Future-Facing Instructional Design: Restrained Entanglement and Digital Wellness as Best Practice

How much do you know about digital wellness?

Digital wellness or digital wellbeing is one of the nine elements of digital citizenship. This short course assumes a working knowledge of digital citizenship but if you'd like to get a better grasp on it, there are several places you can look:

These sites provide a litany of information about digital citizenship and are designed for consumption primarily by teachers and parents - both key stakeholders for the educational institutions for which instructional designers work. You may choose to invest some time outside this course on any or all of these sites as an engagement activity to deepen your understanding of digital citizenship and our future as digital citizens.

Activity 1: Watch the video, take the quiz(20mins)

Before we look at betterness and begin to conceptualise digital wellbeing in the context of structured learning experiences, it's important to consider our own digital wellbeing. This activity asks you to visit some digital wellbeing websites and engage with the content on them. Steps for the activity will be laid out below. Please follow them in order and stop when directed to answer the questions in your journal. Remember - your journal can be digital or analogue, so long as you use it in a colourful and personally meaningful way! Let's get started:

  1. Go to Google's Digital Wellbeing website and watch the introductory video. In your journal, record answers to the following questions: 1. Were there any responses recorded in the video that surprised you? Why or why not? 2. Are you in control of your technology or is it in control of you? How do you know? 3. At 1:19, the gentleman speaking says "Technology is not so much a necessary evil, it's a necessary good that could go either way." Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not? What does this comment indicate about the future of technology use? 4. What might Google's agenda be in pursuing a digital wellness initiative?

  2. Once you have watched the video and answered the questions, scroll down to the section entitled "What does your current experience with technology look like?", click the "Start Experience" button and completed the interactive quiz. After you have taken Google's quiz, download and print Liberty University's Digital Wellness Quiz, complete it and score yourself. In your journal, record answers to the following questions: 1. How did taking these two quizzes raise your awareness of your current state of digital wellness? 2. Did you find one test more useful than the other? Why or why not?

  3. Finally, answer the following engagement questions in your journal: 1. Do you have a clear idea of what digital wellbeing is and your current level of digital wellbeing? 2. Was taking the quizzes enough for you to be able to formulate a clear plan for your future digital wellbeing and determine what strategies you might employ to achieve the goals of your digital wellbeing plan? 

What if the answers to the final engagement questions are no?(15-20mins)

If you don't feel adequately prepared to take charge of your digital wellbeing, you are not alone. One problem facing people who have a sense that their digital wellness isn't optimal is that taking a quiz designed to identify digital wellness issues doesn't actually educate them enough to make better decisions for themselves. Here are a few resources that might help you learn more about what you can do to improve your digital wellness. Choose one or two of them and read them. (Please note that the Google Digital Wellbeing OER takes an hour to do. It's great for deepening your digital wellbeing understanding but does not officially form part of this course's timeframe. If you do not have the additional time required to complete it, it is recommended that you choose other resources from the list.)

  1. Digital Wellness 101: Taking Control of Your LIfe Online - University of Washington
  2. Free Ditigal Wellbeing University Course - Online: Top Takeaways - Digital Wellbeing
  3. Digital Wellbeing - Tools to Balance Tech and Life
  4. Intro to digital wellbeing - Google Digital Garage

In your journal, list three strategies you intend to use to improve your digital wellbeing and give a one to two sentence rationale for your choice.

Betterness for students and education institutions: Two sides of the same coin

Let's take a moment to consider betterness. 

Education’s primary concern is betterness – the achievement of a state of superiority in comparison to others or one’s one previous state (Levitt 1988). You, as learning designers, have two primary stakeholders: the institution for which you are designing and the intended students that will use the course you design. Each of these stakeholders has their own betterness motivators.

Students’ betterness goals are most often focused on their job market prospects, but other motivators include personal interest and educational skills improvement (Freedman 2014). For educational institutions, betterness goals include implementing fast and inexpensive ways to enhance scholarship (Weller 2011) and finding more efficient and cost-effective ways to commodify the educational experiences they provide (Hall 2016). 

These betterness goals converge in a single space: the structured learning experience.

Activity 2: How well do you know your stakeholders?(10mins)

This next activity asks you to think about the betterness motivations of your key stakeholders. It assumes that you have not embarked on the process of designing courseware without attempting to understand the target stakeholders' needs, so it's best to select a piece of courseware for which you have a clear understanding of the stakeholders' needs and objectives. 

  1. Choose a piece of courseware you are designing.

  2. Take a page in your journal and write the word 'Betterness' in the centre. Draw some sort of border around it - a cloud, an explosion, a circle, a frame, scrolls and fleur de lis - it's entirely up to you. Now place a dotted line down the middle of the page and write 'Students' on one side and the name of the educational institution for which you work on the other. If you are a freelancer, choose a design project that you are working on and use the target students and educational institution from that project specifically.

  3. Now, jot down as many current reasons as you can think of that each set of stakeholders would use the course you are designing in a particular pen/font colour. When you have written all that you can, choose a different colour and write down all the future-facing reasons you can think of for your stakeholders. If you are working with colleagues on this short course, take a few moments to compare and discuss your ideas. Are there any motivators that they thought of that you didn't? What about things you thought of that they didn't?

  4. Take a look at the reasons you have recorded and answer the following questions in your journal: 1. Which current motivators are also future motivators for your stakeholders? What does this analysis reveal about how you're designing? Does anything in your approach need to change to accommodate possible future motivators or betterness goals? 2. What current and future motivators, if any, are shared by the two stakeholder groups? How entertwined are the institution's and the students' motivators? Are any motivators or betterness goals reliant on the other stakeholder's goals to be achieved?

Now that you've had a chance to consider your stakeholders' betterness motivations more deeply, it's time to look at digital wellness in the context of education and the level of entanglement it mandates.

Educational technology and digital wellness

Overuse of technology affects health(12mins)

The first step to conceptualising digital wellness in education is to gain an understanding of how digital technology use affects health.

Entangled students’ exposure to technology supports their betterness goals but comes with the drawback that overuse of technology causes health problems. For example, in their study on neck pain and technology use in children, Alzaid et al (2018) found that participants’ use of electronic devices was closely associated with the experience of neck pain and that there was a positive correlation between the time spent using devices and the likelihood of complaint. Further, Straker et al (2011) found that although it differed between genders, there was a relationship between computer use and neck-shoulder pain in adolescents.  

Regarding the effects of technology on mental/emotional health, Micsinszki and Stremler (2019) cite several studies that confirm that high use of technology is associated with poor psychological wellbeing, with pre-bedtime use specifically leading to difficulty falling asleep and shorter sleep duration. Another example is Thomée et al’s (2007) explorative study of the relationship between technology use and stress symptoms, depression symptoms and sleep disturbances. This study found that high amounts of communication technology use was associated with higher likelihood of prolonged stress and depression symptoms reported at a one-year follow up appointment. 

This list of studies and the health impacts they address is by no means exhaustive. Further, as new digital technologies emerge and their applications to education becomes more established, more research will have to be done to gauge their impact on user health.

To give you further insight into how digital technology can affect health, read the following two news articles and watch the following Ted Talk:

"Why our screens make us less happy" by Adam Alter available at https://www.ted.com/talks/adam_alter_why_our_screens_make_us_less_happy?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare

Bonus article: The following article is not compulsory reading for this course but is useful in considering whether your course design is pushing your students into a 24/7 access requirement and how that might affect their health and wellness.

If you are unable to access this article due to a paywall, consider reading about 24/7 - the art show that the article discusses. If you're local, you can see the show until 23 Feb 2020. Information about it is here. The article also discusses Claudia Hammond's book The Art of Rest, which you can read about here. The primary claims of the article are that the 24/7 world underpinned by entanglement is greatly impacting the health of the people in it and that rest is particularly affected because humans are often unable to rest at traditional times or in traditional ways.

Activity 3: What technology exposure are you designing into your courseware and how does it affect the students using it?(10mins)

This activity asks you to analyse the types of technology you are using in your courseware design and what effects those technologies might be having on your students.

  1. Using the piece of courseware you used for the previous activity, list all of the digital technologies that you are required by your educational institution to use in its delivery and all the digital technologies that you have opted to incorporate into your design. Include all the platforms you offer students the use of during the structured learning experience.

  2. Next, either copy and paste the image below into your digital journal or print it and stick it into your paper-based journal and label the different parts of the body that are are risk of being affected by the use of technology built into the course. In each label, state the technology you believe will affect that particular part of the body and the effect you think it will have.

  3. In your journal, answer the following questions: 1. How many different ailments can this piece of courseware contribute to? 2. Was there anything that surprised you about the results of your little analysis? Why?

Licensed under CC0 https://www.maxpixel.net/Male-Fig-Anatomy-Human-Body-Males-1859518
body_picture_djbaq3m.jpgLicensed under CC0 https://www.maxpixel.net/Male-Fig-Anatomy-Human-Body-Males-1859518

Licensed under CC0 https://www.maxpixel.net/Male-Fig-Anatomy-Human-Body-Males-1859518

When betterness and wellness compete

In an ideal world, courseware would be designed with a complete understanding of the possible consequences of the level of mandated entanglement. Unfortunately, this often goes unconsidered in the design process.

Entanglement sites provide incredible opportunities for achieving betterness but come with attendant yet avoidable health risks. Educational institutions purposefully design and implement these entanglement sites to optimise outcomes for their students and therefore have a responsibility for the consequences of their use. To avoid or mitigate risks arising from entangled learning, educational institutions using technology enhanced learning should require their designers to build mandatory digital wellness education into their courseware, and develop and adhere to a code of practice regarding course architecture. This course addresses both of these options in sections three and four respectively. By adopting these suggestions in your instructional design, you implement a restrained approach to designing digital entanglement processes that will ultimately benefit students by avoiding or mitigating the risk to their health that being entangled poses, thereby avoiding sacrificing wellness in the pursuit of betterness.

Time for a break! Hands off those phones...


Alzaid, A. N., Alshadoukhi, O., Alnasian, A., Al Tuwairqi, M., Alotaibi, T. M., & Aldossary, F. H. (2018). The Prevalence of Neck Pain and The Relationship Between Prolonged Use of Electronic Devices and Neck Pain IN: A Saudi Arabia, Cross-Sectional Study in Saudi Arabia. Egyptian Journal of Hospital Medicine, 70(11), 1992–1999. https://doi-org.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/10.12816/0044856 *Requires access

Freedman, N. (2014). Understanding motivation for study: Human capital or human capability? International Journal of Training Research, 12(2), 93-105. 

*Requires access

Hall, R. (2016). Technology-enhanced learning and co-operative practice against the neoliberal university. Interactive Learning Environments, 24(5), 1004-1015. 

*Requires access

Levitt, Ted. (1988). Betterness. (sustained success) (editorial). Harvard Business Review, 66(6), 9. 

*Requires access

Micsinszki, S., & Stremler, R. (2019). JPP Student Journal Club Commentary: Technology Use and Sleep in Adolescents With and Without Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 44(5), 527-529. Moeed, A. (2015). Science investigation : Student views about learning, motivation and assessment (SpringerBriefs in education). Singapore: Springer Science and Business Media.

Straker, Leon M., Smith, Anne J., Bear, Natasha, O’Sullivan, Peter B. & de Klerk, Nicholas H. (2011) Neck/shoulder pain, habitual spinal posture and computer use in adolescents: the importance of gender, Ergonomics, 54:6, 539-546, DOI: 10.1080/00140139.2011.576777

Weller, M. (2011). Digital, Networked and Open. In The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice (pp. 1–13). London: Bloomsbury Academic. Retrieved November 11, 2019, from 


Thomée, S., Eklöf, Gustafsson, Nilsson, & Hagberg. (2007). Prevalence of perceived stress, symptoms of depression and sleep disturbances in relation to information and communication technology (ICT) use among young adults – an explorative prospective study. Computers in Human Behavior, 23(3), 1300-1321.

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