Risk and Learning


“Information becomes education when it is shared” (Moore, 2019).  In order for adult learners to take intellectual risks and be actively engaged in their learning, they need a learning environment that provides support and positive challenge.  As online learners studying instructional design, we followed the Stanford University’s d.school design thinking process to identify shortcomings and propose a prototype for improving current learning management systems (LMS).


We considered our experiences as both teachers and learners in online learning environments to identify our problem statement and develop our prototype.  Our focus is to promote a safe place for intellectual risk-taking and active engagement through the lens of adult learners in formal fully-online learning environments.

Our backgrounds include formal face-to-face and online teaching, administrative support, and face-to-face and online learning.  We are currently online students in the Master of Arts in Learning and Technology program at Royal Roads University.

Problem Statement

We reviewed the results of our design thinking process and discovered the following key points:

  1. Adult learners in online formal learning environments can struggle to take intellectual risks and to be actively engaged in their learning.
  2. Misdirected challenges such as technological frustrations, lack of efficient communication, and lack of connection with peers can cause strain on adult learners.
  3. Learning environments should create a balance between providing a safe environment where learners can have confidence to engage in intellectual risk taking, while minimizing the challenges that do not offer positive learning opportunities.

These elements led to the problem statement below:

Reducing the ineffective challenges of online learning promotes user-centered learning in formal online learning environments by increasing learners’ potential to not only learn program content, but also gain confidence within a digital learning environment.


According to Crichton and Carter (2017), if students receive an abundance of information, their ability to work with the content is hindered and they resort to seeking exactly what is expected of them, rather than absorbing the information (p. 25).  We are proposing a prototype that addresses ineffective challenges, such as an overload of information, and promotes user-centered learning. As a result, we propose a number of modifications to current LMSes.

Component details:

  1. The beginning of each module includes a concise, informal video from the instructor summarizing details.
  2. The anticipated time frame in which the instructor will reply to posts is clearly published (e.g., within 24-hours).
  3. An informal space is available from the first day of the program, similar to a student lounge, which offers students a casual environment to share their thoughts.  Program faculty and administrators would not have access to this space.
  4. When students post questions in the LMS, they have an option to identify their posts as low, medium, or high level of importance.
  5. Synchronous sessions would include a photo of the participant, when video is not engaged, rather than a generic image.


Recognizing that learners must move beyond their comfort zone in order to fully engage in the learning and that comfort levels vary for each learner, we are seeking feedback and feedforward from our readers regarding the following:

  1. Do you feel that our prototype helps to promote safe learning environments for learners  to take intellectual risks while minimizing elements that constrain learning?
  2. What problems do you foresee?
  3. What modifications would you propose?

“Risk is inherent in learning” (Koh, Yeo, & Hung, 2015, p. 95).  In taking our own risk as learners, we welcome your comments. We will reply to all responses received before December 4, 2019 at 11:59 pm PST.

Co-authored by K. Moore and S. Ruth


Crichton, S. & Carter, D. (2017). Taking Making into Classrooms Toolkit. Open School/ITA

Great Schools Partnership (2014). Student engagement. Retrieved from https://www.edglossary.org/student-engagement/

Koh, E., Yeo, J., & Hung, D. (2015) Pushing boundaries, taking risks. Learning: Research and Practice, 1(2), 95-99, DOI: 10.1080/23735082.2015.1081318

Moore, K. (2019. October 13). The Printing Press and Education [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://malat-webspace.royalroads.ca/rru0108/the-printing-press-and-education/

Stanford University Institute of Design (2019). A Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking. Retrieved from: https://dschool.stanford.edu/resources-collections/a-virtual-crash-course-in-design-thinking

Strohmeyer, D. (n.d.). Intellectual risk taking [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://lessonsforthelearned.org/index.php/independent-learning-overview/intellectual-risk-taking/

7 thoughts on “Risk and Learning

  1. Hi Kathy and Sherry,
    I found your identified problem very relatable and was drawn into the scenario very vividly. Both as an instructor, trying to find a balance between how much information to provide at any one time; which can be made even more challenging if you have a mixed experience student body ranging from recent high school graduates to adult learners bringing with them life skills and, as a MALAT student trying to manage the sudden arrival of course material en masse.

    As I contemplated your solution I framed my thoughts with that student body in mind and my attention focused on two aspects of your solution. The inclusion of a student image rather than a generic image. How do you see the requirement balanced against the tension created with the learner resistant to exposure? Do you feel this will impact their willingness to attend any synchronous sessions?

    Secondly I wondered about your observation of too much “front-end” loading of information and how it affects student learning. Specifically how you could modulate the information while at the same time honoring student independence and desire for control.

    Crichton & Carter highlight the need for “locating relevant and just-in-time information, and tinkering with ideas” (Circhton & Carter, 2017 p. 25) in a prototype solution. How to do see a solution for providing just-in-time information without creating a front end loaded program? My third party observation might suggest a system of simple optional assessments that learners can choose to attempt to “open more material”. This could serve as a means to provide feedback to the learner as to their current level of understanding and provide autonomy.

    I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.
    Kind regards,
    Owen and Sandra

  2. Thank you for your thoughts. Here are our responses to your questions.

    1. The rationale behind having student images in synchronous sessions is to enhance personal connections, thereby promoting a safe environment to take intellectual risks. Crichton & Cater posit that there is a “need to make learning more authentic, engaging, and experiential” (Crichton & Cater, 2017, p. 15). Adding students’ photos creates an authentic environment by giving faces to the voices, encouraging students to take risks with real people rather than grey shapes. By creating more of a community, it is our plan that students would feel the space is somewhere they can take intellectual risks, encouraging them to attend and participate. Students would choose their own photos. If students feel uncomfortable posting a picture of themselves, they can post a photo that is representative of themselves. This would respect their privacy and comfort while still connecting them to the group as a person and not a generic image.

    2. By releasing information in a timely manner, students would not feel overwhelmed by receiving too much information at one time. Opening communication with students so they know they will have the information when they need it will foster a positive learning environment. By providing information on an on-going basis, the students continually have the opportunity to engage with the instructor and the course. The students would still have the control within the content they have without the feeling of not knowing what to do next.

    Sherry and Kathy

  3. Hello Kathy and Sherry,
    I think it was wonderful that you promoted intellectual risk taking with online learning as this should be at the forefront with all levels of academia. I also thought it was fantastic how you provided the links within your blog so the reader can do some further reading on the topic.
    You considered different perspectives which creates a well rounded, inclusive prototype that I think would be successful for post secondary students. Do you think this would be successful with high school or elementary students also?
    I was a little confused as you discussed the dynamic of creating a formal environment, but also an informal environment. Do you think a less formal environment would allow the learner to be more comfortable, therefore engaging in intellectual risk more freely?
    As a student, I really appreciated you including Crichton & Carters perspective in that the bombardment of information on a student can lead to the lack of absorption/understanding of information. I thought it was fantastic how you really took this into consideration and wanted to rectify this problem for post secondary students. Your questions are well thought out:
    Do you feel that our prototype helps to promote safe learning environments for learners to take intellectual risks while minimizing elements that constrain learning?
    I think the prototype could absolutely do this, however a clear distinction between informal and formal should be identified.
    What problems do you foresee? Are there any penalties if a response is not received in 24 hours? What accountabilities are put into place/assurances for the learner? What if there are software/hardware issues?
    What modifications would you propose? Possibly an automated checklist? You have completed this reading and here is your other reading in order? An alert button/received notice so they are aware when their message was read/received.
    Really solid work to the both of you. I enjoyed reading your proposed prototype.

    1. Thank you for your response and great discussion points; we are happy to continue the conversation.
      Our prototype focuses on adult learners, but it could be adapted for others Some components would transfer with little or no changes, e.g., the instructor’s informal summary video, while others may require adaptations.

      By modifying parts of the formal learning environment (i.e., LMSes) and adding the informal component, our prototype promotes encourages positive learning. One of Merrill’s (2002) principles states that “[knowledge] activation involves [enabling] learners to incorporate the new knowledge into their existing knowledge” (p. 47). An example of this is the Master of Arts in Learning and Technology program at Royal Roads University which has a formal LMS, including a public site, as the framework of the program, but an informal space exists for students (created by students) to collaborate casually. We are proposing that the institute establish such a space for students to meet in a safe environment, to share their thoughts. These environments can work to encourage students to take intellectual risks in the formal environment.

      There would not be a penalty for instructors not responding within the published time frame. However, we are optimistic that professionalism would ensure the timeline is followed. We acknowledge that software/hardware issues arise, and the expectation would be that as soon as the issues were resolved, posted responses would include an explanation of the delay.
      Thank you for your suggestions. We will consider them as we move forward.

      Sherry and Kathy

      Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59.

  4. Hi Kathy and Sherry,

    We really liked the component details. It seems really well thought out!

    The level of priority tool seems to be a great idea; however, there could be some misuse of that tool. For example, someone is completing something late so marks the question/comment as high priority. Maybe this is part of the reason for your design of the priority?

    The idea of the lounge and a space for students to discuss concepts together seems great. This sounds like it could benefit collaboration and students working together and building a community.

    The idea of one video summarizing the module sounds perfect, but is it realistic? In my courses (Leigha – Accounting Instructor), one video for an entire course would be too long. Maybe if this video was more like a welcome video introduction? Would this summary video replace chapter or unit videos all together?

    Really great ideas here! We both felt like we could really relate to the components being proposed.


    Leigha and Christina

    1. Thank you for your comments.

      We agree that there could be a concern over misuse of the priority post tool. The instructor would be able to address those concerns should the need arise during the progression of the course. The idea behind this component of the prototype is to give students a method to convey the importance of a message to the instructor. The students would be responsible to use the tool respectfully; it is not meant to be a panic button for those who are working on an assignment at the last moment.

      The instructor videos are meant for each unit or module within a course, not one video for the entire course. One video for the course would create an overwhelming amount of information for the students, while short videos for modules would help the students know what is coming and why they need to learn it and that would motivate their learning (Kistler, 2011, p. 29).
      We appreciate your thoughts and joining the conversation regarding this prototype.

      Sherry and Kathy

      Kistler, M. J. (2011). Adult learners: Considerations for education and training. Techniques, 86(2), 28-30.

  5. Hi Kathy and Sherry,

    Sorry a little late but I would recommend for the virtual lounge to have some moderator to help flag any potential concerns. This person doesn’t need to be staff or faculty but a graduate student for undergrads. They can provide guidance in areas that might otherwise go unnoticed.

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