Linear and Non-Linear Thinking and LX

Hello LX Community Members!
For the last month of summer, my passion for teaching yoga and mindfulness inspires me to join more mindfulness online retreats and maybe even one in person this year! In one of the AMA sessions- (ask me anything) , my mind wandered into are area of investigating deeper linear and non-linear modes of thinking and how this is relational and fundamental to be aware of as instructional-learning designers. I keep my mind open and curious as why we seem to see so much linear design vs. non-linear designing. Do you feel the same way? What are your experiences, thoughts or reflections?

             **".... designing a course in a non-linear manner can allow for courses to be well-planned as well as being emergent, flexible, and student-centered.**


by: Matt Crosslin](

Matt is currently an Instructional Designer II at Orbis Education and a Part-Time Instructor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Previously he worked as a Learning Innovation Researcher with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His work focuses on learning theory, Heutagogy, and learner agency. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education

Linear (“Horizontal”) and Non-linear
(“Vertical Thinking”)
By Ed Winchester

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I think it depends @Roxann on the need. Early design of interactive video projects took me into non-linear modeling influenced by several constructivist design theories to support learners actively exploring the process and building their contextual construct of the content rather than being presented a straight path of data delivered.

The challenge was two-fold, often learners would start exploring and jump to web sites and get lost and for some topics there is a sequence that needs to be followed for work to be effective and correct. For example, a plumbing project needed to be linear in how the parts and pieces are put together but in creating case studies to add context to customer understanding, we built in some exploration options.

Design matters and I think a key is there isn’t just one way to support the learning journey.

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Hi Bill,
Thanks for your thoughtful response. In my early teaching career everything seemed to almost have a goal post analogy with only looking at getting to the finish line or completing the course, getting students over the finish line. Even in my post grad work in teaching and instructional design there seemed to be more open attention to optimizing a course with some room for student and instructor adjustments but almost always bringing it back to the path of completion. I think realistically this is the still the traditional model for many ed and organizations that has worked for years. Many questions arise- how well does it still work.

Do see or think there is accelerated acceptance of both andragogy and heutagogy, considering when priority design models are used skillfully, can increase or optimizer learner agency, even when designing experience outcomes for data and analysis and often linked directly to whether a course is offered or not? .

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I agree Roxann that that the traditional model is still very much in place and I don’t see that changing anytime soon for workforce training and performance support. To be fair, it comes down to time and from an employers perspective I can see time spent exploring, investigating, and following your curiosity is time not solving the problem at hand, time is money so focused solutions make sense.

Same with educational institutions, they have a set amount of time to meet outcomes pre-defined to enable them to meet the accreditation standards set in place to they can keep operating and turning out potential workers and future donors.

Where I see opportunities for more non-linear design is in early childhood and older adult education. For both age groups the driver is curiosity, interest in exploring topics by choice, and time is a variable more than a driver. A recent experience I’ve had is a group led by a facilitator who has a plan (aka course outline) but is willing to go down different pathways as participants raise questions and look for depth and breadth. This class is not driven by anything more than personal interests tho it does have a schedule however going in everyone knows that the outline is a framework of a suggested path that may, or may not, be followed.

Not sure I answered the question raised but I’m only on cup 1 this morning! :slight_smile: