Learning design

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A Learning Design describes the educational process, not just courseware but the whole teaching/learning experience. It's a more or less formal description of a pedagogical scenario (also called educational script or storyboard) and that may or may not follow an instructional design model. Basically a learning design describes learning objectives, who does what (and (when) using tools and resources, and outcomes

The process of learning design refers to the activity of designing units of learning, learning activities or learning environments in that spirit. Learning design, in that sense, is a way of doing instructional design.

Below are some more definitions from key actors:

Learning Designs are “pedagogically informed learning activities which make effective use of appropriate tools and resources” (Gráinne Conole and Karen Fill, creators of the DialogPlus Toolkit.)

“The basic idea of EML and LD [Learning Design] is in essence simple. It represents a vocabulary which users of any pedagogical approach understand, and into which existing designs can be translated. The core of LD can be summarised as the view that, when learning, people in specific groups and roles engage in activities using an environment with appropriate resources and services.” (Rob Koper and Colin Tattersall, creators of EML/IMS Learning Design).

“The field of Learning Design seeks to describe the "process" of education - the sequences of activities facilitated by an educator that are often at the heart of small group teaching.”(James Dalziel, creator of LAMS, retrieved 18:53, 4 June 2007 (MEST)).

“The field of learning design (Lockyer et al., 2008; Conole, 2012) has the ultimate goal of improving teaching quality by supporting practitioners along the process of designing innovative and more effective learning situations (that is, producing “learning designs”). [..] A “learning design” is an artifact that explicitly documents a set of learning tasks (different granularities are possible, from a single task to a course, Hernández-Leo et al., 2007) with the set of resources and tools that support the realization of the tasks. Persico et al. (2013) and Prieto et al. (2013b) provide an example of a learning design represented with different approaches and tools.” (Hernandez-Leo et al. 2018)

See also:

Key elements of learning design

Key elements that describe a learning design differ in various schools of thought, e.g. see also the formal IMS Learning Design specification. According to Laurillard (2013) [1], the properties required for an operational learning design are:

  • Learning outcome, sequence of activities, and assessment. These must be aligned for effective pedagogy
  • The sequence of TLAs. These must be classifiable according to their different pedagogical and logistical properties, defined in the knowledge base of The Learning Designer (and editable by the user).
  • The time for each TLA. This makes it possible to estimate the proportions of different kinds of learning experience afforded by the sequence, and hence, provide an overall evaluation of its pedagogic value.
  • The tools and resources required by the learners. These alert the user to the type of topic‐specific content they will need to provide for their specific instantiation of the learning design.
  • The designer's reflection. This provides an opportunity for the user who is sharing the learning design to pass on any additional reflection to potential reusers.

Elements of learning design can be represented in several ways, e.g. using tables like in Learning Design Support Environment, hypertexted forms like in DialogPlus or concept maps like in CompendiumLD

Benefits of the learning design approach

Much of the work on Learning Design focuses on technology to automatically "run" the sequence of student activities (facilitated by the educator via computers), but an activity in a Learning Design could be conducted without technology. Hence, a particular Learning Design may be a mixture of online and face-to-face tasks ("blended learning") or it could be conducted entirely face-to-face with no computers (in this case, the particular Learning Design acts as a standardised written description of the educational process - like a K-12 lesson plan). One way to think of a Learning Design system is as a workflow engine for collaborative activities. A particular Learning Design is like an educational recipe for a teacher - it describes ingredients (content) and instructions (process).

(James Dalziel, retrieved 18:53, 4 June 2007 (MEST)).

Learning Design theory is a new attempt to describe the foundational elements of the educational process. It provides conceptual and technical tools to describe who is involved in a learning activity, what resources are required for the activity, how the activity is conducted, and most importantly, how a collection of activities are structured into a Learning Design(also called a unit of learning, sequence of learning activities, digital lesson plan, etc). Two distinguishing features of recent work are (1) the description of Learning Designs in machine readable formats so that they can be run by software systems, and (2) the ability to store Learning Designs, and hence share them, search for them, re-use them, adapt them and so on. Taken together, these features of Learning Designs have the potential to transform teaching and learning through the sharing and implementation of good practice. More fundamentally, Learning Design theory may provide a new way to conceptualise the educational process via a shared vocabulary for describing learning activities and how they are combined.
(James Dalziel, ED-MEDIA 2006 Learning Design Keynote, retrieved 4 June 2007

The OU Learning Design Initiative (retrieved jan 26, 2009) identified six main benefits to adopting a learning design approach:

  • It acts as a means of eliciting designs from academics in a format that can be tested and reviewed by others involved in the design process, i.e. a common vocabulary and understanding of learning activities.
  • It provides a method by which designs can be reused, as opposed to just sharing content.
  • It can guide individuals through the process of creating new learning activities.
  • It helps create an audit trail of academic (and production) design decisions.
  • It can highlight policy implications for staff development, resource allocation, quality, etc.
  • It has the potential to aids learners and tutors in complex activities by guiding them through the activity sequence.

Learning design can be seem as an attempt to grow the troyan mouse. “E-learning is often talked about as a ‘trojan mouse,’ which teachers let into their practice without realizing that it will require them to rethink not just how they use particular hardware or software, but all of what they do.” Sharpe & Oliver, 2007: 49. Once engaged in e-learning, reflective practitioners then might become interrested in more powerful tools for planning and enacting their teaching.

Learning Design and educational technologies

So far, typical source leaders rarely use tools to design courses. For example Masterman (2006) regarding the use of tools in designing for learning in postcompulsory education, reported that out of 69 respondents most respondents either rely on Pencil and Paper or very simple e-tools such as Word processors or presentation software: “On average, respondents used 2.5 different genres of e-tool, although this figure masks a wide variation. Only 13 used four or more genres, while 22 used only one genre, suggesting either lack of experience with other genres or that the tool they used appeared to satisfy their requirements. Where only one e-tool was used, that tool was Word in just over half of cases (12 out of 22)” (Masterman, 2006:13). Only 5.8% did use specialized learning design tools.

According to the LADIE framework (LADIE, 2005), we can distinguish two basic facts of learning design:

  1. The design and construction of learning activities (LAA), including for example design of learning activities and learning conents.
  2. The learning activity realization (LAR), i.e. the construction of the environment and the execution of the learning activities themselves.

Learning design tools can provide support for either one or both.

Here is an incomplete of some specialized learning design languages, tools and systems (follow up these links to find references) and also have a look at the category educational modeling languages

Standards, formalisms and modeling languages
  • LAMS (Learning activity management software)
  • CeLS
  • FROG (for CSCL scenarios)
Learning design editors
On-line repositories for scenarios
Visual modeling languages with a tool (research systems)
paper tools for scenario creation
Other initiatives (some are not called "learning design")

Bibliography and links

  • Cross, S., Conole, G., Clark, P., Brasher, A., & Weller, M. (2008). Mapping a landscape of Learning Design: identifying key trends in current practice at the Open University, European LAMS Conference.
  • Conole, Gráinne and Karen Fill (2005). A learning design toolkit to create pedagogically effective learning activities. Journal of Interactive Media in Education (Portable Learning. Special Issue, eds. Colin Tattersall, Rob Koper), 2005/08. ISSN 1365-893X [1].
  • Conole, G. (2012). Designing for Learning in an Open World. Berlin; Heidelberg: Springer. google books preview
  • Koper, Rob and Colin Tattersall (2005). Preface to Learning Design: A Handbook on Modelling and Delivering Networked Education and Training. Journal of Interactive Media in Education (Advances in Learning Design. Special Issue, eds. Colin Tattersall, Rob Koper), 2005/18. ISSN:1365-893X HTML.
  • Hernández-Leo, D., Harrer, A., Dodero, J. M., Asensio-Pérez, J. I., and Burgos, D. (2007). A framework for the conceptualization of approaches to “Create-by-Reuse” of learning design solutions. J. Univ. Comp. Sci. 13, 991–1001. doi: 10.3217/jucs-013-07-0991 PDF
  • LADIE, The E-learning Framework, HTML
  • Lockyer, L., Bennett, S., Agostinho, S., and Harper, B. (2008). Handbook of Research on Learning Design and Learning Objects. New York, NY: Information Science Reference.
  • Masterman Liz (2006). The Learning Design Tools Project, An Evaluation Of Generic Tools Used In, Design For Learning, JISC Project Report. PDF
  • Masterman, Liz and Mira Vogel (2007). Practices and process of design for learning, in Helen Beetham, Rhona Sharpe (eds.), Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: Designing and Delivering E-learning, Routledge, ISBN 0415408741.
  • Oliver, Ron (2000). When Teaching Meets Learning: Design Principles and Strategies for Web-based Learning Environments that Support Knowledge Construction, ASCILITE 2000, keynote paper. Retrieved dec. 2007 from http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/coffs00/. PDF
  • Persico, D., Pozzi, F., Anastopoulou, S., Conole, G., Craft, B., Dimitriadis, Y., et al. (2013). Learning design Rashomon I – supporting the design of one lesson through different approaches. J. Res. Learn. Technol. 21:20224. doi: 10.3402/rlt.v21i0.20224 HTML/PDF/EPub
  • Prieto, L. P., Dimitriadis, Y., Craft, B., Derntl, M., Émin, V., Katsamani, M., et al. (2013b). Learning design Rashomon II: exploring one lesson through multiple tools. Res. Learn. Technol. 21:20. doi: 10.3402/rlt.v21i0.20057 HTML/PDF/EPub

Acknowledgement: This article or part of this article has been written during a collaboration with the EducTice group of INRP, which attributed a visiting grant to DKS in january 2009.

  1. Laurillard, D., Charlton, P., Craft, B., Dimakopoulos, D., Ljubojevic, D., Magoulas, G., … Whittlestone, K. (2013). A constructionist learning environment for teachers to model learning designs. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 29(1), 15–30. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00458.x