Open Source

Participatory Design and Scenarios in Learning

Like all learning, also learning in a networked world can be designed. Design is activity of planning and patterning of actions toward desired and foreseeable end. Design requires problem setting, investigation and problem solving with understanding context and systems where the designed solutions will be taking in use. When we design we may use some design methods.

Our product – learning in a networked world – is extremely complex and multi-dimensional. The “object” is a system with people in their psychological and social context, learning methods and practices, and physical and digital artifact. Furthermore all these are carrying different historical-cultural burden.

With this kind of “object” we must have a design process that relies on active communication in a community of different stakeholders. With the participants we must share our design tasks, defining design constrains and coordination the work towards acceptable solutions. To carry out this kind of work, the design community has proposed use of participatory design and scenario-based design processes.

Participatory design is not a strict discipline, but rather an approach and way of working and thinking. There is not a single definition of participatory design but there are several norms that are respected by the practitioners. These are, for an example:

  • Respect of the people – they are the best experts of their own life and activities. They should be supported to have a voice in the design process.
  • Knowing that the people are the primary course of innovation. The ideas emerge in collaboration with participants wo are representing different stakeholders and backgrounds.
  • Technology is always only one possible solution.
  • Focus on systems. Systems are networks of people, their practices, technologies and artifacts embedded to the actions in a particular context.
  • Spend time with the people.
  • Address problems with the people and affected parties.
  • Be conscious of your own role in the process. Try to be a “reflective practitioner”.


In a participatory design process we may use scenarios. The scenarios are used to improve the communication among the participants. Scenarios can be used to illustrate and explain design problems, design constrains, and design solutions. Scenario can be presented as a written story, drawing / storyboard, or as an audio or a video.

Already making the scenario requires us to make selection and to focus only on certain aspects. The “ready” scenario can then be used to open up the concepts for discussion among the participants. Making scenarios is an iterative process of tuning the story. With digital tools you may have many and fast iterations.

There are obvious similarities with the participatory design and the paradigms of learning in a networked world. The new ideas of learning are often relying on the social constructivist theory of learning that sees learning as a participation in social processes of knowledge construction. If we design learning according to principles of participatory design we actually are implementing something we want people to do when they are learning in a networked world.

A third practice, with similarities with the participatory design and the new paradigm of learning is the open source / free software development process. In open source development all the users are potential developers. They all havea voice.

We are all hackers: in participatory design, when learning in a networked world, and in an open/free software development.

A typical hacker’s learning process starts out with setting up an interesting problem, working toward a solution by using various sources, then submitting the solution to extensive testing. Learning more about a subject becomes the hacker’s passion.” (

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