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Learner Centered Design
Last updated at 3:49 pm UTC on 14 January 2006
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Learning Theory in Practice:
Case Studies of Learner-Centered Design
Elliot Soloway, Shari L. Jackson, Jonathan Klein, Chris Quintana, James Reed, Jeff Spitulnik,
Steven J. Stratford, Scott Studer, Susanne Jul, Jim Eng, Nancy Scala

University of Michigan
1101 Beal Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA
E-mail: sw.lcd@umich.edu

The design of software for learners must be guided by educational theory. We present a framework for learner-centered design (LCD) that is theoretically motivated by sociocultural and constructivist theories of learning. LCD guides the design of software in order to support the unique needs of learners: growth, diversity, and motivation. To address these needs, we incorporate scaffolding into the context, tasks, tools, and interface of software learning environments. We demonstrate the application of our methodology by presenting two case studies of LCD in practice.

1. INTRODUCTION: Motivation and Goals
The push for educational reform in the U.S. is strong. Currently, the dominant educational paradigm is "didactic instruction," where learning is viewed as an information transmission process: teachers have the information, students don't, and teachers' lectures serve to move information into the heads of students. In contrast, national and state education reform movements are advocating for students to be actively engaged in learning, constructing understanding and meaning, not receiving it. Project 2061, a national science curriculum developed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science [1] calls for students to engage in long-term, authentic investigations.

Computing and communications technologies can play a key role in supporting students and teachers as they engage in such authentic tasks as question-generating, model-building, report-publishing. However, constructing software that truly addresses the needs of learners is a challenge: while learners are also users, and thus the principles of user-centered design apply, learners additionally have a set of unique needs that must be addressed in software:

Growth. At the core of education is the growth of the learner; promoting the development of expertise must be the primary goal of educational software. Rather than just support "doing" tasks, software designed for learners must support "learning while doing."

Diversity. Developmental differences, cultural differences, and gender differences play a major role in the suitability of materials for learners. To be usable by all learners, a range of software tools that address these differences must be available.

Motivation. In contrast to software developed for professionals, the student's initial interest and continuing engagement cannot be taken for granted.

To address these unique needs of learners, we are developing learner-centered design (LCD) guidelines [24] to augment the user-centered design (UCD) framework [15]. Our current focus is on K-16 learners; however, given Senge's [22] compelling arguments that an organization must be a learning organization in order to be productive, LCD should also have validity for the workplace....