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The International Journal of Designs for Learning and the differences among Design Research, Design-based research, and Design Science

I was very happy to receive an invitation to join the advisory board of the International Journal of Designs for Learning (IJDL) yesterday. IJDL started in 2010 with a purpose to fill a very specific niche in scholarship in instructional design. Until that time, there was no venue exclusively set aside for design cases, rigorous analyses and reflection on specific designs for learning (Boling 2010; Smith 2010; Howard 2011). I was in the right place at the right time. I had been a volunteer assistant editor for Tech Trends’ Instructional Design Portfolio feature, a regular column allowing authors to share designs. The ID Portfolio was a fantastic first step and had expanded the field’s awareness of this type of research. However, the venue limited the length of the articles and was print media despite authors’ and reviewers’ desires for more space and oftentimes animated or interactive expressions of the designs. Design cases in IJDL are essentially unlimited in length (the guidelines say 9,000 words, but more than 11,000 is common), and the format is flexible—multimedia is the preferred choice of expression for approximately 20% of the authors who contribute to IJDL. While my dissertation was not a design case, I became very interested in this form of scholarship and subsequently wrote my own case. I also wrote an analysis of the difficulties authors find in publishing this form of design research, and a definition of this form of knowledge building. What an opportunity it was to work with Gordon Roland, Kennon Smith, and Elizabeth Boling, and all the advisory board members in those first two years the journal was up and running. Recognition for this type of research is growing, and it should be. Both practitioners and scholars of instructional design need to understand just what the goals of the different forms of research are in order to make practical decisions about where they invest their reading time. Alan Foley presents it well in his graphic that he uses to depict to graduate students the different types of research in their field that include the term “design” in their title. See the graphic below.

Alan Foley's Graphic

Graciously lifted from

For quick reference, here’s the consensus that’s growing around these terms: Design research has two types—one that speaks to how we design using various traditional methods of research, and another type, the design case, which speaks to the precedent a designer, or someone close to a design, has drawn out of the process and product of a specific design (Boling 2010; Howard 2012). Design-based research (Squire & Barab 2008) speaks to theories using design as the means for making those insights. Research in Design or Formative Evaluation is a type of research where the goal is to improve a specific design. Design and Development Research aims to establish empirical grounds for design practices. And finally, Design Science, a term Kevin Williams introduced to me, is parallel to design-based research placing emphasis on abstraction and theory building via the act of design in Information Systems. Check out this link to see just how similar the two terms are defined between Information Systems research and Instructional Technology research.