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Getting out of the room to break it, better it, and build a first critique

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The Break It and Better It form is likely the simplest looking tool in the Curriculum Design Studio – heck we probably didn’t even really need to make a form for this because you can make your own with just a few words on a blank sheet of paper. But it’s a tool that implies some real work. And one that, if taken seriously, can lead to some pretty important early-stage insights about and changes to the learning experience you’re designing.
The idea is to learn now what you can so as to avoid having to learn it and adjust on the fly later when you’re implementing.

The tool and the process are described in the video below.

The Break It and Better It form for Learning Experience Design

Coaches of the entrepreneurial Lean-Startup methodology love to have their learners “get out of the building,” a practice aimed at helping them face reality by speaking with real human beings and pressure-testing their early stage concepts.

When coaching entrepreneurs myself I usually start them out with a simple form called the Break It and Better It form »  because it’s simpler than customer surveys, is usually easier for people to engage with, and comes before pretotyping or prototyping..

The Break It and Better process we’re going to use here is similar to that in a few key ways: we want you to get out there and find real people who represent the learners and key stakeholders you identified when doing your Value Proposition Wheel; we want you to engage those real people in helping you break and better your design; and, for now, we want your true goal – in your mind and in your heart – to be figuring out what’s wrong with your design (not trying to convince people of its merits).

The steps you should follow at this stage:

As described in the video above, we want you to:

  1. Get out there and find at least one real live person who represents each of the learning personas you came up with when doing your Value Proposition work to map out the learning landscape. And have them help you break it and better it. Take good notes. Share what you’ve designed but then go into listening mode first, before you provide too many prompts. And avoid signalling what you hope they’ll say.
  2. Then connect with a colleague who can serve as a critique partner. This should be someone who understands curriculum design – perhaps a peer or colleague. Or, if you’re going through this as part of a scholars program, this could be another member of your cohort who hasn’t yet served as part of your design group. Have them help you critique the learning experience you’ve designed.

A recent personal experience with Breaking and Bettering one of my learning experience designs:

In the following video I share an experience I had recently designing a new course, and how much better the design was due to: 1) working with one of my learning personas – a student who had taken an earlier version of the same course a few years earlier – in the early design stages to help me break and better my early thinking about the key aspects of the learning experience; 2) inviting the students taking the course to help me break and better it after the course had already begun, giving me a second iteration through which to tighten up the design; 3) getting input from other key stakeholders, including others who had taught other versions of the course and those that had assigned the course to me.

As I describe, the course wouldn’t be the same today if I hadn’t done the work to understand the learning landscape using the Value Proposition Wheel, and if I hadn’t iterated several times using the Break It and Better It process. Bottom line? There’s no chance it would have landed where it has if I’d sat in my office without talking to people across the landscape on several occasions.

(Oh, and I said in the video that I took the course myself in 1995. I believe it was actually 1993!)

When you’re ready to close out and reflect on the work you’ve done in Iteration 1, click the button below to proceed to the next topic.


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Welcome (back)!

Access to the Creative Commons tools and a lot of the content on site is free. We just ask that you sign in / sign up using your existing social account. To do this, click one of the icon(s) below:


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