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

Educational institutions have a responsibility

Despite having betterness as a common goal, students and educational institutions have vastly different roles in education and these roles come with differing levels of responsibility regarding the construction of learning experiences. Essentially, the student is a user – an actant that engages with learning experiences once they have been designed and built. Conversely, the education institution is an architect – a creator with the power to determine the pedagogical tools used to deliver the learning experience and level of compulsory interaction between the students and those pedagogical tools. The choice to use digital technology-based pedagogies for structured learning experiences is therefore within the purview of the educational institution offering them, not the student engaging with them. 

Because educational institutions engage in the production of ‘future-oriented knowledge claims’, they meet Pollock and Williams’ (2010:532) definition of a promissory organisation. As promissory organisations, they play a role in both conceptualising their future entanglements and in bringing them into being (Pollock & Williams 2010:526). Further, they set expectations around these entanglements, their use and potential as tools for achieving betterness, and how students understand the risks and opportunities that accompany them (Pollock & Williams 2010:527). Presently, the primary concern in the design and application of technology is centred on privacy, security and data-collection (Waddell 2017). Educational institutions, however, must recognise that they set the best-practice and ethical standards around learning experience design and thereby have a unique ability to promote healthy entanglement and digital wellness. They should also set students’ and teacher’s expectations around how entangled they should be, and the level of self-management required to maintain healthy entanglement.

The power to control the degree of compulsory entanglement in education rests with the institution and it has a responsibility to ensure that it avoids or mitigates the risk of ill effects to the students due to the amount of technology use it mandates. Read the following article by Waddell (2017) to get an insight into when the risks of ill effects should be considered:

This article argues, among other things, that if educational institutions intend to address wellness issues for their students, strategies for doing so must be implemented while the learning experience is being designed, not after. Two possible strategies to address the risk of harm to the student could be considered here: first, that institutions avoid the risk of harm by adopting a code of practice around course design that ensures the level of entanglement required by the course is unlikely to produce ill effects in the students; and second, that educational institutions mitigate the risk by incorporating mandatory learning around digital wellness into their learning experience architecture. We have already considered how mandatory learning might be incorporated into digital education in the previous Section and our final learning activity of the course will address the creation of a code of practice.

The future of digital technology in education should include options for its omission (17mins)

Technology vs Digital Technology

Watch this video on different ways of looking at technology in education:

A different way to think about technology in education: Greg Toppo at TEDxAshburn

Much of the current debate around technology in learning focuses on the effectiveness of technology-based pedagogies and their uptake by teachers. Given education’s aforementioned preoccupation with betterness, this focus on how technology-based pedagogies improve student outcomes is unsurprising. However, non-digital pedagogies remain a legitimate and useful part of educational architecture. Norman and Furnes’ study on metacognitive experiences and learning found that there were “no systematic differences between digital and non-digital learning contexts in terms of the degree of correspondence between metacognitive monitoring and learning outcome” (Norman & Furnes 2016:308). In further support of the use of non-digital pedagogies, Cabot’s (2016) consideration of personal learning ecologies found that the study participants had formed learning ecologies with both digital and non-digital pedagogical tools.

Naturally, the first question many instructional designers ask is "How do I omit digital technologies when I am required to create structured learning experiences for an entirely digital platform?" This question concerning how to restrain entanglement when the delivery platform is inherently entangled is legitimate. It is possible to restrain entanglement within these constraints, but it requires the instructional designer to switch the direction of their thinking. Instead of focusing on how to build engaging activities within the digital platform, they must consider how they can design equally engaging learning activities that are described on the digital platform but require the learner to perform them offline. Simply put, activities should direct students away from the digital device they use to access their learning experiences and have them complete activities that avoid entangling them with other digital devices.

First do no harm

Since the negative impacts of digital technology on both physical and mental/emotional health are well-documented and non-digital pedagogies are demonstrably capable of producing the betterness-based outcomes students and teachers are seeking, institutions should ensure that the benefit of using digital technology is worth the cost. This is not to say that digital pedagogies should be entirely omitted from educational architecture – far from it. It is a suggestion that there is a case for building a code of practice for entangled learning experience design that shows restraint in the mandated use of technology. These parameters would ideally capitalise on the benefits of technology and digital pedagogies while assisting students and teachers to avoid levels of technological use and exposure that are likely to be detrimental to their wellbeing.

Further, educational institutions have a moral obligation to consider them in their learning experience design in order to avoid harm to their students (Kennedy 2015) and to show restraint in the technologisation of their learning experiences. To guide the design process, it is critical to establish a standard for how much entanglement and technologisation should be considered safe to be incorporated in the architecture of learning experiences.

The following article reviews future-facing tech design and how it should consider its human actants:

This article is essentially a review of John Markoff's Machines of Loving Grace and Wendell Wallach's A Dangerous Master: How to keep technology from slipping beyond our control. If you are unable to access it due to a paywall, the links above will enable you to get an insight into the books themselves.

Activity 8: Switch the witch

This activity pertains to the course you've been examining throughout this learning experience.

  1. Review your entanglement diagram and your technology impact analysis.

  2. Determine all the areas you could opt not to use digital technology and still provide an effective structured learning experience.

    Engagement questions for your journal: 1. How would your prospective student base change if you omitted all digital technology? 2. Which digital technologies could you omit and still provide broad access to your course? 3. Which technology is being used for the sake of using technology and does not actually contribute to the student's user experience? 4. Which digital technologies and platforms enhance the student's learning experience?

Final Activity: Codifying practice (30minutes)

This professional development course has slowly built towards an attempt to codify your instructional design practice by asking you to think about various digital health and wellbeing considerations that should form part of your instructional design approach. Although we recognise that the research required to establish a baseline for safety and a standard for best practice has not yet been done, you are able to use what you've learned to begin the process of setting practice standards that you and, potentially, your colleagues can adopt that embed the need to consider your students' digital wellbeing in your design process.

Using the following topics as prompts, write a series of statements describing the minimum standard of practice you believe is necessary to ensure that your design process will not unnecessarily expose your students to technology overuse, now and in the future.

  1. Mandatory use of digital technology
  2. Restrained entanglement - use of technology where it enhances the learning process and omission where it does not
  3. Ethical approaches to course design
  4. Inbuilt digital wellness education
  5. Stopping cues
  6. Alternative, non-digital pedagogies
  7. Student autonomy in digital technology use
  8. Informed consent
  9. Competition of betterness and wellness

Where possible, seek feedback from peers and colleagues on your code of practice. Refine your code according to the feedback received.

Use it to underpin your approach to digitally healthy course design.

Please note that although there is only 30 minutes allotted to this activity, it is worth spending additional time on if you have clear ideas you wish to capture and are unable to do so in the time allowed. It is strongly recommended that you review the output of this codifying activity in a week's time to determine whether you have created the basis for a code of practice to your satisfaction or whether more could be added to improve it. It is also strongly recommended that you treat this document as 'living' and update and share it as needed.

Time for a quick break! A drink perhaps?


Cabot, M. (2016). In or out of school? : Meaningful output with digital and non-digital artefacts within personal english learning ecologies.

Kennedy, B. W. (2015). 'Do no harm' in training. Lab Animal, 44(6), 235.

Norman, E., & Furnes, B. (2016). The relationship between metacognitive experiences and learning: Is there a difference between digital and non-digital study media? Computers in Human Behavior, 54(C), 301-309.

Pollock, N., & Williams, R. (2010). The business of expectations: How promissory organizations shape technology and innovation. Social Studies of Science, 40(4), 525-548.

Waddell, K. (2017) ‘The Internet of Things Needs a Code of Ethics’, The Atlantic, 1 May. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/05/internet-of-things-ethics/524802/

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