The SSDL Paradox

(Click on images to enlarge)

In the dCCDFLITE project, our aim is to develop a course that promotes entrepreneurial skills by bringing together IT students and technical employees to work together on identifying an innovative idea as a business plan.

  • We will develop the course using dCCD.
  • We will also introduce participants to CCD as a business process for bringing new ideas to market.

Concurrent Design (CCD) originated in the space industry, has been adopted by the aeronautical industry and has been adapted for use in procurement and elearning development. An intensive face-to-face process, CCD has also been adapted for use online for distributed teams (dCCD).

We have identified some key contents for the FLITE course. (FLITE = Framework for eLearning in IT Entrepreneurship)

  • Personal development
  • CCD processes
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Creating a business plan
  • Knowledge transfer processes

But what about the pedagogy? Why does everything point to structured or staged self-directed learning (SSDL)? And if so, why have we decided on SSDL as our pedagogic approach? In fact there are a great many factors which point in the direction of SSDL. The name dates from 1991 and was proposed by Grow and is illustrated below.


The SSDL graphic suggests several scenarios.

  1. One scenario is that we can classify learners according to the level they have reached.
  2. Another scenario is that we can classify learning outcomes according to each level.
  3. A third scenario is that an individual learner can progress from being a first or second level learner to a self-directed fourth level learner.

In the dCCD FLITE project we would argue that the learning outcomes should start at least from stage 2 in the SSDL model since we are trying to promote entrepreneurial skills of independence and design thinking.

A major EU report on the state of learning in the Union concluded that many trends pointed to a more personalised and differentiated learning future as shown in the summary diagram below.

Learning landscape EU

Promoting entrepreneurial skills in anything other than a self-directed learning way would seem contradictory. Though it happens. Eg the popular Coursera MOOC Developing Innovative Ideas for new Companies: The First Step in Entrepreneurship assesses a great deal of the course through multiple choice quizzes.

But what is the alternative? How can we facilitate self-directed learning? Jennings’ graphic tells us that we cannot plan SSDL but that we can only facilitate it.


Our project centres on a series of perplexing challenges.

  • Is it not paradoxical to plan self-directed learning?
  • Is structured self-directed learning possible (SSDL)?
  • Can we develop SSDL using CCD? Using dCCD?

This move towards SSDL is also captured in the recently coined heutagogy which sits atop a pyramid with pedagogy aimed at children at the bottom and andragogy in the middle aimed at adults who are looking for immediately useful guided learning.

Learning events versus learning process

For a learning event to fit within a public education paradigm there has to be a beginning and an end. There usually also has to be a notional set of hours of study associated with the learning outcomes in order to release staff salaries and other resources as well as in order to set a value on the end result for the learner (eg ECTS). But there are alternative frameworks, for example in business, where organisations are beginning to work on the idea of creating a Knowledge Base to which employees contribute and from which employees learn on a just in time basis. One successful example of this was the UKs BT Dare2Share initiative.

One attempt to change learning from an event to a process is Flate Paulsen’s Cooperative Learning approach epitomised by his new NooA Global Learning Portal. There, learners go through a pre-determined course at their own pace but benefit from collaborative work with peers too by hooking up with study buddies.

And the idea of building a Knowledge Base describes not just a linear process but a developmental process whereby the size and quality of the Knowledge base keeps increasing.

Knowledge Building

One approach with promise is Knowledge Building which was developed for use in schools but which provides a great bridge to the world of work by promoting a discovery and research attitude to learning. For example in The Knowledge Building Paradigm: A Model of Learning for Net Generation Students, Philip states:

Sustained innovation, progressive research, and idea-centered education are all basically the same knowledge building process, carried out in different contexts. Thus the skills and habits of mind acquired through classroom knowledge building are essentially the same skills and habits of mind that figure in workplace contexts of creative knowledge work.

In KB the teacher provides a broad open topic as a starting point. The children then work in small groups of up 6 or 8 (8 is also an ideal group maximum suggested by Sugata Mitra’s SOLE methodology). Learning proceeds through the formulation of questions.

So in dCCD FLITE some trigger questions could be

  • What does it take to be an entrepreneur? (covers areas of personal development and entrepreneurial skills)
  • How does CCD work and could it help us in business planning? (covers CCD)
  • How could we use the Business Model Generator approach to help create our business plan? (covers business planning)
  • How do we choose an idea to build our business plan on? (covers knowledge transfer)

The next stage is to engage in some knowledge building processes through inquiry.  It is important for this to be transparent so that learners can at each stage document knowledge notes such as:

  • My theory
  • I need to understand
  • This theory cannot explain…
  • This theory explains
  • New information

In an ideal conception of Knowledge Building, learners can re-visit their ideas months or years later either to see how their learning has progressed since then or to explore new avenues of what once interested them. This is obviously not practical in a short course but we could spend some time considering how to conserve the knowledge base for individuals (as was achieved for example in BTs Dare2Share initiative). The Knowledge Building approach has a specific database program called Knowledge Forum associated with it in which knowledge notes are made and then arranged in different views depending on the connections made between the notes. This suggests that mind mapping software may have a role.

Design thinking and CCD

The Knowledge Building approach with its iterative and reflective approach to learning sits well with a Design Thinking approach where learners decide on a problem to solve, explore different ways of solving the problem and try these ideas out in an iterative approach which is very reminiscent of an entrepreneurial process and also very reminiscent of the ConCurrent Design process. See the two graphics below, the first one illustrating the Design Thinking process.

design thinking

Compared to the ConCurrent Design process shown below there is a very close mapping of the two processes.

CCD sessions

So what of the paradox? Can we plan SSDL?

We can certainly aim to start at the lower stages of the SSDL model and progress to the heutagogical fourth stage. If we adopt some of the processes suggested by Knowledge Building, Design Thinking and CCD, we can increase learner autonomy. So maybe the circle can be squared after all. Our first online session is scheduled for December 20th and at that point we will begin to see if we can address the paradox.


Design thinking skills

EU “The Future of Learning: preparing for change” 2011

Flate Paulsen, M & Dalsgaard, C ‘Transparency in Cooperative Online Education’, The International Review of research in Open and Distance Learning, June 2009

Green, J ‘Developing Innovative ideas for New Companies: The First Step in Entrepreneurship’ Coursera

Grow, G 1991 Staged Self-directed Learning

Knowledge Forum elements

Jennings, Charles permission to use social learning graphic

Mitra, S SOLE Kit

NooA Global Learning Platform

Philip, D ‘The Knowledge Building Paradigm: A Model of Learning for Net Generation Students’


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