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2 Learning design

You will have seen throughout this course that the ways in which we can design an experience for learners online differ somewhat from other forms of teaching. But can we think about this more systematically? Mor and Craft (2012) define learning design as ‘the act of devising new practices, plans of activity, resources and tools aimed at achieving particular educational aims in a given situation’ (pg. 86).

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Figure 3 How we design our teaching influences how we learn

Learning design is an inherent part of any educator’s practice (i.e. preparing for teaching/training sessions or creating learning materials, activities and assessments). Indeed, it is so core to what educators do, that it’s often taken for granted; it’s assumed that it ‘just happens’. In other words, ‘design’ is so embedded in a practitioner’s practice that it tends to be implicit – not formally articulated or externalised for others, apart from at a relatively superficial level in the module syllabus or lesson plan.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in trying to better understand educators’ design processes and to make them more explicit. There are a number of reasons for this, but three are particularly worth noting.

  1. In order to ensure the quality and robustness of educational innovations, they need to be reviewed from various perspectives – technological, pedagogical, and others. The sooner the innovations are reviewed, the easier it is to make any necessary adjustments. By sharing and discussing innovations at the design phase, we can avoid costly mistakes at later stages of production.
  2. By making the design process explicit, it can be easily shared with others, which means good practice can be transferred.
  3. The variety and complexity of resources and technologies that are currently available means that teachers and trainers need clearer guidance to help them find relevant tools and resources, as well as support in incorporating these into the learning activities they are creating.

However, it should be noted that the term ‘learning design’ is not without controversy and overlaps to some extent with other terms, such as ‘instructional design’, ‘curriculum design’ and ‘module design’. Mor and Craft's definition represents one possible interpretation, and indeed their paper discusses alternative definitions proposed by others.

Activity 2 Employing a Learning Design approach

Timing: Allow about 40 minutes
  1. Visit The Open University’s Learning Design [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] blog.
  2. Browse the blog posts and resources and read three of these that sound interesting to you.
  3. Make some notes about how you could apply the processes and activities described in these posts, and how you think you might do this to create or redesign some teaching for online learning. For example, you could plan a workshop activity with others, or use this to guide your own design work.
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Many ‘good ideas’ or ‘best practice’ resources are available online for teachers to use. This activity helps you to start thinking about the kinds of resources you might look for, and how they could be altered to fit your teaching needs.