Lifelong learning is critical for graduates throughout their careers, especially given the rapidly evolving and complex nature of work, study and knowledge. It’s why OCAD University’s Jutta Treviranus, Director of the Inclusive Design Institute and a professor in the Design for Health (MDes) program, is so passionate about students taking charge of their own learning. It’s also why she urges them to plan a career pathway based on their unique skills and abilities, and why she was inspired to launch the My Lifelong Learning Lab (My3L) project in the Inclusive Design Institute. Later incorporated into the MDes program, My3L’s purpose is to build a supportive community of learners during the formal period of education and after graduation when students are working in the field.
My3L consists of:
- The course INCD-6001 Unlearning & Questioning (to be taken upon entry to the program)
- A set of online tools for continuous self-exploration and assessment
- An online community of current students and alumni
Originally developed as an intensive face-to-face course, INCD-6001 transitioned to fully online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students start by unlearning their assumptions and beliefs about traditional university learning. Through group discussions and exercises, they focus on developing their own unique abilities rather than race other students to come out ahead with better grades. This turns out to be a very difficult challenge for students who are graduates of very competitive academic systems.
Students learn to analyze their strengths and weaknesses, what motivates them, and what skills they’ll need at the end of their careers. They learn to question the meaning of inclusivity, study how diverse perspectives can improve design, and engage in collaborative projects that foster inclusive practices. Constructive criticism, learning from each other and trusting their peers are additional skills students develop. By the end of the course, they are integrated into an inclusive design community, not just with their peers in the program but with graduates already working in the field.
The purpose of My3L’s set of online tools is to enable students to assess how they learn best through a non-intimidating, engaging and fun process. The toolkit helps them become “experimental researchers in the subject of their own learning,” according to Professor Treviranus. Students set individual learning goals and flexible milestones, and track their progress toward those goals by keeping journals.
Critical to the success of My3L is the online professional community. Students and alumni stay in touch through a variety of tools, including SMS, Slack and WhatsApp. This variety is necessary as some international students are from countries with poor Internet access, so certain tools will not function effectively. In addition, some tools are not compatible with screen readers or other assistive technologies. An e-mail list is the common denominator to keep everyone connected with each other.
Benefits and Outcomes
According to Professor Treviranus, students can be skeptical at first about their ability to succeed in self-directed learning. But by the end of the course, that skepticism is typically replaced with confidence.
“I expected the learning experience to be prescribed and something I needed to fit into, not something I would self-direct,” one graduate said. “Learning how to participate in self-directed learning took a lot of unlearning for me, but it was so worth it. The self-knowledge I gained gave me my voice (I think for the first time ever) because I learned to recognize my values through the process. It felt messy and unstructured in the beginning, but now it feels natural and has enriched my personal and work life.”
Another graduate commented: “The ability to kind of define what we wanted to work on was difficult but also the key to the success of many of us. The community and the connection to communities beyond OCADU was paramount for me. Connecting to communities, both in person and remotely, gave me a platform where I could develop confidence in the knowledge I had and develop new knowledge in the area of inclusive design and inclusive design research.”
Challenges and Enhancements
Students from around the world are attracted to the unique MDes program, but many have limited or even non-existent Internet connectivity, which is a barrier to accessing the My3L course, resources and inclusive design community. The issue is addressed by employing a multitude of technologies rather than depending on just one. Students with poor Internet access are partnered with those who have good access, so the one with good access can assist the other. In fact, one of the assignments in INCD-6001 is to ensure all participants are fully included.
Professor Treviranus says more work must still be done to build stronger social and professional connections among students and graduates working in inclusive design. She is currently considering various options, and further development of the online self-assessment tools is under way.
My3L is adapted specifically for the MDes program, but some elements of INCD-6001 could be tailored to other professional programs. The self-assessment tools could be modified to suit various fields of study, and the tools and procedures of the professional community could be emulated.
Professor Jutta Treviranus
Faculty of Design, Graduate Studies
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5T 1W1