Patterns are a systematic way to capture the experience of experts about good or best practices and document these nuggets of wisdom in an accessible way for designers. Patterns are appreciated by academics and practitioners alike because they describe and reason about good designs in a way that makes it possible for others to understand and reuse it.
Educational patterns capture good and successful practices and forms in educational contexts: methods, set-ups, scenarios, content and curriculum design, assessment, resources, tools, administration etc.
Patterns capture the regularities of good practices in order to reuse the proven methods, scenarios and content forms in new contexts addressing new design tasks. The core idea is to not reinvent the wheel but to preserve what has been successful in the past.
The pattern approach has its roots in the work of the architect Christopher Alexander who has developed a pattern language about towns, building and constructions. He captured whole forms of meaningful designs and connected them into a language. Alexander provides a basic definition of patterns:
„Each pattern describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice.“ (Alexander et al., 1977)
While patterns have started in the field of architecture, the approach is beneficial to all design disciplines. The community of object-oriented software designers has first adopted the approach. The software community also started to document pedagogical patterns.
“Patterns are designed to capture best practice in a specific domain. Pedagogical patterns try to capture expert knowledge of the practice of teaching and learning. The intent is to capture the essence of the practice in a compact form that can be easily communicated to those who need the knowledge. Presenting this information in a coherent and accessible form can mean the difference between every new instructor needing to relearn what is known by senior faculty and easy transference of knowledge of teaching within the community” (Pedagogical Patterns Project, 2007).
Today patterns have been written for many design disciplines, including business, organizations, human-computer-interaction, web design, online communities, e-learning and game design.
Goodyear (2005) summarizes the meaning of the pattern approach for the field of education: “…this pattern based approach has a good deal to offer to educational design, particularly in relation to:
• Providing the teacher-designer with a comprehensive set of design ideas
• Providing these design ideas in a structured way – so that relations between design components (design patterns) are easy to understand
• Combining a clear articulation of a design problem and a design solution, and offering a rationale which bridges between pedagogical philosophy, research based evidence and experiential knowledge of design
• Encoding this knowledge in such a way that it supports an iterative, fluid, process of design, extending over hours or days. “
Pedagogical patterns are often structures of activities and relations between learners, activities, and outcomes: “We define a pedagogical pattern as a teaching-learning activity sequence that is designed to lead to a specific learning outcome. Often we come across things called ‘learning patterns’ that are not specifically oriented towards a learning outcome; they are oriented towards a more general solution of a broader educational problem or goal” (Laurillard & Ljubojevic, 2011).
A special section of pedagogical patterns are e-learning patterns which many researchers have drawn attention to recently: “Researchers and practitioners in the e-learning field are attracted by the potential of design patterns, as a means to facilitate the capturing and sharing of different aspects of e-learning design expertise, to represent successful learning design models and to provide a lingua franca for joint course design” (Dimitriadis, Goodyear & Retalis, 2009).