Posts made in November, 2019

One of the most notable pictures that comes to mind when thinking about a military course is a drill instructor yelling and belittling a poor private for not completing a task properly.  Hardly the modern learning environment we see today, right? How could the notion of empathic design ever be thought to be a viable means to design courses in an institution like the Armed Forces?  Before opinions and attestations occur, a basic understanding of empathic design is required.

A grief stricken American infantryman whose buddy has been killed in action is comforted by another soldier. In the background a corpsman methodically fills out casualty tags, Haktong-ni area, Korea. August 28, 1950. Sfc. Al Chang. (Army)
NARA FILE # 080-SC-347803

Empathic design is the melding of the exploration of feelings and moods with the realm of instructional design (Mattelmaki, Vaajakallio & Koskinen, 2014). It focuses on “everyday experiences and on individual desires, moods, and emotions in human activities and turning such experiences and emotions into inspiration” (Mattelmaki, Vaajakallio & Koskinen, 2014, p. 67). Empathic design contrasts the mainstream cognitive design approaches we mostly see around us…those approaches that display “design as a problem-solving engagement” as opposed to “an interpretative exercise through an interaction with people leading to innovative design” (Mattelmaki, Vaajakallio & Koskinen, 2014, p. 68). Why empathic design one may ask? The answer is simpler than you think. Objective design through problem-solving, combined with cognitive theory most definitely has its place. However, it becomes difficult for instructional designers to tackle some problems purely from the cognitive design mentality. Empathic design principles allow for a rich collaborative design approach and creates a type of sensitivity to design. It is ‘sensitive’ to humans, the design itself, techniques and collaboration as a whole (Mattelmaki, Vaajakallio & Koskinen, 2014). This type of sensitivity design brings stakeholders together in a collaborative sense and also fosters to develop the instructional designer’s abilities during the design process. This unique approach could lead to innovative processes and ideas during the design process.

The opinion: Overall, empathic design could have a role in the military context, but only to an extent. Modern warfare would easily dictate where empathic design is not necessary. Does a military commander, when training his troops to charge the enemy with bayonets take an empathic approach to design? Indoctrination training practices has arguably, some necessary place in the Armed Forces. However, there are many types of courses within the military that have little to nothing to do with direct enemy force close-in-combat learning. As an officer within the Canadian Armed Forces, many courses within the topic of leadership and communications may benefit from such as approach. In end, the simple answer is I believe it would work for some courses and not for others. Just one Officer’s opinion of thousands.

Mattelmaki, T., Vaajakallio, K., & Koskinen, I. (2014). What happened to empathic design? Design Issues, 30(1), 67-77. doi: 10.1162/DESI_a_00249

Photograph: August 28, 1950. Sfc. Al Chang. (Army, 111-SC-347803)

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After reading much literature on the topic of instructional design, it is clear that the subject is multifaceted in many ways. Merrill (2002) in his paper titled, “First Principles of Instruction” seeks to condense the multitude of theories within instructional design into five common principles which represent the commonalities within the design frameworks. In reviewing the paper numerous times now, one of the central themes cogently reinforced in all design theories is learner participation. Fast-forward to Merrill’s (2002) first principle: “learning is promoted when learners are engaged in solving real world problems” (p.43). Merrill (2002) elaborates that even within psychological studies, the engaged participation of students aids in their overall learning. Bates (2019) echoes the support that student engagement is critical in learning within the context of Open Pedagogy and Open Educational Resources (OER). Bates (2019) uses Paquette’s (1979) writings to explain that “open pedagogy is focused on the interaction within a class between a learner and the educational environment that is created for him.” He concludes that there is an increase of learner participation when Open Pedagogy and OERs are done correctly (Bates, 2019).

The melding between open pedagogy and learner participation appears to be mutually beneficial in the realm of instructional design. On the surface level it can be easy to associate better learning with greater student participation and when greater open resources are available to said students. However, answers to the questions: why student participation works well with OERs? or how does open pedagogy combined with engaged learners increase learning capacity/capability? These questions are more difficult to analyze, let alone prove empirically in some manner of journal article worthiness. Bates (2019) briefly concludes that “it is essential to create organizational environments or management frameworks that encourage and support the development and use of high quality OERs.” In my opinion, Bates is reasonable in his conclusions by acknowledging that the success of OERs is not just the mere student access to OERs, but is far more in-depth in that the organizational system of education and the type and/or quality of resources being offered is important as well. Instructional designers in essence, should use appropriate OERs, and not just OERs for the sake of the new educational modern-notion ‘OER.’ Merrill (2002) concludes that different instructional design theories lend themselves more to one of the five principles than others when he said, “no theory or model reviewed includes all of these principles” (p. 57). Learner engagement and participation appears to be a theme across many of the educational literature (Merrill, 2002).

In the context of my work as an aerospace control officer supervisor in the Canadian Armed Forces, student engagement is a necessity for student success. Pass rates for students within air traffic control within the Vancouver Region is less than 30%, or to put it conversely, at least 70% of students fail. With those odds, instructional designers within the vocation of air traffic control must be meticulous in how to best suit the learners needs. Most of all, they need to set students up for success within a learning environment that encourages their participation and engagement of the material.



Bates, T. (2019, September 26). Chapter 11.4 Open pedagogy [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Merrill, D. (2002). First principles of instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59. doi:

Paquette, C. (1979) Quelques fondements d’une pédagogie ouverte Québec Français, Vol. 36.

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