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May 9, 2014 / Charlie McNabb

Learner-Centered Design

This week I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by library hero Meredith Farkas about Portland State University’s extremely innovative Library DIY portal.  This project was developed to offer library instruction at the point of need.  Many university students are what Meredith calls DIY patrons: they are used to Google and other Internet tools, they want to figure things out by themselves, and they want websites and instructional material to be intuitive.  With Library DIY, a patron can quickly decide which general theme fits their question, and then narrow their question until they hit the relevant bit of content to answer it.

I love the design and so do students; web statistics and usability testing show clear enthusiasm for Library DIY.  Its success is in its learner-centered design.  Patrons are empowered to choose their own path to find the answer to their question, and they are able to quickly satisfy very specific information needs.  The structure is based on the reference interview, but patrons have the agency to figure it out for themselves, within a supportive and intuitive structure.

The small, specific nuggets of learning content on Library DIY are very learner-centered.  Content is short and incorporates images (screenshots and infographics), with links to more in-depth content.  This fantastic explanation of the peer review process is exactly what the average undergraduate student needs.  They don’t want a long lecture, they just need to know why peer review is important in order to come up with a good bibliography for their paper!

Exploring Library DIY got me thinking about my approach to digital learning objects.  I’m a pretty high-level researcher, and my learning style is very textual.  I definitely have a tendency to gear my research guides towards learners just like me.  But most undergraduate students are turned off by a wall of text!  Breaking up text with images and short videos, and making sure to keep content brief, is much easier for learners to process and remember.

I have some ideas for digital learning objects, and I’m excited to put these ideas into practice.  I just have to get past the tough part of boiling instruction down to the necessary elements and carving away unnecessary text, tabs, and so forth.


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