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Observe, Reflect, Articulate

ORA is a way to help students to recognize how they learn - independent of learning style - and in so doing, learn better.


The point of learning is to get better at something.

The point of education is to provide an environment that encourages and rewards learning.

Instructors usually assume students can recognize when they are learning, that's they're conscious of the act so they can control it.

But this isn't the case. Students are rarely aware of when and how they are actually learning – or even what learning is. Many students still think learning is memorizing.

If students know how and when they learn, then they could direct their learning better – they would have learnt to learn; they would become better self-learners, and be able to keep learning after graduating.

Learning to learn is like learning to riding a bike. During the learning part, you focus on all the activities and movements carefully – you're conscious of it all. Once you've learnt, however, it all becomes unconscious and automatic. So learning is something you need to be conscious of initially, so that eventually it becomes second nature.

Problem: students are rarely given the opportunity to be conscious of the how they learn, even though that's how they learn to learn. Instead, students are just expected to learn. It's like asking a person to just start riding a bike without learning how to ride first.

The point of ORA is to help you become conscious of how you learn, which means you'll understand better what you need to do to learn, and will be able to do it whenever you want or need.

ORA is not just a design method, or an engineering method. It is a generic learning method that is suitable to any number of situations.

What is ORA?

The three activities of ORA are:

Observation: Gather and absorb ideas and information from all available pertinent sources.

  • Refer to four levels of questions to see what kind of information you should be looking for (for this activity, you want to focus on level 1 questions only).
  • Also, to take notes, refer to reporting guide; there is a section in that topic that summarizes how one should take notes. Taking notes is known to improve your ability to reason and remember things [GK06].

Reflection: Use existent knowledge and experiences to generate new ideas and connections to other information and knowledge.

  • One way to reflect is to ask yourself a structured set of questions; this is briefly described in four levels of questions. For this activity, you want to focus mostly (but not exclusively) on level 2 and 3 questions.
  • Reflection is noted as one of the most important tasks of a good designer. [Sch83]

Articulation: Write down carefully and crisply, the observations (from activity 1) and reflections (from activity 2) explaining new conclusions and learning.

  • The reporting guide has a good description on how creating a written document is the opposite of taking notes, and how one can go about it.
  • Also, of the four levels of questions, articulation involves coming up with your own opinions, theories, and ideas – that is, you want to focus on level 4 questions.

The articulation part of ORA is quite important because, according to constructionist learning theory, learning happens best when constructing something for others: that includes explaining your ideas to your teammates, and expressing your design decisions in writing and orally.

It is usually but not always the case that these activities happen in this order. Different people have different background knowledge and experience. So during reflection, one person may note a need for further information (more observation), while another person may suddenly realize a new conclusion (jumping to articulation).

One should not constrain oneself to do the three activities always in the same order, but rather to:

  • be aware that all three activities have to be done to learn, and
  • allocate time and effort to do all three activities regularly, which means
  • tracking how much time and effort you put into each activity.


GK06. a J.S. Gero and U. Kannengiesser. 2006. The situated function-behaviour-structure framework. Design Studies, 25:373-391.
Sch83. a D. Schön. 1983. Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. London: Temple Smith.
design/observe_reflect_articulate.txt · Last modified: 2020.03.12 13:30 (external edit)