Partners in education

Today I phoned up a delightful human and fellow student in my cohort, Ms Megan Penner. We engaged in discussion about our professions, adult education, and how the two come together in the classroom as well as in real world, professional practice.  

Megan has been successful working as a professional hairdresser for 13 years. She is inspired by how other hairdressers mentored her and helped develop her career. This inspiration is her motivation to share her knowledge and in doing so give back to her community. 

Ms Penner takes note of both the trends in the hairdressing industry, as well as the phases they go through. Some of her customers hold on to a style for years while others adopt a new style as soon as it come out. It is critical that her students learn to “adapt to any request their customer may inquire about.” (Penner M., Hair Trends of 2019, Hair Therapy)  

Megan is actively engaged with how emotions play a role in learning. First in the salon, she finds herself educating customers on intimate details of hair and scalp care. Carefully reading a customer’s emotions helps her decide how to approach delicate topics and when and how to discuss needs and desires. Second, in the classroom, Megan recognizes the importance of teaching students about the importance of consulting with their customers. Part of her instructional focus will be on how to form emotional connections by positioning oneself empathetically and asking the right questions. 


Penner M., (2019) Hair Trends of 2019. Hair Therapy. Retrieved from

Mastery versus cohort learning

Subtitle: Tends in Education

1) What is cohort learning? 

It starts in kindergarten where we intake and begin processing kids by their date of manufacture. Although there are attempts to work with students independently, evaluating and giving them personal attention where needed, we continue to promote the expectation that the cohort will stay together and graduate at a fixed date. Although there are notable exceptions (i.e. self-paced, online courses) this model of learning persists throughout most formal education. 

One negative outcome is that students are shuffled up to the next level of learning, despite not having mastered the pervious one. Sal Khan in his TED talk describes his personal experience in grade 12, where kids in his cohort that should have been more than capable of doing advanced math where unable to due to a gap in knowledge. They dropped out convinced that they were missing the “math gene”.

2) How does mastery or competency training work?

Competency-based or mastery education is a “program of study with clearly defined, concrete, measurable objectives of which every student must have demonstrated mastery” before moving on to the next, more advanced level (Bell & Mitchell). Sal Khan compares it to martial arts where students must master a white belt level, regardless of age or time date of admission, before they are given their yellow belt.       

3) Why do this?

Bell & Mitchell note that mastery learning is the way training and education has been practiced for centuries and “it is only the logistical demands of modern educational settings that” force students to move on, with their cohort, to a more advanced skill before mastering the simpler one.  

4) Criticism 

I personally have wondered if some of the challenges faced by the cohort I am teaching is has less to do with competency and more to do with language challenges (for up to fifty percent of them English is a second language). However in a controlled study the “competency-based program participants seemed less adversely affected by [language and literacy difficulties] since they had greater responsibility for their own learning (Bell & Mitchell). The greater responsibility forced them find a way to learn it on their own. 


Bell, Sinclair & Mitchell, Robin (2000) Competency-Based Versus Traditional Cohort-Based Technical Education: A Comparison of Students' Perceptions, Journal of Career and Technical Education, from

Khan, Sal (2016) Let's teach for mastery, TED from 

UX Storytelling

Subtitle Trends in user experience design

In response to:
Nessler, Dan (2017), 6 storytelling principles to improve your UX, UX Collective

As a user experience (UX) practitioner and educator I believe that each micro component is critical to the overall design. In fact, small decisions are so important that the Creator is present in them (Mies). To name a few of those parts: user discovery and archetypal personas, problem definition and solution ideation, best practices and interaction patterns, user motivations and value propositions, rapid prototyping and usability testing. This presents three particularly challenging scenarios:

  1. When describing UX to students, “What is the scope of the discipline?” 

  2. When navigating the design process, “How do we keep a definite and clear sense of direction?”

  3. When articulating the solution, “Why is this experience going to be meaningful and memorable?”

It turns out that UX storytelling answers all three.

1) What is the scope of the discipline?

Describing UX storytelling feels, at first instance, like some sort of corporate misappropriation. However, it really is just a structure that sums up the parts. The following comparison table outlines the traditional elements of storytelling and their corresponding elements in UX.  

Traditional Elements UX Elements
Setting The context of use
Central character: protagonist Target user persona
Antagonist Sceptics (and those lousy competitors)
Supporting characters: sidekick, mentor The brand
Plot (narrative arc: setup, tension, climax, resolution) User story (journey: recruitment, engagement, conversion, retention)
Conflict Problem statement
Character development: redemption story Conversion: prospect to brand advocate
Theme Value
Diction Interaction

2) How do we keep a definite and clear sense of direction?

In the midst of design and development, the story keeps everyone oriented towards the final objective. Beginning with character motivation: once the research has been done, all interviews are complete, and the data has been analyzed, it affirms or disproves creative hunches. From here on forward each decision is weighed against the narrative: If an element supports it, keep it, if not revise it out.

3) Why is this experience going to be meaningful and memorable?

Fiction writing begins with developing a believable character (Gardner p15). The motivation, plot, narrative arc—essentially everything else—stems from this. Narrative is the way humans make sense of what is being offered, and (if it is compelling enough) a reason to choose it, and (just as important) a mnemonic to remember it. Ultimately, if the user is put first, at the inception, the product will include intrinsic value. This is the best story to tell.


Gardner, John (1991) The Art of Writing Fiction, Vintage Books

Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig (1959) On restraint in Design, The New York Herald Tribune, as quoted in

Canadiana Pictograms

First in a series of pictograms defining what it means to be Canadian.

Design is good for Marijuana

Wine has its winemakers and sommeliers, beer has its brewmasters and cicerones, so marijuana needs its guides: growers and tastemakers, doctors and shamans. Guides to flavour and aroma, describing consumption methods and tools, vetting recipes for edibles, advocating for ethical growing practices, teaching responsible use; prescribing dosages; leading through spiritual experiences. During the prohibition of marijuana, the guide was reduced to an anonymous dealer in a dark alley. As their new voices emerge they will need intelligent graphic language and visual vocabulary to eloquently describe a space that is largely unknown to the average user. 

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