MMID: Agency, Freedom, and Necessary Conditions

MOOC MOOC: Instructional Design (MMID) is the sixth iteration of a mini, meta-MOOC designed to inspect different aspects of higher education, teaching, learning, and the digital. MMID will take place from January 25 – February 12, 2016. For more information, see the original announcement.

“To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.” ~ bell hooks

Learning is not safe. In fact, to learn is to take a risk, to become an aerialist, to put your head in the lion’s mouth. Learning is a death-defying act. And though it takes place largely within the confines of silent classrooms and sterile learning management systems, within the mind of the learner, riots can occur.

Take, for instance, Frederick Douglass:

As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened by eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast. I preferred the condition of the meanest reptile  to my own. Any thing, no matter what, to get rid of thinking!

Maybe it’s unfair to bring so profound a thinker as Douglass to bear on a conversation about something so bland as instructional design. Or perhaps it’s exactly the maneuver we require to remind ourselves that learning is the single most important act in human life; and to treat it ever so lightly through conversations about objectives and outcomes and alignment and — for goodness’ sake — educational psychology, to entrench it within a discourse permeable only to the institutionally educated, is to not just do it a disservice, but is to reduce it so far that passion, drive, need are all emptied from it.

How could we scaffold the learning Frederick Douglass did? What objectives would we set before him? What outcomes would we expect?

By the end of this course, you will:

  • Give tongue to interesting thoughts of your own soul;
  • Gain from dialogue the power of truth;
  • Abhor and detest your enslavers;
  • Understand how the silver trump of freedom rouses the soul.

Of course, the first objection we can raise is that these outcomes can’t be measured, can’t necessarily be tested, and have nothing to do with math. When there are certain skills we have to teach in order for learners to demonstrate they know enough to graduate college and get a job and move into their little boxes on the hillside, what possible space can we make for learners to come to know themselves, truth, the oppressive world, freedom and agency? What place does agency have in med school? What use is it in physics? Why learn about truth when you’re going into business?

And yet, this is what human learning really is, the matter from which it’s made. Too many great minds — minds we all admire — did not learn because someone told them how to learn. They learned rampantly, accidentally, painfully, joyfully, and even illegally. If it were not for a hunger to know, and the imagination to reinvent, to synthesize, to make intellectual and creative leaps, our intellectual and artistic culture would be shallow, deprived, vacant.

We need an instructional design that breaks free of dull expectations and instead stirs learning to a fervor.

This week in MOOC MOOC: Instructional Design, we’ll be jumping into this particular deep end: How does instructional design make room for passion, need, difference, beauty? How do we anticipate the broad and specific intersectionalities of our learners, and what they bring to the table? And this is not just a humanist concern. Mathematics was founded by passionate inventors. Physics was dreamed up by curious observers. All of what we know by rote today was once unimagined. How does today’s instructional design — evolving into forms like project-based and inquiry-based learning, personalized learning, adaptive learning — inspire or provoke the kind of ideas and learning that can shift the world upon its axis?

Take a look at the readings below, and then join us on Wednesday, February 10 at Noon EST for a Twitter chat using #moocmooc to discuss these questions and more. As well, join in one of this week’s activities (below).


  • MOOC MOOC Discussion: Wednesday, February 10 at Noon EST
  • Write a six word manifesto about learning, about your learning, about learning management, about building environments for learning. Share it with #moocmooc #sixwordmanifesto;
  • On your own blog or in a collaborative document, brainstorm ways to incorporate freedom and agency into instructional design. Be sure to share your posts on Twitter using #moocmooc.


Guiding questions

  • Where should instructional design go now?
  • What influences — digital, philosophical, pedagogical, technological — do we need to consider in moving forward with instructional design?
  • What are best practices now?
  • What does generosity, love, kindness have to do with instructional design?
  • How do we bring who we are, in all our complexity, to the design of a course? How do we create a platform for learners to bring who they are, in all their complexity?

[Photo, “coming down” by Fio]

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