Designing (authentically) from place

University teachers are continuously doing learning design work (Bennett, Agostinho, & Lockyer, 2016) – through the processes of looking ahead, designing in real time, and reflecting back. I want to bring together this idea of the varieties of design time into conversation with the place of design.

Seven years ago Yvonne Rodgers (2011) described the shift in the field of interaction design from desk-based designing to designing in-the-wild, in-situ, in the everyday world of the ‘users’. Perhaps Rodgers’ conceptions of in-the-wild designing could well be applied to the educational design context. For the university teachers, designing in-situ means being in the ‘place’ or site where the learning and teaching occurs, being in-the-wild.

The university teacher can ground their designing in and from ‘place’ in real time, before-time, and after-time:

  • In real time: When teaching is happening in real time, the teacher-as-designer is already ‘in place’. Understanding this, the designing part of teaching might include leaving enough wriggle-room in the curriculum to allow for the ‘how’ of learning to unfold as it needs to at the time it is happening. Designing from place in real time is about designing responsively and proactively during the learning event. It is also about designing in-the-wild in partnership with the learners.
  • Before: It helps to actually do the design work in the place where the experience will happen. This is crucial for outdoor and on country learning but can also be applied to any kind of site of learning. Visit the room, or go into the FLO site and, in-situ, imaginatively design the activity from that place. Beyond the available technologies and furniture, consider the dimensions, the views, the colours, the sounds and the moods of the place. For online learning contexts, designing straight into the online topic site gives the feel for how the online activity will actually work for the students and the teaching staff. Experiment with options, try them out yourself, move activities and resources into a different sequence. Ask: what invites me and connects me to the next step? How long does it take? Where are the natural pause points where I might leave and return another time? Where am I inclined to wander off, race ahead or loop back around? ‘Play’ in place to see what else is possible.
  • After: Reflecting afterwards on how it went, place comes back into play by anchoring our memories of what happened where. Here the online space comes into its own, for it is rich with traces of activity. You can run reports in FLO and use this data to tell a story about what happened, in the place and time where it happened. This connects us back to the event and allows us to recover the design, drawing it back towards us for recycling into other design work.

Designing from place is a way of designing authentically. The shift in the interaction design field that Rodgers was describing was essentially a move into greater authenticity: interaction designers ‘interacting’ more with the people who ‘use’ the designs, in context and in place. Unusually in the world of design, teachers are, along with their students, are also the ‘users’ of their designs. All the more reason to design in-the-wild from place; for it is a place of our own activity and our own learning, too. Perhaps for truly ‘authentic learning’ (Herrington & Oliver, 2000) it makes sense to ‘authentically design’ from that place by really being in that place.



Bennett, S., Agostinho, S., & Lockyer, L. (2016). The process of designing for learning: understanding university teachers’ design work. Educational Technology Research and Development, 1-21.

Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2000). An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 48(3), 23-48.

Rogers, Y. (2011). Interaction design gone wild: striving for wild theory. interactions, 18(4), 58-62.


Contributed by Nicola Parkin

Senior Educational Designer – CILT

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