Design better blended learning by understanding affordances

Have you been asked to “blend” learning? In its rushed form, this process involves deciding which parts of an existing classroom course will fall into an “elearning bucket”, and which portions remain in the “classroom bucket”. It is a process, sometimes led by assumptions, that may yield a less-than-ideal split. So how do you protect the integrity of learning designs when moving portions to online format? Understanding affordances may help.

Affordance is a relatively new term (coined by Gibson) to describe the interactions that an environment offers to a certain organism. For example, a river affords swimming if you are a swan. The same river affords death -or at least trouble- if you are a beetle.

The term affordance was adopted by the design community, through Norman, for interaction design. Thus, to most people who regularly use computers, a rectangle containing an action verb should afford clicking; they call it a button. A triangle placed sideways under or over a static image should afford playing a video.

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