Open Source

Democratic Technology for Learning – the IKEA Way

A week ago we moved to Mountain View, California ((No I do not work for Google) for six months. Like all modern migrant workers, the forth day we made a trip to the local IKEA – the little Sweden you may find nowadays almost everywhere. Even that our amazing friends have borrowed us the most essential stuff, we wanted to get something colorful to break the america-bourgeoisie-apartment-beige look and feel. The Stanford Mall was having some colorful cushions with price tags between USD 50 – 200. So, no thank you. Where is the IKEA?

In IKEA they have these signs explaining their design philosophy. They call it “Democratic Design”. In a nutshell their design philosophy is: Good Design. Smart Solutions. Low Price.

It’s not easy to define “good design” if we look things that are related to “taste”. You like red, I like blue and that’s it. There are, however, many universal features that are common to good design. To be called “good design” the product should be at least accessible, usable, safe, durable, and reparable. Smart solution means that the product fulfills some human needs and fits to the people’s existing situation and environment. It is functional. Finally, the low price means, hmm.. low price.

IKEA definition of democracy is obviously non-conventional. They do not talk about democratic decision-making process. They do not have design by committee, but actually some very clever designers. For IKEA democracy means access: everyone’s right to have – in IKEA’s words:

“beautiful life at home without giving up the rest what makes life worth.”

How would technology for learning be, if it would be primary representing Good Design, Smart Solution and Low Price?

Good Design: accessible, usable, safe, durable and reparable. In design accessibility does not necessary mean that all special groups are able to use the product – though it is something one should keep in mind. In design accessibility meant that the product is suitable and available for the people it is designed for. For instance, the children’s bed should not be too high for a child to climpt in it her self. Also the most crucial and important technology for learning should be accessible. In a case of software one may say that it should run on all the different operating system. In the time of web browsers, network and mobile computing we may conclude that it should run on a web browser on any devices from mobile phones and iPhones to desktop computers. The product should also itself communicate its affordances. The form of the product should tell for what one can use it. From a good chair you see how one can sit in and from a good piece of technology for learning you immediately get the idea for what kind of learning activities it is good for. The product should be safe, not only for the people who are using it but also for the people who originally made it, will assembly it, re-cycle it or fix it. Can you do this safely with proprietary technology? No. For this reason the technology for learning should be transparent and open. In the case of software it should be open source.

Smart Solutions: fulfilling some human need and fitting in people’s existing environment. A chair is designed for sitting, but the same need could be met with a mattress or cushion. For me living here only for six months the large floor cushions are smarter solutions than armchairs. In the case of technology for learning the devices and software should fit to the already existing educational ecosystem. It should not try to replace it. If there are already schools, classes and groups aiming to study together, the technology should enhance these entities existing (good) practices. The smart solution may also slowly change the behavior of the people. With the floor cushions that are actually rather uncomfortable, I must constantly- right now – move and search for a good position to write. I am pretty sure that this is better for my back than sitting in a static position on a chair. A smart technology for learning should similar way fit to the existing system but enhance and change it to be better than before. It should be functional in the situation it is designed for.

Low Price. How about low price of technology for learning? Yes. Free. Open Source.

Modifying the IKEA’s vision:

Beautiful learning wherever it takes place, without giving up the rest what makes life worth.

4 replies on “Democratic Technology for Learning – the IKEA Way”

Heippa, Teemu! Nice essay, but I'd like to modify your vision even further – if you don't mind. 🙂 How about:Beautiful learning in the right time and right place, without giving up the rest what makes life worth.This way, the focus turns to the situation and the "spatio-temporal" qualities of the infrastructure which can provide for the learning in the right place and right time.


Thank you vt. hmm… "in the right time and right place" or "wherever it takes place". Good point. Especially if we see important to approach technology for learning more as an environment, space and state than a set of gadgets.On the other hand learning takes place all the time, everywhere – even when we sleep. So to "build" the learning environment should be very easy wherever you are, just like making a place a home, wherever you are. Now we are back in the IKEA philosophy?


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