This article introduces two collections released today by Hybrid Pedagogy: Designing for Care and Toward a Critical Instructional Design. Together, they strive to imagine more humanizing and problem-posing approaches to the design of education.

Both books are available in paperback (Designing for Care and Toward a Critical Instructional Design) and Kindle editions (Designing for Care and Toward a Critical Instructional Design); additionally, they can be read online in open-access versions (Designing for Care and Toward a Critical Instructional Design). Proceeds from both books help continue the mission of the Hybrid Pedagogy 501(c)(3) non-profit.

As we all witnessed our schools scrambling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the implications of instructional design had never felt so important—or so fraught. As our schools now scramble to “return to normal,” we wonder what we’ve learned? For many of us, the crisis brought into focus that  assumptions underpinning our instructional design, and our ID practices themselves, were failing our teachers, students, and institutions. Perhaps it was time for a new approach?

In March of 2021, Hybrid Pedagogy put out a call for chapters for a Critical Instructional Design Reader. That call asked the questions:

"What if technology had misled us, distracted us from what’s actually important for teaching online? What if technology has so far interpreted instruction for us—even from the days of correspondence courses—making the page, digital or otherwise, a surrogate for our pedagogies? How do we reclaim the relational, communal, intimate side of teaching when glass and pixels and apps stand between? When we undertake the work of defining and investigating critical instructional design, we must shift our focus from the screen to the student, from best practices to humanizing pedagogies."

Submissions from North America, Europe, Africa, and Australia came in with a wide scope for how and why a problem-posing approach of critical pedagogy can be applied to instructional design. We heard from instructional designers, educators, and students themselves. It quickly also became clear that while the COVID-19 global pandemic did not instigate these conversations, it certainly poured gasoline on the fire of implementing them. Care in online classes began to become a mainstream conversation among all kinds of educators as the pandemic created new tensions and exacerbated old ones on a literal global scale.

As the editors were sifting through the submissions we noticed two related, but divergent streams emerging. One stream was focused on creating environments and experiences grounded in care and compassion. It includes conversations about the logistical hurdles of building intentional hospitality into online experiences, but also the rewards of learners being included in the experience. The other stream focused on applying the ideals of critical instructional design to the course design process. These chapters challenged the assumptions of linear, western approaches to higher education and pushed the boundaries of what online learning can look like. The editors made the decision to gather these chapters into two sibling collections: Designing for Care and Toward a Critical Instructional Design.

Designing for Care

When we talk about designing for care, we are talking about creating, crafting, and teaching our online courses in the intentional narrative of a shared humanity. It's not feminine, masculine, or even gendered work. It's the work of treating people like the fantastic, curious, unpredictable, capable, and multi-layered people they are. It's refusing to see people as one dimensional, regardless of any system-assigned labels like student, teacher, instructional designer, disabled, at-risk, first-generation, or whatever. It's not just being compassionate towards our learners. Being kind to our learners is great, but designing for care is the intentional framing of course design and teaching through a structure that demonstrates care towards all those involved.

There is certainly a resistance to care in education. It's easy to dismiss care as a factor in the classroom to the realm of small, liberal arts classes in small, liberal arts colleges. It's also lazy thinking to do so. Perhaps the opposite of designing for care is designing for efficiency? Not caring is an amazingly efficient practice. There's no lying awake at night thinking about learners, there's no worries about the zoom screen that is not nor will ever be "camera on," there's no need to critique or, heaven forbid, change course design practices. Not caring is amazingly efficient. It's also not an option for educators who take a "problem posing" approach to humanizing online learning.

In the following chapters of this collection you will read how many people across many institutions have worked to design their online learning to be more humanizing to both the learners and the instructors. Some of these designs are theoretical, and some are grounded in practical application. Some worked splendidly, and some had aspects that fell painfully flat. You will hear from people who have been teaching and learning online for decades, as well as people whose first online learning experience came from being forced into a remote teaching context as COVID began raging globally.

Toward a Critical Instructional Design

The idea of critical instructional design, while it is still nascent and demands continued commitment from us as we strive to define it and enact it, is rooted in the ideas of critical pedagogy first laid out by Pablo Freire. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he famously compared traditional education to banking:

“In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing…The students, alienated like the slave in the Hegelian dialectic, accept their ignorance as justifying the teachers existence -- but unlike the slave, they never discover that they educate the teacher.”

Freire’s critique of the banking model of education is a cornerstone of critical pedagogy. And through that metaphor, he not only illustrates for us what is wrong with the status quo, he also begins to draw a path for us in another direction, leading us toward a problem-posing pedagogy:

“​​Those truly committed to liberation must reject the banking concept in its entirety, adopting instead a concept of women and men as conscious beings, and consciousness as consciousness intent upon the world. They must abandon the educational goal of deposit-making and replace it with the posing of the problems of human beings in their relations with the world.“

In the same way that Freire imagined a metaphor of capital (and its implied hoarding and distribution) as a metaphor for teaching, we would do well to understand the metaphors (and their implied practices) that underpin traditional instructional design. In fact, the roots of the field, in military and corporate training, point us in useful directions. Traditional ID often seems consumed with a militaristic and industrial ethos—and linear, mechanistic ways of describing learning (and, by extension, learners). It is demarcated by structures, rubrics, tools, and checklists. It fusses over design rules in which objectives are tidily mapped to activities that are neatly measured by assessments. In all this fussiness and tidiness, mechanics and measurements, it loses sight of the complex and messy humans that sit at its center—human teachers, students, and instructional designers. Freire describes the banking model of education as alienating and enslaving; similarly, traditional instructional design approaches separate learners from their humanity, expecting them to act as yet another (predictable and impersonal) cog in the industrial machine of learning.

Just as Freire insisted that we center humans in pedagogy, critical instructional design demands we find a way to center humans in the design of education. We must learn to live without our fussy tools and find new ways of imaging and describing the work of instructional design. What can we imagine, design, create, build that will liberate our design practices—and the humans inside of them—the way Freire helped liberate our classrooms—and the teachers and students inhabiting them? We hope that this volume is just the first exchange in a new and sustained conversation about critical instructional design.