This presentation is about the e-learning platform for adult learners I’ve been talking about building for years, and which I finally began to develop as a prototype during the fall of 2019.
1. The Problem
I’ve been teaching interesting courses like feminist porn studies, San Francisco modernism, melodrama and society and the philosophy of Rick and Morty—just to name four—for the past two decades. And it never fails that people I meet in my everyday life want to take my courses. However, the majority of these people are not in a degree program or do not even have access to higher education
A lot of my friends are working class. They work with their hands for a living. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t incredibly smart people. I also have many friends who have graduated from college but work and are not currently in degree programs. These folks also want to take my courses.
For many years, I thought about the possibility of delivering a 10-week version of my feminist porn studies course in a local bar. One night a week for 10-weeks. Of course, in SF, the weekly bar night real estate is pretty much taken. Moreover, it’s maybe not the best solution for presenting complex material to everyday learners.
Over the past year-and-a-half, I’ve came to the conclusion that the Internet would be the perfect vehicle to reach these under served learners. Moreover, I’ve been talking about this so long with so many people, I definitely have accumulated a lot of “market research” about this idea. 1) I’ve learned that my potential learner wants a low price point (anywhere from 19.95 to 39.95) in keeping with popular online teaching platforms like Udemy. 2) I’ve learned that my potential learner, whether they have a degree or not, does not want to have to read. So, I’ll be teaching specifically to non-readers. This does not mean people who aren’t smart, intelligent, or even curious. Rather, people learn, increasingly, in different ways. Digital media has proliferated numerous forms of expression, many of which had previously been considered discarded in Western culture. Just think about the popularity of podcasts and the long discarded tradition of oral culture in the West. It’s definitely back with a vengeance.
This series of problems became a very personal challenge for me. I’ve wanted to do this for so long, I can’t believe I am actually on the verge of making it happen.
2. The Technical Headaches aka the Process
It’s worth remembering that Kafka’s novel, The Trial, is Der Process in the original German.
Image: Prototyping in Adobe XD. Screenshot by the author. Note: this is a pop-up image.
Image: XD e-Learning Courses Page
Image: XD Sample Lesson Page
Good design is a response to a need (see above). It isn’t just literally designing—as in graphic design. Instructional design means thinking thoughtfully about who your learners are. how you can best reach your learner, the technological tools you will use to accomplish your learning outcomes, and how you will direct the overall process.
Functionally building aspects of such an e-learning platform has been the most challenging part of the design process.
Initially, I installed Moodle on my own virtual private server (VPS) and experimented with delivering this content via Moodle’s powerful set of tools. Despite successfully running Moodle on my own server, I had to decide if 1) I wanted to be a Moodle administrator and 2) if Moodle was even a user interface that my learner was going to be able to easily, intuitively, and effortlessly navigate. And, despite having a great deal of experience building and delivering e-learning content in Moodle, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to best serve my learner’s needs.
This lead me to pursue building my platform based around WordPress. However, one of the primary technical hurdles to accomplishing this was figuring out how to deliver video files of longer duration. You do not want to host video files on the same platform that your LMS is built on. You want to use a separate server configured specifically for delivering and streaming video. Although I had considered using a video server in the Netherlands that specializes in pornography, I ultimately decided to go with Amazon Web Services. This meant figuring out how to keep my files on AWS private, while also delivering them solely to the domain of my platform. The final technical hurdle I had to overcome was delivering this video content via AWS CDN network, Cloudfront. AWS’s interface and instructional design is … um, interesting. So, this actually ate up a lot of my time. But, in the end, I was able to successfully master this.
3. Graphic Design and Prototyping
Logo for e-Learning platform prototype built in Adobe XD by the author.
"Women and Dog" by Marisol (1964)
I struggled quite a bit with the logo and site identity, which is both important, but also not that important considering how much work is involved in delivering an entire e-learning platform. Believe it or not, this logo was inspired by the work of Pop Artist, Marisol, whose work is fun, playful and unique. Unfortunately, early versions looked exactly like an updated version of the old MySpace logo, which was hilarious. Increasingly, I found the simplicity of this final design to be appealing. The “m” is formed by either skateboard or pills—you decide—depending on how you look at it. I experimented with other ways of spelling myLearn, but in the logo, keeping everything lower case just looked better. The logo was completely prototyped using Adobe XD.
Initially, I wanted to keep this project focused and contained. Good luck to me! I wanted to deliver, for this project, just the front end of the potential site as a prototype built in XD, keeping it simple and not including the backend of the learning platform. These initial mock-ups, designed solely to show functionality and interactivity, and to learn how to use Adobe XD, were precisely that. They were meant to simulate a single page website, as my final version of XD did.
Initial Adobe XD mock-ups for functionality by the author.
I won’t share my drawings as I have incredible shame about my inability to draw. However, I think the difference between where I started and where I’ve ended up in the design process is pretty cool. And I like the direction my design process, in the instructional design sense of that, is heading. I am excited to complete this e-learning platform in real life and make it available to my friends and other everyday learners.
My advice to most people about the things I do is: don’t try this at home! I tend to take on huge projects exactly like this one. I am genuinely humbled that I have the ability to build my dream e-learning platform, but I am also really stressed-out by how much work I still have to do, both technically, in building the platform, and socially. For example, I have to meet with an internet lawyer to set up a business license, go over my terms of service and use, and so on. On top of that, I face the task of re-making many of my teaching videos and integrating my own unique visual reading style that I am developing into the course so I can meet the needs of my learners. It’s going to be a lot! Also, it’s going to be really cool. Thanks for reading my blab-y blog post/presentation.
All images by the author except for Marisol, “Women and Dog” sculpture, 1964. Photo from https://annex.umma.umich.edu/post/51075415525/happy-birthday-to-marisol. Screen captures of other images that appear in the Adobe XD prototype are referenced in the course assignment submission.
For background on instructional design, see “Instructional Design Definitions” at Instructional Design Central, https://www.instructionaldesigncentral.com/whatisinstructionaldesign.