needs to be heard.

Recognize that workers are a prime source of innovation, that design ideas arise in collaboration with participants from diverse backgrounds, and that technology is but one option in addressing emergent problems.

View a "system" as more than a collection of software encased in hardware boxes. In PD, we see systems as networks of people, practices, and technology embedded in particular organizational contexts.

Understand the organization and the relevant work on its own terms, in its own settings. This is why PD practitioners prefer to spend time with users in their workplaces rather than "test" them in laboratories.

Address problems that exist and arise in the workplace, articulated by or in collaboration with the affected parties, rather than attributed from the outside.

Find concrete ways to improve the working lives of co-participants by, for example, reducing the tedium associated with work tasks; co-designing new opportunities for exercising creativity; increasing worker control over work content, measurement and reporting; and helping workers communicate and organize across hierarchical lines within the organization and with peers elsewhere.

Be conscious of one's own role in PD processes; try to be a "reflective practitioner."

Participatory design (PD) is a design method and philosophy that advocates the direct involvement of users and other stakeholders in system analysis and design work [4]. Participatory design provides a set of methods for bringing users' knowledge and valuations directly into the design of computer applications. As shown in Figure 1, a collaborative science-based learning environment was developed by adopting PD method [5].

Figure 2. Participatory design example

Participatory design concerns a range of techniques that are supposed to be easy-to-learn and put low demand on the users' beforehand knowledge [6]. General techniques include ethnographic methods, questionnaires, future workshops, mock-ups, and Prototyping [6].

Distributed Participatory Design

Distributed Participatory Design (DPD) is a design approach and philosophy that supports the direct participation of users and other stakeholders in system analysis and design work[3]. The design teams nowadays are most often distributed which highlight a need for support and knowledge gathered from design of distributed systems. Distributed Participatory Design (DPD) targets to facilitate understanding between different stakeholders in distributed design teams by giving each the opportunity to engross in hands-on activities.

Understanding by Design

Understanding by Design (UbD) is a conceptual framework, a design process, and a set of design standards, which have been used in the development of the sample units contained in this tool kit [7]. It also offers a planning template that can be used as an aid in the design of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Current information about how Understanding by Design (UbD) is being used by individuals and curriculum design teams can be found on the UbD web site at <>. The web site also contains several examples of social studies curriculum units designed for a variety of topics and grade levels.

UbD is a philosophy drawn from learning theories that focus on the concept of transformational learning. The learning theories put the learner at the centre of the process and view the teacher as one of several resources that students draw upon to explore, interpret, and create new knowledge. Wiggins and McTighe drew much of their inspiration for UbD from the works of education theorists such as John Dewey, Jerome Bruner and Socrates.

"Understanding by Design" is a way of thinking about learning, assessment and teaching that puts the student at the centre of the learning process. As teachers begin learning about big ideas, enduring understandings and designing assessments that demonstrate understanding, they must be aware of the education theories that influence their thinking and the culture of education that shapes their philosophy of learning, assessment and teaching. Singaporean teachers are discovering that UbD challenges aspects of the thousands of years of their culture that has put the teacher at the centre of the education process[8].

The role of the teacher in UbD is two-fold:

The mindful, thoughtful designer of student learning and their teaching

The teacher/facilitator/coach of the learning process in the Classroom

The "UbD template" developed by Wiggins and McTighe is meant to serve as an organizational tool - a place to hold thinking and to check for alignment. It is a mistake to think that filling in the template is 'doing UbD'. Its two key ideas are focus on teaching and assessing for understanding and transfer, and design curriculum "backward" from those ends[9].

UbD is based on seven key tenets:

UbD is a way of thinking purposefully about curricular planning, not a rigid program or prescriptive recipe.

A primary goal of UbD is developing and deepening student understanding: the ability to make meaning of learning via "big ideas" and transfer learning.

Understanding is revealed when students autonomously make sense of and transfer their learning through authentic performance. Six facets of understanding - the capacity to explain, interpret, apply, shift perspective, empathize, and self assess - serve as indicators of understanding.

Effective curriculum is planned "backward" from long-term desired results though a three-stage design process (Desired Results, Evidence, Learning Plan). This process helps to avoid the twin problems of "textbook coverage" and "activity-oriented" teaching in which no clear priorities and purposes are apparent.

Teachers are coaches of understanding, not mere purveyors of content or activity. They focus on ensuring learning, not just teaching (and assuming that what was taught was learned); they always aim - and check - for successful meaning making and transfer by the learner.

Regular reviews of units and curriculum against design standards enhance curricular quality and effectiveness.

UbD reflects a continuous improvement approach to achievement. The results of our designs - student performance - inform needed adjustments in curriculum as well as instruction.

Three stages of Backward Design

In UbD, there are 3-stage "backward design" process for curriculum planning[10]. The concept of planning "backward" from desired results is not new. In 1949 Ralph Tyler described this approach as an effective process for focusing instruction. More recently, Stephen Covey, in the bestselling book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, reports that effective people in various fields are goal-oriented and plan with the end in mind. Although not a new idea, we have found that the deliberate use of backward design for planning curriculum units and courses results in more clearly defined goals, more appropriate assessments, more tightly aligned lessons, and more purposeful teaching.

Figure 2. Stages of Backward Design

Identify desired results

In the first stage of backward design we consider our goals, examine established Content Standards (national, state, province, district), and review curriculum expectations. Since there is typically more "content" than can reasonably be addressed within the available time, teachers are obliged to make choices. This first stage in the design process calls for clarity about priorities.

More specifically, in identifying desired results of UbD asks teachers to identify the "big ideas" that we want students to come to understand, and then to identify or craft companion essential questions. Big ideas reflect transferable concepts, principles and processes that are key to understanding the topic or subject. Essential questions present open-ended, thought provoking inquiries that are explored over time.

More specific knowledge and skill objectives, linked to the targeted Content Standards and Understandings, are also identified in identifying desired results. An important point in UbD is to recognize that factual knowledge and skills are not taught for their own sake, but as a means to larger ends. Ultimately, teaching should equip learners to be able to use or transfer their learning; i.e., meaningful performance with content. This is the "end" we always want to keep in mind.

Determine Acceptable Evidence

Backward design encourages teachers and curriculum planners to first "think like an assessor" before designing specific units and lessons. The assessment evidence we need reflects the desired results identified in identifying desired results. Thus, we consider in advance the assessment evidence needed to document and validate that the targeted learning has been achieved. Doing so invariably sharpens and focuses teaching.

In determine acceptable evidence, we distinguish between two broad types of assessment - Performance Tasks and Other Evidence. The performance tasks ask students to apply their learning to a new and authentic situation as means of assessing their understanding. In UbD, we have identified six facets of understanding for assessment purposes. When someone truly understands, they:

Can explain concepts, principles and processes; i.e., put it their own words; teach it to others; justify their answers; show their reasoning.

Can interpret; i.e. make sense of data, text and experience through images, analogies, stories and models.

Can apply; i.e., effectively use and adapt what they know in new and complex contexts.

Demonstrate perspective; i.e., can see the big picture and recognize different points of view.

Display empathy; i.e., perceive sensitively and "walk in someone else's shoes."

Have self-knowledge; i.e., show meta-cognitive awareness, use productive habits of mind, and reflect on the meaning of their learning and experience

These six facets do not present a theory of how people come to understand something. Instead, the facets are intended to serve as indicators of how understanding is revealed, and thus provide guidance as to the kinds of assessments we need to determine the extent of student understanding[8].

Plan learning experiences and instruction

In plan learning experiences and instruction of backward design, teachers now plan the most appropriate learning activities to help students acquire important knowledge and skills, come to understand important ideas and processes, and transfer their learning in meaningful ways. When developing a plan for learning, we propose that teachers consider a set of instructional principles, embedded in the acronym W.H.E.R.E.T.O. These design elements provide the armature or blueprint for instructional planning in Stage 3 in support of our goals of understanding and transfer. Each of the W.H.E.R.E.T.O. elements is presented in the form of questions to consider.

However, when we include understanding and transfer as desired results, educators are encouraged to give careful attention to how the content is organized and sequenced. Just as effective story tellers and filmmakers often don't begin in the "beginning," teachers can consider alternatives to sequential content coverage. For example, methods such as the Case Method, Problem or Project-Based Learning and Socratic Seminars immerse students in challenging situations, even before they may have acquired all of the "basics." They actively engage students in trying to make meaning and apply their learning in demanding circumstances without single "correct" answers. It is through such attempts to apply learning in context that one develops expertise and strategic skill.


Overview of UCD, PD and ubD

It may seem that User Centered Design (UCD) and Participatory Design (PD) are very similar, almost equivalent terms, with PD being a subset of UCD. However, both of these are two overlapping sets, with an uncertain amount of overlap. It seemed to be generally agreed that reducing the size of the PD set that is not also user-centered was the most immediate challenge to UCD in practice.

PD is so much more than systems development. It is closely connected to the democratization process in the workplace, i.e. breaking down power structures and empowering the workers. UCD rarely involves such aspects. It is usually limited to ensuring the influence of specific users in a systems development process. It would probably be more or less impossible for most systems development projects in practice to address democracy matters and issues of power structures.

While UCD focuses on the user, PD focuses on the users and the stakeholder, and ubD on the concept of transformational learning, particularly focuses on the goal of the user. PD concerns a range of techniques that are supposed to be easy-to-learn and put low demand on the users' beforehand knowledge. In these two regards, PD is more like UCD and less like ubD, insofar as goals-being broader, higher level, and more encompassing. ubD are more concrete, granular, and specific: they are the specific steps that enable a person to achieve a goal.

UCD, meanwhile, considers who the users are and their level of knowledge, their context of use, their reasons for use, their performance patterns, and their preferences. On the other hand, ubD helps teachers clarify learning goals, devise and utilize fair assessments of student understanding, and design effective and engaging learning activities.