Designing Products for Authentic Learning

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The basis‌ of the constructionist theory of learning states that through the creation of artifacts (products), learners develop a sustained understanding (Orey, 2010). The active participation in the building of knowledge through artifacts is a distinguishing feature that makes this type of learning most relevant for design students. Students research ideas and develop designs before building and reflecting on the successes and areas of improvement. Designing lessons relevant to the learner also increases the level of understanding and enforces the concepts and knowledge. If you were to give a group a homogeneous activity and the task is prescribed and not necessarily relevant or personalized to the learner, it will only provide minimal learning impact. If you give students a choice in what they would like to design, emotional attachment and intrinsic motivation start to ensure learner success and long term retention of concepts. Design lessons are a great example of how project-based learning that focuses on constructionist learning theory can positively impact learner motivation and allow for long-term retention of knowledge. 
 
Using technology applications, students can develop products both in a virtual and physical space. 3D CAD software has had a significant impact on how we teach design. Students are now able to create ideas and design them within a 3D world. These final designs can be printed (3D printers) and used in the construction of a final product. The application of this type of design project is an excellent example of authentic, project-based learning. It is a perfect example of how students can use technology in a transformative way. These applications (Fusion 360, TinkerCAD) are tools professional designers use and provide learners with real-world skills. Students are now making the connection of the real power of applications like this. In Math class, students have used 3D CAD software to solve authentic math problems. These connections show deep learning and provide learners with multiple pathways for applying skills. 
 
Virtual learning spaces have also had a significant impact on student learning. Recently, grade 5 students explored a virtual chemistry lab using Minecraft Education to experiment with the construction of elements and compounds. This virtual learning experience led to students’ deeper understanding of chemistry concepts. Generating excitement through interactive applications helps develop a more relevant learning experience that kids can get excited about. Having the opportunity to experiment and play with different concepts and knowledge inside a 3D space is not a replacement for hands-on learning but can be an enhancement of the students learning experience. 
 
Ryan Bollhorn, Technology Integration Specialist 
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