CSS for learning

A cool feature of the modern World Wide Web that you use every day, whether or not you realize it, is its system of “Cascading Style Sheets”. The basic power that CSS gives to web designers is the ability to separate style from content. When you create a web page, CSS lets you focus just on the content. Then, somewhere else, you can describe the style, or “look” of the page.

This means, for example, that if you want to upgrade to a fancier font, or change the color of all your text box borders, or make the corners of all your buttons a little rounder, you don’t need to mess with (and potentially damage) the place where you wrote your valuable web content. Conversely, it makes it a lot easier to do things like run computer programs behind the scenes that update charts and other data. The output of those programs doesn’t need to know anything about the style or look of your web page.

I’ve been involved for a number of years in studying how to use games and other interactive media to help make learning for kids more fun and effective. A game or interactive experience is not only more engaging than a textbook, but it can also monitor how well a student understands what’s going on, and can continually adjust things to keep each learner in their own personal zone of best learning experience.

Not surprisingly, different kids respond to different approaches — there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to learning. There are young people who respond best to concrete examples, and others who do best with abstraction or symbolic approaches. Some prefer and learn best from things that are highly visual, or require speed and dexterity. Some learn best by doing things cooperatively, others through competition, and still others work best when working things through on their own.

Perhaps we should be working to define a system of Cascading Style Sheets for learning: The same subject areas, be they math, science, language comprehension, history or music, would be accessible to each learner via that learner’s own personal style filter. One student would go through a subject as a first-person shooter, whereas another could experience the same subject as a set of contemplative puzzles, while others could work through the same material as a set of cooperative building activities.

It would be interesting to work out, in this context, what form a CSS type of specification would take. What is the interface, in interactive learning experiences, between subject and style? And what is the best way to describe that interface?

2 thoughts on “CSS for learning”

  1. This is quite interesting. I like more someone explains the contents, but one of my friends prefers to read a book by his own. If we learn the same contents, e.g., I want to learn some math, I just select a pull down menu, lecture type, then I got a lecture, and my friend choose, book type.

    However, my imagination is not good enough to provide even just these two representations from one contents, about how to implement it like CSS.
    But maybe I should think about much simpler case just as a start… This is an interesting idea.

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