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April 16, 2013

The development of music notation was crucial to the widespread propagation of beautiful music. While education is yet to develop a comparable system of notation, research on Learning Design Frameworks gives us hints of what this might look like in the future, informed by the wider Learning Design Conceptual Map. If a notation system (or systems) for describing teaching and learning activities is developed and widely adopted, its success will be due to a complex mixture of its accuracy, expressiveness and historical contingencies. Its ultimate goal, though, is not just representation for representation’s sake, it is to help educators to describe, share and adapt effective teaching and learning activities – that is, designing for learning, or Learning Design Practice.

It may be that the analogy of music notation will take us a considerable distance, but later be found to be missing some elements of education. The need for educators to adapt or “improvise” in the act of teaching in response to their interactions with learners seems one significant issue for deeper consideration. Perhaps Jazz music will provides an enriched music analogy – it is an example of music that can be retrospectively notated like other music, and yet the act of performance is often based on a combination of professional skill together with just the essence of some musical idea (as opposed to performance of a complete, static musical score).

In this paper we have used the success of Western music notation to help us imagine a similar system of educational notation. In practice, we already have a range of proto-notational examples, and it may be that several different education notation systems will arise in the future, each with different descriptive strengths and weaknesses. Within any given system, there may be multiple diagrams needed to convey the richness of teaching and learning activities (like the multiple diagrams of UML in software development). So while the analogy of music notation can take us far, we believe a unique solution for education will be needed that is unlike anything else. The challenge, now, is to create it.

If education fails to develop a general system of notation, it is hoped that even the attempt to do so will teach us deep truths about the fundamental nature of education, and that these truths themselves will contribute to more effective teaching and learning approaches in the future.


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