From Playlists To Pathways Towards Mastery

From Playlists To Pathways Towards Mastery

How do playlists help guide learners toward mastery? How do we map the learning pathways associated with the development of expertise and learner identities?

As a learning pathway for and the 2017 National DiscoverDesign Competition, Design Launch will enable design novices to become familiar with the design process, work through two design challenges, and gain the skills, expertise and confidence to enter the National Design Competition with solutions that respond to real-world challenges.

Project Status

At Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), the process of designing a playlist that guides learners towards mastery begins with a human-centered design approach. Prior to addressing content, we had to ask questions about our users through a formal evaluation to understand audience demographics, usage trends, and implementation models to better understand questions like, “Who are we designing for?” and “What do audiences want from an online design-focused open learning platform?”  


We began the process of understanding our users with the relaunch of DiscoverDesign by developing personas based on user interviews and a formal evaluation. We conducted interviews with Students, Teachers, and Mentors to understand their expectations for an  online mode of engagement that taught the design process. Personas for each user category, a set of human interaction and design guidelines, and a lens by which we could understand DiscoverDesign users. We further tested user experience with our platform through an independent evaluation carried out by DePaul University. The evaluation produced recommendations for introducing our audiences to design through simple onboarding activities. Some of these recommendations included: 

  • Creating engaging guides and media pieces to help introduce the platform and concepts
  • Creating getting started/onboarding guides to introduce teachers to the platform and demonstrate strengths
  • Offer curriculum plans that help introduce core concepts of architecture and design
  • Provide more information about challenge difficulty and expectations to help find appropriate challenges and materials

As part of the DML Competition, DesignLaunch provides an onramp for introducing novice users to design thinking. 

Our current work has involved mapping stakeholders within the DiscoverDesign community. Mapping our online community has taught us that our stakeholders comprise of the following constituent groups:

  • Formal /School teachers and administrators    
  • Informal / Youth Facing organizations with direct service to youth.    
  • Existing Individual DiscoverDesign Users     
  • Intermediary Architecture and Design Organizations
  • Intermediary Non-Architecture Organizations             

In the last few months, we created user scripts to guide our conversations about DiscoverDesign with our constituent groups discussing design with our audiences. Each script includes:

  • Audience Type
  • Definition
  • Characteristic of User
  • Value Proposition
  • Talking Points
  • Script #1 
  • Follow Up Message

A common theme across these audiences is that these organizations and teachers act as “brokers” in a connected learning context.  These brokers enrich youth social networks by connecting youth to meaningful learning experiences and career opportunities.  CAF’s strategy has focused on enabling this network of educators and organizations by offering DesignLaunch as an accessible digital onramp for design. 

In order for CAF to mobilize a network around DesignLaunch by outlining a series of opportunities for our stakeholders exploring how they might partner with us in efforts to use and give feedback on DesignLaunch. These activities include: 

  •  Outreach Activities 
    •  Direct emails to each constituent audience  
    •  A communication strategy:
  •  DD Calendar 
    •  Conferences & Meetups 
      •  Hive Chicago Buzz: March 2017
      •  Hive Deep Dive: May 2017
      •  IDEA:TE Conference: June 2017

DesignLaunch, as a playlist, connects students to the skills development needed to ensure successful completion of design challenges through smaller more manageable activities (XPs). As students progress through each XP, they progress through the design process thereby developing grit and rigor needed to participate in the National DiscoverDesign Competition.  A step towards enabling the network around the playlist is to reframe the initial question of this post into a set of “how might we “questions: 

  • How we might we design a network that connects learning pathways and affords opportunities in design-related careers and opportunities, 
  • What kinds of skills are developed and transferable through playlist design? 
  • What are the proper supports needed to help develop identities through interest-driven interventions? 
  • Who are brokers of opportunity in the playlist network?

More Questions To Consider

Knowing what we know about our students and their varied internet usage trends, we envision playlists like DesignLaunch to appear across a variety of platforms and connected learning contexts (DiscoverDesign, Chicago City of Learning, LRNG, etc…). Reaching our audiences where they are and providing access to connected learning opportunities is a question of equitable access. To that end here are questions we are considering in building out our DML-funded DesignLaunch: 

  • What are the advantages and constraints of being part of multiple networks?
  • Does the playlist actually empower novice users to prepare and participate in the National DiscoverDesign competition?
  •  Are we enabling access and equity to happen through playlists?
  • What are the implications for platform sustainability at an organizational level?
  • What value might DiscoverDesign bring to non-DiscoverDesign users?