Technology, Practice, and Education: A Model for Mastery

Presented by: Jeff Nordhues MID and Dana Vaux

This paper proposes a model for integrating technology into design practice and education. The framework includes the cognitive and knowledge dimensions from the Revised Taxonomy, overlaid with Polanyi’s concepts of subsidiary and focal awareness (Krathwhol, 2010; Polanyi, 1958). These two theories merge to create a new and simplified model consisting of two dynamic parts: base thought and elevated thought. The framework articulating the base/elevated thought model serves as an unbiased means of analysis applicable for both design education and design practice with regards to the usefulness, application, and integration of technology into the design process.

The procedural details, steps, or outside influencing factors of a master craftsman, or “focal awareness," still exist while a master presses on toward a goal; however, they fall into a state of “subsidiary awareness” not requiring direct focus of the master to reach the goal. This progression cannot be short-changed, rushed, or transferred from master to apprentice verbally or diagrammatically. For the novice, it requires assimilation through an active and direct teaching relationship with the master (Berrett, 2014; Polanyi, 1958).  

The proposed base and elevated thought model provided a means of analysis for the Revised Taxonomy and Polanyi’s concepts at a simplified level as an abridged entry point for the proposed framework. The framework was used to analyze the mastery of technology in novice designers through the use of a model with inputs from academic design course content and design industry partner feedback. Examined contents within the framework include design program size, diversity of academic courses taught, types of technology, transferability to industry and academia, as well as consideration of current theory regarding the flipped classroom. At the core of the framework are concerns for the person, as opposed to a pedagogical method or industry standard, including academic, student, and professional.  

A change in instructional processes and methods after implementing the base/elevated thought model resulted in improved student mastery relative to more time with the "master," or in this case, the course instructor. Allocating base knowledge to other means of instruction (for example online tutorials or flipped classroom techniques) freed up the master's time, and allowed the master to engage novices in more direct student-instructor contextual learning requiring higher levels of cognitive thinking. 

Technology is a tool with many ends utilized within the design process requiring both base and elevated thought in order to generate creative solutions. However, it is essential designers employ the right tool for the desired production aesthetic or functional outcome, not technology for technology’s sake. Designers must learn how to master the learning of technology, not simply the technology itself. This is applicable for design practice where novice designers may be required to learn to use technology and apply it to the design process at an advanced cognitive level without direct supervision for acquiring the technical skills. While this paper utilizes the proposed framework within the context of a technology-focused model, its application is also transferable to other contexts where base and elevated thought are needed for mastery.


  • Berrett, D. (2012). How 'Flipping' the Classroom Can Improve the Traditional Lecture. Chronicle Of Higher Education, 58(25), A16-A18.
  • Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy: An Overview. Theory Into Practice, 41(4), 212.
  • Polanyi, M. (1958). Skills. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (pp. 49-65). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.