Micronesian navigational chart as learning tool

Photograph by Walter Meayers Edwards. Source: http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/media/micronesian-stick-chart/?ar_a=1

What can we learn about instructional design from ancient stick charts? Micronesian charts (mattangs) are made and used by the Marshallese to navigate the Pacific Ocean by canoe off the coast of the Marshall Islands. The result is truly amazing. The representation of ocean streams, winds and islands is strictly functional and simply customizable. Despite the pure function, the charts look like amazing pieces of contemporary art. The beauty of perfect design developed by generations, yet every chart is different, because of the customisation and modification of the charts by sailor's experiences.

But what can we learn from the pride of Marshallese? Do you know the navigation systems nowadays? Cutting-edge space technology, fancy design, displays, probably ten times more functionality benefits as you are able to use on the serious level and complicated usage, low battery capacity, software updates and many more. Too complicated right? Do you see the difference? Centuries long development changed everyday used tools to the part of culture, piece of art, knowledge and history and created the simplest form and usability as possible.

Marshalles charts takeaways for (instructional and learning) designers:

  1. Simplicity — trying to reach the purest form of information and knowledge
  2. Customization — allow users to custom your product to let them use their knowledge and own way of creativity. Charts were highly individualized. Sometimes, a stick chart could only be read by the person who made it! Still, there are some standard features used to interpret ocean features.
  3. User involvement — develop your product with users and help them get the product with perfect design and full functionality.
  4. Charts as a training tool: This chart (below) is of the type known as a mattang, specifically made for the purpose of training people selected to be navigators. Such charts depict general information about swell movements around one or more small islands. Trainees were taught by experienced navigators.
Navigation chart (mattang), probably 19th or early 20th century C.E., Marshall Islands, Micronesia, 75.5 cm © Trustees of the British Museum