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. 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.
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.