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Information architecture

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You may be asking, "What is information architecture (IA), and how can it help us in our work of online course design?" Horizon's simple definition is that IA represents the ways in which you will organize the learning pathway(s) in your course. Those who work in the IA field suggest three big ideas that inform how we should think related to the organization of an online course. The first two ideas come from Abby Covert and the third from Dan Klyn (see the links below).

  • Arrangement: Covert states, "Information Architecture is how we arrange the parts to be understandable as a whole ... IA is not directions for how something should look, but rather how it's intended to be perceived" [1]. The implication of this definition is that we need to take time to think critically about the arrangement of the various parts in our courses. We need to consider whether our arrangement will actually help learners achieve our intended outcomes. You might ask, "Is there a better way to arrange the various parts of our course that will lead learners toward our stated purposes?"
  • Taxonomies: Later in her talk, Covert uses the idea of taxonomies to explain that the categories we choose to organize information influence the meaning that others will take away from what we are wanting to communicate. Typical taxonomies used to organize online courses are often units and lessons, or LMS tools like Moodle books, lessons, and forum discussions, or independent versus collaborative work, or scaffolded drafts or assignments leading to a summative assessment. The point is that these organizational decisions reflect labels and categories (taxonomies) that we use to help learners make sense of the learning. What design taxonomies might help you organize your course?
We need to anticipate the ways in which users and information want to flow.
Dan Klyn
  • Stakeholder Preferences: A third important idea on how IA might be useful to your work in online course design comes from Dan Klyn. Klyn suggests that we need to “anticipate the ways in which users and information want to flow” [2]. By this, Klyn is suggesting that we need to work hard to discover how the learners, educational disciplines, training organizations, and communities of practice that we represent may want or need the learning to flow in order to be successful in our courses. These ideas point to the priority of evaluation in online course design. In essence, good IA seeks to devise ways to hear from stakeholders while also accommodating for change over time. How might you discover these preferences that inform your work of online course design?

IA helps us analyze to what degree and how our choices and organization of the information in our courses lead learners to the intended outcomes we have specified. Or said another way, IA focuses on the utility of our design work in accomplishing our educational purposes. However, IA as a field of study also encourages us to consider how our design work might be useful and desirable to the learner while also reflecting the priorities of our disciplines.


[1] Abby Covert, "How to Make Sense of Any Mess" (presentation at From Business to Buttons, April 15, 2016). Retrieved Oct. 2017 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XD2OkDPAl6s.

[2] Dan Klyn, "Explaining Information Architecture." Retrieved Oct. 2017 from https://vimeo.com/8866160.



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Communities of Practice