Hostile Instructional Design

Hostile Instructional Design

June 26, 2020 0 By JR

So, the other day on Twitter I saw an article about another Canadian city that was employing sound in public spaces to drive away anyone who might camp there over night. It was specifically targeted at the homeless as you might have guessed. The use of this kind of urban design is pretty disgusting, and it has a name and pretty long history, Hostile Architecture.

I first encountered the concept of Hostile Architecture chatting the designers at a Creative Mornings event (at least I’m pretty sure that was it). The Camden Bench was the example talked about at first, a bench that is sloped so one could not lay on it and sleep for example. Its design also would prevent skateboarders from using it for tricks. When you look around you own city, you won’t necessarily see this bench, but have you seen seats at bus stops with arm rests about “one body width” apart? Have you seen angled concrete raises or planters? Have you seen metal tubing along long concrete ledges? These are all examples of Hostile Architecture.

Both in my Instructional Design reading, and currently in the UX/UI program I am taking, design is presented as something that should be inclusive and that we, as designers, should empathize with our users. Hostile Architecture takes a different approach. It positions class and clients above potential uses (read, is designed to be a jerk to users) and employs three strategies: natural surveillance (often complimented by mechanical surveillance), natural access control, and territorial enforcement. If you work in Instructional Design, think about those three measures for a minute. They should seem very familiar. In how many of our designs as IDs have we drifted from the purpose of instructional design, to design a learning environment that supports the attainment of learning goals (I have a better definition somewhere), and instead embraced what can be called Hostile Instructional Design?

Educational technology on the whole has jumped in feet first into surveillance. From the design of digital exam labs, to all kinds of monitoring software for exams, to learning analytics (yes this is surveillance), and more. Consider the tools and designs implemented. Is the purpose to promote learning or is it to surveil the learners?

Access control from the architecture perspective is about clearly delineating between public and private spaces. Fencing, single entry/exit points, maze entrances to public washrooms are all examples from the built environment for natural access control. I mostly design online courses, not classrooms, but I do see parallels here. The classic metaphor for a learning management system for example is the “walled garden”. There is one entrance and one exit. There are fences all around it. When you enter it, you are not longer in a public space like the web and that move is often very clear. I think about other kinds of access control. A Twitter colleague from the UK brought up click-through elearning the other day. How many times have you had to suffer through click through elearning where you couldn’t even skip past the video and demonstrate you already know the content. The environment you have been placed in in that case is so clearly not “your space” for learning, but a private space you are allow in as long as you follow the planned experience.

Territorial enforcement leans on the previous concept of access. Territorial enforcement further delineates between public, pseudo-public, and private spaces. Some examples from the built environment might include: scheduling activities to encourage “proper use”, restricting private activities to certain areas, maintaining the premises to communicate presence, placing amenities¬† common areas in an institutional setting. For Instructional Design what parallels do you see? If I bring students into an LMS is it well maintained? Have we created amenities like forums and other content areas rather than letting students create their own spaces, or shape spaces for themselves? What is included in our designs that “encourages proper use”?

These are just a few initial thoughts, but a useful lens to consider our designs, and what we are asked to do through.


Grind-prevention.jpg is in the Public Domain.