All entries for Tuesday 24 February 2009

February 24, 2009

The Ikea effect – why we should build a flat–pack V[R]LE

For some time now my colleagues in the Warwick E-learning Advisor Team have been arguing that we should create some kind of 'templating' system within the web publishing component of our V[R]LE (Sitebuilder). Chris Coe has a great name for it: Elaborate (quick, file for a trademark).

The idea is that we could create templates based on generic and discipline specific learning designs. A template would embody the structure, functionality, and flow of the learning design in a set of pages and interactions. The template could then be copied and, following a set of instructions, filled-out with learning content. For example, there could be a template for a peer-review process. This could even be combined with a 'wizard' approach that builds the detail of the learning activity based upon answers provided by the learning designer (tutor) to a series of questions.

We justify this argument with these claims:

  1. Speed and efficiency;
  2. Promoting consistency and good practice;
  3. Developing a shared language for describing different learning designs;
  4. Giving a focus for evaluating different learning designs;
  5. Allowing us to tailor designs for departments and courses.

I've just discovered a further significant reason for working in this way, given in an article in the February 2009 edition of the Harvard Business Review:

The Ikea Effect: When Labor Leads to Love by Michael I. Norton of Duke University

...labor enhances affection for its results. When people construct products themselves, from bookshelves to Build-a-Bears, they come to overvalue their (often poorly made) creations.

The success of Ikea, they claim, is to some extent based upon the flat-pack principle - do much of the work for the customer, but allow them to feel as if they are still investing their labor (and hence their love) in the product. Perfect flat-pack makes people love you! And Ikea certainly do have some ingenious ways with flat-pack construction.

A templated learning-design is flat-pack.

Norton gives a warning: if the customer puts too much work into the construction, they may end up loving the product too much, thus making future change impossible.

The second rule of Ikea is to make the construction easy enough for the product to feel potentially disposable.

The same must be true of learning activities built from a template.

But what of customisation? We know that people love to customise. Indeed, Ikea offer that to some extent, but the customisation is never fundamental - it's simply a matter of combining products and adding ornaments (that's why they sell cheap bits and pieces from which they can't possibly profit).

So then, how to build a V[R]LE that is used and cherished by the masses: use the Ikea effect.

If you're involved in building learning content, or are interested in the construction of V[R]LEs, you are welcome to comment on this idea.

Update: I've just thought of another reason why templating is good. Here's the use case:

  1. Tutor A creates a useful template.
  2. Other tutors in their department see the pages created from the template, and want to do similarly.
  3. Each page is marked with "Created using the template TEMPLATE NAME, designed by PERSONS NAME .
  4. The tutors can then create their own pages using the template, and get advice Tutor A.