I’m growing weary of traversing online-learning environments. I’ve built them. I’ve used them. I’ve explored them. I’ve got lost in them. I’ve spent a lot of time wandering these environments, frequently spending way too much time finding my way to, through and back to the content and tasks when all the time I just want to explore the content itself. And I have expected a lot of learners to do the same in the environments I have designed.

As learning designers I think we forget that, for the learner, the content is a new landscape of its own and one in which the learner should be immersed. We should not expect them to learn how to navigate to each destination. They need to have arrived already. We’ve been sending the learners out laden with tools and baggage, not inviting them in, unencumbered.

So I’ve been playing with a new metaphor, one that does not abandon the environment metaphor but rather sets up a simple and inviting camp within it.

Now, once upon a time, merchants on the Silk Road, tired of the journey, would stop at tea houses to rest, refresh and share. As travellers of myriad cultures sat shoulder to shoulder at tables, and wide ranging tastes needed to be catered for fast and efficiently, there emerged the concept of carrying a range of enticing choices in small bamboo dishes to and through the tables, to be selected and eaten individually or shared, quickly, before the next choices come by.

Dim Sum!

This is the playful design brief we are using for the platform we are currently building at Learnbase / Agentic. An approach where we no longer expect the learner to traverse a landscape but to sit comfortably, in good company if they so wish, and be served with the content that they can get right down to selecting and enjoying.

So in practice what has this meant?

  • Less is more: Create as few pages as possible within the platform.
  • Simplicity: No flash, bells and whistles. Just a solid but textured interface, engaging, calming and in which each page keeps its integrity to the other.
  • Social embedding: Place discussion threads directly within learning events rather than in a separate dislocated forum area.
  • Open door: Drop in and leave as you need, the conversation keeps going.
  • Unencumber: Minimize the need for anything outside of the space while in the space.
  • Presentation: Seamless integration of video, slides and prompt questions in real time.
  • Choices: Allow the learner to focus in, zoom out, stay personal, go social, and respond formally or informally as suits their style and mood.
  • Service: Take the learning off the shelf and to the learner.

Funnily enough, or accordingly, as the metaphor has shifted, our company logo has transformed while staying just the same. I first saw it as symbolizing a base from which to explore the wilderness. Now it’s a space we are holding within that landscape: