Teachers, whether they know it or not, are designers of learning opportunities. Like all designers, they create products through an iterative process of enactment and tweaking. A teacher creates a learning activity with an intention in mind, enacts the activity with her class, then revises it based on experience for subsequent use. Human-centered design (HCD) is a holistic approach to design in which identifying a challenge and empathizing with the needs of users drives the creation and modification of prototypes. The researchers in this study hypothesized that applying HCD to teacher education would enhance teachers’ design practices.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers designed a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that enrolled 380 practicing educators from around the world. The MOOC instructed teachers in human-centered design by engaging them in the hands-on creation of a learning activity. The teachers identified an educational challenge, crafted prototypical student personas, and prototyped a learning activity to meet students’ needs. Every week, the participants completed surveys rating the value of the course and their comfort with the course’s approach. At the conclusion of the course, 83 participants completed a detailed post-survey that measured the MOOC’s effectiveness in meeting learners’ needs and gauged whether or not they would employ the course’s human-centered design approach in their own classrooms.

Most teachers agreed that human-centered design is a valuable approach, and 71% said they would use the method in the design of their lessons or courses. The researchers also collected written responses from six participants that shed light on how these educators were planning on incorporating human-centered design into their pedagogy. The teachers with the least professional experience were most open to adopting a HCD approach in their teaching. More veteran teachers, while acknowledging the value of HCD, saw it as something they already did and based their activity design more on their past experience than on imagining user needs. While the sample size for these longer responses was quite small, the researchers inferred from this data the need to introduce teachers to human-centered design practices early in their training and career.

This study showed that human-centered design offers teachers a framework within which to understand and enact their role as designers of learning experiences. While the teachers responded positively to the method, more research must be done to see whether and how teachers incorporate HCD in their classrooms, and to assess the effect of the approach on student learning.

Garreta-Domingo, M., Sloup, P., & Hernandez-Leo, D. (2018). Human-centred design to empower "teachers as designers." British Journal of Educational Technology 49(6), 1113-1130.

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