Teaching and learning tricky topics
Teaching and learning tricky topics

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Teaching and learning tricky topics

2 Learning design classification

In this section you will be introduced to the learning design classification, which is a way of describing different types of student activity. These are like the materials for the building project – foundations, walls, windows and ceilings. You could think of your tricky topic as being the foundation stone for future learning.

From student surveys, it’s clear that OU students tend to prefer learning that takes the form of reading an article or watching a video, followed by making some notes or answering some questions. This is called an ‘assimilative’ activity and students (and teachers) are usually quite comfortable with it. However, students learn better if they are pushed out of their comfort zone and encouraged to do things they might find more challenging, such as presenting an opinion backed up by facts, or finding examples of data that contradict a given viewpoint.

If students are encouraged to engage in a range of different types of activity then the evidence shows that their learning is likely to be more effective.

The Activity Planner has been designed to help you visualise what students will be doing as they study and ensure an appropriate balance of activity types that meet the aims of your intervention and produce an activity profile for your intervention. This tool is also useful for checking that the materials and activities you have prepared to teach your intervention deliver the right amount of study time and the amount of assessment work students will be doing for a particular piece of learning. Have you done enough to enable students to understand the tricky topic?

Activity 1 Activity categories

Timing: Allow approximately 45 minutes

The Open University Activity Planner classifies student activity into seven categories, which are listed below. You can find more information here [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . Think about what each category means and make a note of your thoughts before revealing the explanation.

1. Assimilative

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Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Answer

Attending to information

Students study and think about theories and concepts encountered in materials and resources, case studies, etc.

Often this is the first part of a learning cycle where students receive and begin to make sense of new information, before they then apply or test their new knowledge, or go on to reflect, review and communicate their understanding.

Examples include: Read, Watch, Listen, Think about, Access, Observe, Review, Study.

2. Finding and handling information

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Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Answer

Searching for and processing information

Students are actively and critically engaged in gathering and manipulating information. 

These activities might include conducting research, extracting information from databases, analysing information, synthesising data and evaluation.

Examples include: List, Analyse, Collate, Plot, Find, Discover, Access, Use, Gather, Order, Classify, Select, Assess, Manipulate.

3. Communication

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Answer

Discussing learning with at least one other person (student or teacher)

This will be achieved through dialogue, as students begin to take a position in relation to problems and debates, and internalise complex and interrelated concepts.

Collaboration is a step further where students (and teachers) work together to produce some end product and through that process make new make new connections and develop a shared understanding of the topic.

Examples include: Communicate, Debate, Discuss, Argue, Share, Report, Collaborate, Present, Describe, Question.

4. Productive

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Answer

Actively constructing an artefact

Here students apply their knowledge and skills together or alone in order to create a piece of work. This could be a list, a piece of narrative text which answers a question, a reflective account, a report, a video or a presentation etc.

Because something concrete is produced, it can be reviewed, evaluated or assessed, and feedback can be received. It can also be used to support revision and further study.

Examples include: Create, Build, Make, Design, Construct, Contribute, Complete, Produce, Write, Draw, Refine, Compose, Synthesise, Remix.

5. Experiential

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Answer

Applying learning in a real-world setting

This activity is most often found in work-based learning or practical science modules. Students are required to apply their skills, knowledge and understanding in a real-world setting.

This does not include role play and simulated scenarios but could include a case study if it is taken from the student’s real-world setting. The key is that students receive real-life feedback on the activity e.g. from customers or clients, work colleagues or the environment and have an opportunity to reflect in context.

Examples include: Practise, Apply, Mimic, Experience, Explore, Investigate, Perform, Engage.

6. Interactive/adaptive

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Answer

Applying learning in a simulated setting

‘Interactive/adaptive’ does not relate to the technology but the student activity itself.

Students apply their knowledge and skills in a simulated setting, receive immediate feedback and are then given the opportunity to adapt their approach.

Activities falling into this category might include role play, problem-based scenarios, simulated case studies and simulated experiments.

Examples include: Explore, Experiment, Trial, Improve, Model, Simulate.

7. Assessment

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Answer

All forms of assessment, including a quiz, an assignment or an exam

Examples include: Write, Present, Report, Demonstrate, Critique.

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