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.
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)