International Society for Design and Development in Education

A background paper

This Society has a strategic goal – to improve the impact on education of the design and development of educational materials, particularly in mathematics, science and technology.

To this end, ISDDE seeks to forward the development of a coherent, mutually-supportive and self-critical professional design and development community, which aims:

  • to raise awareness, particularly among decision makers and in the academic community, of the nature of high-quality design and systematic development and its value in achieving planned educational improvement;
  • to raise standards by the dissemination of good practice;
  • to learn from each others’ experience, and help others to do so;
  • to further improve methods of design and development, including the building of theory that takes into account work in other fields of design, of pedagogy, and of cognitive science;
  • to develop the theoretical and conceptual infrastructure of the field.


It is surprising that no community of educational designers has existed up to now, nationally or internationally. There are societies of educational researchers, administrators, teachers and those involved in professional development, but no community of those who design and develop the materials that these groups use in their work. Around the world, separate design groups or individuals use more-or-less systematic, more-or-less research-based methods for the development of more-or-less imaginatively designed educational materials and processes. The range of quality appears to be enormous, as one would expect, though the superficiality of most of the evaluation makes this, too, uncertain.

In any field with obviously serious consequences, this would not be tolerated. No-one would fly in an airplane or allow their children to be treated with drugs that had been as casually developed and tested as are the products and processes used in education. But the “deaths” in education are less dramatic – students who fail dismally to reach anywhere near their potential. While there are other factors than their schools which contribute to these failures, there is enough experience around the world to show that the quality of the “tools” used in schools can make a huge difference. The goals we set out above seem an essential part of any improvement strategy. Though individuals may make outstanding contributions, no field can progress without effective communication among its practitioners.

A few years ago, in response to this need, a group of developers from several countries recognized the need for a structure of support for such a community – hence the International Society for Design and Development in Education. Since then there have been informal discussions on the best way forward, and some exploratory work on the design process itself. Over the same period, there has been growing interest in design within the educational research community – there are even some signs of political recognition of its importance.

The need for good tools

The need for educational materials of high quality is now widely recognized. If the classroom is to provide a stimulating and supportive learning environment for students, the nature of the learning activities is central. In most classrooms these are, more often than not, based on textbooks or other published learning materials. This is appropriate since few teachers have either the wish, the time, or the high-level abilities in design that are needed – understandably, most are performers rather than designers of curriculum.

If the materials are important, the process of their design and development surely deserves continuing attention. The questions this raises are at the heart of this meeting. Are there effective mechanisms, for example, for:

  • finding and encouraging the most talented designers?
  • developing their design skills?
  • developing and refining the materials, from first draft to final product, in a systematic way?
  • multi-dimensional evaluation of the effectiveness of different materials

and many more, some of them set out in the Provisional Program. Indeed, is there any attempt to optimize any aspect of the process?

Though there has been occasional attention to some of these questions, that is uncommon. The design and development process which is used to produce educational materials varies greatly from country to country, and from subject to subject in the curriculum – and for no obvious reason other than custom and lack of attention to the possibilities of doing better. In some cases, classroom learning is based on a book, written by an experienced and talented individual to communicate his or her own professional experience as a teacher. In others, a team designs and develops materials over a period of years, through several stages of refinement based on trialing the materials in classrooms. What are the strengths and weaknesses of these and other approaches? How can we establish a firm basis for high-quality ‘engineering’ of materials and processes?

Strategy for the conferences

In September 2005, the Society held its first conference, in Oxford. Its goal was to discuss the goals of the Society, and to plan how progress might be made towards them. Major issues of design and development were raised and considered. It was decided to move forward, and to develop a program of activities to that end.

It now seems clear that a focused meeting of leading designers and developers from around the world is a useful step in moving towards the goals outlined above through intensive work on moving through issues of principle towards practical outcomes. We believe that this promises potential benefits for education globally.

Educational design and development is not a field with a well-established theoretical and empirical structure within which the main source of progress is through individual contributions that can be reported by their authors. On the other hand, all the participants at the conferences have substantial experience in it, evidenced by successful examples of design and development work. The strategy grows from these two factors.

The main features are:

  • to build the conference around questions in each of the main areas;
  • to start divergent, becoming more convergent;
  • to seek outcomes with practical impact, while beginning to build theoretical infrastructure.

To this end the conferences are relatively small (less than 80 people), so that there will be:

  • multiple opportunities for all participants to input their experience and ideas, reinforced by exemplification;
  • progress on key questions will be through discussion in small-enough groups, leading to draft papers for later development into a book by those who wish to remain involved.

More details of ISDDE conferences…

The Outcomes

We envisage a number of important outcomes from the conferences. These include plans for:

  • heightening public awareness of the potential contribution of better design and development to the quality of educational provision, and of how it may be achieved;
  • building an international design and development community in education, including
  • establishing a communication network, within and without the community, internationally and within individual countries;
  • moving to the establishment of an open Society (membership of ISDDE is currently by invitation; see the current Constitution below) to nourish and encourage these links, and the goals set out above;
  • a set of papers, developed from the papers submitted to and the discussions at Conference, which address critical issues in educational design and development, these leading to
  • a published book that sets out the goals, discusses key issues in their realization, and put forward plans for action;
  • exploration of various ideas, eg for evidence-based design guides for specific contexts and products;
  • bridge building between the design and development community and other groups in education including, practitioners, researchers, administrators, and cognitive scientists including psychologists.

Significant progress has already been made on some of these.

Comments and suggestions for the development of this document will be welcomed. Please send them to .

constitution for ISDDE is available.