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Making Sense of Learning Design


David Burke

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Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The CYNEFIN model is a widely recognised framework for decision-making in complex systems. In the context of professional learning programs, applying the CYNEFIN model can help organisations align their program design with the specific needs of their learners.

The CYNEFIN model categorises problems into four domains: simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic. By recognising the type of problem faced in each domain, organisations can design professional learning programs that effectively address the specific needs of their learners.

In the simple domain, problems can be addressed through linear training programs, such as a basic “how to” course with a single outcome. These types of programs are widely available, and can be found in various formats including online videos and tutorials on platforms such as YouTube.

The complicated domain, however, requires a deeper level of understanding and expertise. Professional learning programs in this domain should be designed to build a deeper understanding of the subject matter, develop skills through a combination of theoretical and practical training, and encourage personal growth and development. Expert-led courses and workshops, as well as facilitative style courses, can effectively address the needs of learners in the complicated domain.

Facilitative style courses are particularly effective in addressing complicated domain problems, particularly where there is a significant capability gap and mind-set shift required. These courses require a more personalised approach, taking into account the unique context surrounding the learner. By integrating the concepts and learning actions, facilitative style courses can provide learners with a more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter and help them to apply the learning in their specific context.

The Chaotic domain in professional learning refers to newly emerging fields or concerns where the existing knowledge and understanding is limited. These programs are often exploratory in nature and help innovators and early adopters make sense of the new opportunities presented. In this domain, the learning programs are in the early stages of development and may not be fully organised into cohesive and contained topics. This type of professional learning is typically characterised by the need for experimentation, adaptation, and innovation. The focus is on helping individuals understand the potential impact of new technologies and develop new perspectives and approaches. The programs in this domain may take the form of workshops, hackathons, or other forms of experiential learning that encourage exploration, experimentation, and iteration. The key to success in this domain is a willingness to take risks, embrace ambiguity, and continually adapt to changing circumstances.

At EduSpark we are increasingly using this model to guide and coach our course creators, giving them a deeper insight into matching purpose and outcome to where the learner is. This is also an ongoing exploration into improving the way we deliver CPD broadly, and I’m very keen for your comments, questions and challenges.

In conclusion, the CYNEFIN model provides a valuable tool for organisations looking to create effective professional learning programs that meet the specific needs of their learners. By linking the type of problem faced in each domain and designing programs accordingly, organisations can ensure that their professional learning programs are effective and meet the needs of their learners.

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