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Learner-Centered Design
The Challenge For HCI In The 21st Century

by Elliot Soloway, Mark Guzdial and Kenneth E. Hay

SUMMARY by Kara Blond
Learner-centered technology design signals a move away from ease-of-use issues and toward the development of a learner's comprehension and expertise. Computer technology developed through this process should support the following functions.

  • the learner's needs through scaffolding
  • diverse tools an effective interface
  • tasks with modeling and coaching
  • the use of different modes of expression and adaptability.

Now that technology is powerful enough to support an easier-to-use interface, the HCI community can finally focus on how computer technologies can "make us smarter." The challenge for HCI these day is supporting "individuals and groups of individuals in developing expertise in their professions, in developing richer and deeper understandings of content and practices."

Soloway, Hays and Guzdial propose that this new process must focus on three things:

  • the tasks learners must undertake
  • the tools they can use to deal with those tasks
  • and the interface for those tools.

Therefore, learner-center design must follow these basic tenents:

  • result in the learner's understanding (which can be strengthened through modeling, coaching and critiquing)
  • create and sustain motivation (through low-overhead and immediate successes)
  • offer a diversity of learning techniques (using different media and different modes of expression)
  • and encourage the individual's growth through an adaptable product.
In other words, good scaffolding should be available when the student wants it, but not when they want to work independently. Motivation can also be sustained by putting learning in the context of doing, developing software that enables learners to construct artifacts and converse with others about those artifacts.

Soloway, E., Guzdial, M., & Hay, K. E. (1994). Learner-centered design: the challenge for HCI in the 21st century. Interactions, 1(2).