Archive for June, 2012

Excited about new technologies?

Thursday, June 28th, 2012


We are excited about launching our new MSc in Learning Innovation this Autumn. The course will be available on campus from October 2012 and can be taken full-time or on a module-by-module basis. An online version of the course will be available from October 2013.

There are four 30-credit modules (Technology Enhanced Learning, Learning Design, Research Methodologies and Case Studies of Innovation) and a 60-credit Dissertation module.  The first two modules in particular might be of interested to anyone who wants to get an up to date overview of new technologies and how they can be used to promote different pedagogical approaches.

The MSc will give participants the chance to explore a range of technologies and consider their implications for practice. We also plan to link into a range of related activities throughout the broader e-learning community of researchers and practitioners, through social networking media and through participation in relevant online events – such as the popular Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and through our annual online conference ‘Follow the Sun’. More information on the MSc can be found on the website, also look at the four short videos we have produced, which give an overview of the course, it’s focus on learning and teaching innovation and a description of who might be interested in taking the course.

7 principles of learning design

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012


In this blog post I want to describe seven principles of learning design. I would welcome comments. Are there any others I have missed for example?

The first is that teachers are bewildered by the plethora of tools available and lack the skills necessary to make informed learning design decisions. Therefore a key facet of all the tools is that they attempt to provide practitioners with some form of guidance and support around their design practice. The aim is to help them shift from an implicit, belief-based approach to design to one that is more explicit and design-based (Conole 2009). Evidence of the evaluation of the use of these tools shows that they do help shift practitioners from a focus on content to activities and the learner experience.

The second is that many of the tools use the power of visualisation as a means of representing the designs. These can then be shared and discussed with other.

The third is that there is a tension between design representations that are rigorous, precise and perhaps machine runnable and those that are more creative, ‘fluffy’ and nearer to real practice. Derntl et al.  (Derntl, Parish et al. 2010) argue that designing for learning needs both ‘beauty’ and ‘precision’; and they show how different design languages can be used to present these. They state that:

We are in no way suggesting that beauty and precision are in opposition to one another, nor even that they are mutually exclusive concerns. We make the distinction merely to further stress the competing demands on instructional designers for maintaining a grand view of the learning experience while also addressing the myriad details of an effective end product.

The fourth is that there is an issue about what level of in-context support and guidance is provided to the designer and how such support can be created on the fly from up-to-date and authoritative sources. The CompendiumLD tool includes a walled garden Google search, which searches across a number of predefined well-known and validated sources against a set of keywords(Brasher, Conole et al. 2008). However, in the future much more sophisticated personalised help needs to be developed.

The fifth is the fact that learning designs are both a produce and a process. In the first instance the designer engages with various learning design Mediating Artefacts to guide their design process, through a creative, iterative and messy process. Then their final design is a product, which represents a particular moment in time in the design process.

The sixth is that, as Liz Masterman articulates, there are two dimensions of learning design: i) the creation of structured sequences of learning activities, and ii) a way to represent and share practice.

Finally, it is clear that the inherent affordances of different learning design tools will have an impact on how the practitioner goes about the design process. For example, because the LAMS tool focuses on tools as conceptual elements, the design process is likely to be tools focused. In contrast, the social networking site Cloudworks focuses on sharing and discussion and so emphasises the practitioner, dialogic aspects of design.

I believe we are at an interesting watershed in terms of learning design research. We have made significant steps forward in the field over the last ten years or so and now have a much richer understanding of design practices and mechanisms for promoting them. The tools developed along the way have enabled us to explore these in real-world contexts; some focus on visualisation, others on dialogue and sharing, and others on guidance/support. All three of these different types of scaffolds are important and support the practitioner in different ways.  What is needed next is to try and combine these elements, not necessarily into one monolithic tool, but through the creation of some form of dynamic learning design ecosystem. As a first step towards this, the key researchers in the field have being meeting as part of an EU-funded group, the LDGrid.[1] A key output of the group is to produce a concise, comprehensive and accessible set of resources for practitioners and learners to help them adopt more learning design based thinking and practices. The group has held a number of workshops and has an evolving set of learning design resources.


Brasher, A., G. Conole, et al. (2008). CompendiumLD – a tool for effective, efficient and creative learning design.


Conole, G. (2009). Capturing and representing practice. In A. Tait, M. Vidal, U. Bernath and A. Szucs (Eds.) Distance and E-learning in Transition: Learning Innovation, Technology and Social Challenges. London, John Wiley and Sons.


Derntl, M., P. Parish, et al. (2010). “Beauty and precision in instructional design.” Journal on e-learning 9(2): 185-202.






EDEN exec!

Sunday, June 17th, 2012


I am delighted to have been elected to the EDEN executive!  The website states:

The European Distance and E-Learning Network exists to share knowledge and improve understanding amongst professionals in distance and e-learning and to promote policy and practice across the whole of Europe and beyond.

I must admit I was a tad nervous standing up and saying why I wanted to be elected. There were four of us standing for three places. EDEN is a great professional body and well worth getting involved with for anyone with an interest in distance and online learning. The annual conference and research workshops are always an excellent opportunity to catch up with other researchers in the field and are usually in lovely locations around Europe! EDEN also has an online professional network and is linked to the EURODL research journal. I am looking forward to working with others on the committee over the next few years!

TEL considerations at UNISA

Sunday, June 17th, 2012


I’ve just returned from a great trip to South Africa with five of my colleagues from Leicester (Ale Armellini, Ming Nie, Palitha Edirisingha, Terese Bird and Gabi Witthaus). Gabi is collating all twelve of our presentations on the BDRA blog, which will also have some audio and video recordings of the sessions. We were presenting to colleagues at UNISA (South Africa’s distance education institution, which has an impressive 350, 000 students!). We presented in parallel at two campuses – Pretoria and Florida. The sessions covered the following topics:

Optimising the research possibilities in online teaching and learning (Ming Nie and Gabi Witthaus)

2.     Questions for future e-learning research: can we plug the gaps? (Ale Armellini)

3.     New Technologies and 21st century learners and their impact on teaching and learning at Unisa (Palitha Edirisingha)

4.     Ethical considerations in learning and teaching (Palitha Edirisingha)

5.     OER-based design for learning and its impact on research (Ming Nie and Gabi Witthaus)

6.     What works and what doesn’t work in research dissemination (Terese Bird)

7.     An overview of the TEL landscape (Gráinne Conole)

8.     Research methodology in TEL (Gráinne Conole)

9.     Harnessing social media (Gráinne Conole)

10. The implications of open practices for learning, teaching and research (Gráinne Conole)

11. Translating research into practice (Gráinne Conole) 

Together the presentations gave a rich overview of the currant state of the art in TEL research. The audience were very participatory and asked lots of great questions. Our host Paul Prinsloo couldn’t have looked after us better, and although we didn’t have much leisure time, we managed to get a bit of experience of life in South Africa.  Paul’s blog is well worth a look at.  We are hoping to go back and follow up with some more in-depth interactive workshops, particularly focusing around learning design and Open Educational Resources (OER). An excellent, productive and enjoyable trip!