Explore the concept of Design Principles and Heuristics

Hand holding a chain of small lights - Photo by Joanna Kosinska on UnsplashDesign disciplines typically have a set of established Design Principles and Heuristics that are regularly applied when doing design work.  The nature of those Principles can be universal and apply across many disciplines (Recommended Reading: Universal Principals of Design, Lidwell, Holden & Butler). They can also be specific to a particular discipline.

Principles are a succinct way to capture experience, research and wisdom into a nugget of knowledge that is relatively stable to use and re-use. Heuristics (also known as rules-of-thumbs) are details, that sit under a Principle, of specific actions that are ways to apply the Principle.  Heuristics are ‘rules-of-thumb’ rather than ‘rules’ because they are mostly good for all situations, however, there are no guarantees that they are the perfect fit. It is up to the individual to make a decision about what is a good heuristic for a situation, and which heuristics best provide alignment to a Principle for a given context.


Principles for Learning Design and Delivery

At Questo, we have collated a set of Principles that we believe are relevant to contemporary adult learning. They embody our beliefs and perspectives on learning design and delivery. Here is a taste for your digestion.

Learning Design

These Principles apply when designing a Learning Event and making choices about the Content, Method, Resources and Experience. They are typically applied by a Learning Designer.

  • Learner-Centric: Content and Method are shaped with the primary perspective of what is best for the Learner.
  • Applicability: Content and Method are shaped to connect theory with real-world application that enables actual and quicker results from the learning.
  • Objective-Centric: Content and Method are shaped to achieve a specified Learning Objective that creates value for the Learner.
  • Purposeful Resources: Resources are made or acquired that support specified learning and teaching activities, fit-for-purpose and fit-for-audience.

Learning Delivery

These Principles apply when delivering a Learning Event and are typically applied by a Learning Facilitator/Teacher with the support of operational personnel.

  • Facilitative Style: Teaching is facilitative in a style that best serves and supports the Learner’s journey of learning for the individual in a group context.
  • Sociability: The learning experience is facilitated to utilise and optimise the human factors of sociability and community.
  • Cognitive Load: Resources and activities are mindfully used to minimise cognitive load for low-value interactions; cognitive capacity is preserved for high-value interactions including reflections.
  • Validation and Assessment: Learning is assessed and validated during and on completion of the Learning Event to ensure achievement of stated Learning Objectives.


Heuristics for Principles

For a single Principle, a set of heuristics can be defined. These are specific actions to take and choices to make to exemplify the Principles.  Examples are shown below for two Principles.

Learner-Centric: Content and Method are shaped with the primary perspective of what is best for the Learner. 

  • First understand the Learner’s Learning Need, including knowledge, skill and learning contexts.
  • Choose Content and Method that are the best fit to address the Learning Need.
  • Consider VARK (Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, Kinaesthetic) aspects of learning when choosing Method.

Facilitative Style: Teaching is facilitative in a style that best serves and supports the Learner’s journey of learning for the individual in a group context.

  • Be the guide from the side, rather than the sage from the stage.
  • Use Learning Activities for meaningful engagement with Content.
  • Expect and draw upon existing knowledge in the room.


Applying Principles and Heuristics in Learning Design

When designing and establishing a Learning-Teaching Business Capability, Questo works with the business sponsor to expose (and sometimes challenge) their beliefs and values about the type of learning-teaching that is provided to their clients. Agreed beliefs and values are embodied in Learning Design & Delivery Principles, and expanded with any specific standard heuristics, to consistency apply across all learning-teaching services.

When designing a specific Learning Event, Questo uses the Learning Event Canvas to capture the essential details on a single page and check for logic and coherency.  As a supplement to the Canvas, Questo works with the sponsor of the Learning Event to determine which Principles should be applied in the next stages of design, development and delivery.  The nuances of the right design can be captured by a set of valid and desirable Principles and associated Heuristics. If there is an existing library of Principles, these are re-used.

Heuristics can be used ‘before’ and ‘after’: ‘Before’ to shape choices of what action should take place; and ‘After’ to evaluate if the actual choices made and actions taken, align with the stated design. The latter is known as a Heuristic Evaluation. The Heuristic Evaluation can be a simple matter of ‘Pass’ or ‘Fail’ and is a way to check the quality of  the design.  Without a set of specified Principles applied to a learning event, it could be argued that the Learning Event was built (or developed) but not designed.   The essence of ‘design’ is making informed specific choices that are fit-for-purpose.