Archive for June, 2014

Day to day

Thursday, June 26th, 2014


Every now and then I think it is useful to reflect on the range of activities I do as part of my day job. Over the last couple of days I have been working on a number of things.  

  • A chapter on the 7Cs of Learning Design, prostate a draft of which I circulated via social media. I have already received a number of useful comments.
  • Reading a thesis that I am examining next week.
  • Reading a PhD upgrade report and writing the pre-via examiner’s report.
  • A meeting with the medical school about their use of iPads.
  • Evaluation of the MOOCs we ran as part of FutureLearn.
  • An online meeting about a review we are doing of open accreditation process for non-formal and informal learning.
  • A presentation to the VC on our research and teaching activities.
  • An online meeting to discuss the EDEN research workshop and associated programme.
  • Participating in social media.
  • A blog post on an evaluation checklist for courses.

So lots of writing and communicating; a mix of research-focused and teaching-related activities. It’s interesting also to reflect on one’s approaches to working on something. So I was dreading writing the 7Cs chapter and kept putting it off, rx but finally got my teeth into it and it was very satisfying to print out a copy this morning. 

An evaluation checklist for course design

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014


I am currently working on a chapter on the 7Cs of Learning Design, ed for a book that James Dalziel is editing. Today I have been working on the Consolidate C and in particular I have been writing about rubrics and checklists to evaluate the effectiveness of a design. Below is one example, comments welcome

  • Are learning outcomes indicated?
  • Do the learning outcomes use active verbs?
  • Are there clear signposts for navigation and labelling (i.e. are there clear headings and is it easy for the participants to navigate around?
  • Is the learning time associated with resources and activities indicated?
  • Is the material logically structured and coherent (are terms explained, do sections follow each other??
  • Is there an appropriate mix of multimedia?
  • Are videos kept to below 10 minutes?
  • Is there a clear and logical learning pathway
  • Is the way in which technologies are to be used made clear to the learners?
  • Is the content coherent and logically structured?
  • Are the pedagogical approaches explicit
  • In what ways are communication and collaboration encouraged?
  • Are all the materials accessible (variable fonts, suitable colours)?
  • Do all the links work
  • Are the activities consistent with the platform’s functionality (i.e. discussion forum, feedback mechanism)?
  • Are the materials open (are there any technological access issues)?
  • What pedagogical approaches are used?
  • Are sections given clear timeframes
  • How are activities monitored?
  • Is there is clear minimum to complete and is there a clear learning timescale?
  • What assessment elements are there?

Disruptive education

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

On Monday I did a talk at a National Forum seminar at Athlone Institute of Technology. The theme was the flipped classroom. I focused on the concept of disruptive education and looked at this from four perspectives: the flipped classroom, sick opening up education, order e-pedagogies, medical and Learning Design. In terms of the flipped classroom I argued that the concept was about ‘flipping’ from a traditional lecture–centric approach to one that was learner-centric and activity-centric. The idea is that learners watch videos in advance covering the key concepts, this frees the face-to-face classroom up for discussion and activities. I argued that the benefits were that this enabled the learning intervention to be more collaborative and problem-based. The diagram below illustrates the components that are associated with the flipped classroom, most importantly it is learner centric. 


Opening up education has gained increasing interest in recent years, partly through the emergence of Open Educational Resources, but also more recently through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These are disruptive in that they are challenging existing business models for traditional educational institutions. In a world where resources and indeed courses are increasingly free, what is the role of a traditional institution, what are the benefits of learners paying for courses? I described the MOOC classification schema and argued that this could be used to describe, design and evaluate MOOCs. For e-pedagogies I described four examples of how technologies could be used to promote different pedagogical approaches. Finally, I argued that design is the key challenge facing education today, teachers need support to make informed design decisions that are pedagogically effective and make appropriate use of digital technologies. I introduced the 7Cs of Learning Design framework as one means of achieving this.


National Institute for Digital Learning

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014


I’ve just got back from Ireland, capsule where I had my first taste of being an adjunct professor with Dublin City University (DCU). I am working with Mark Brown who is heading up the new National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL). On Monday Mark and I talked at a National Forum seminar in Athlone. The theme was the flipped classroom. I focused on the concept of disruptive education and looked at disruption from four perspectives: the flipped classroom, opening up education, e-pedagogies, and Learning Design. The focus of Mark’s talk was on quality, built around a metaphor of ice cream. Our talks were followed by a talk from Brian McCabe from the NUI Galway, where he provided a practical description of his implementation of the flipped classroom. On Tuesday I spent the morning with the NIDL team talking through the 7Cs of Learning Design and discussing how it could be applied at DCU.  I’m really looking forward to working with Mark and the team to take NIDL forward, I think it is a really exciting initiative. Watch this space as they say!

Persona cards

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

One of the most important design decisions you need to make is considering the nature of the learners who will take your course or module. Students on a first-year undergraduate Mathematics course will be very different from post-graduates undertaking a Continuous Professional Development course or those taking an evening class in Spanish. The Persona cards are a useful way of articulating the nature of typical learners on your module or course.

The persona view enables teachers to create personas for the types of learners that are going to complete the design activity; a class of first year 18-year old Maths undergraduates, will have very difficult needs to an online language course for adults. Hence articulating the persona for the learners will help guide what kind of teaching intervention is appropriate for those learners. Factors to take into account include: age, sex, cultural background, discipline, level of technological competence and motivations for doing the learning.

Personas are a tool for sharing our understanding of the expected nature and types of learners.[1]  Nielsen (Nielsen 2013) states that:

The persona method has developed from being a method for IT system development to being used in many other contexts, including development of products, marketing, planning of communication, and service design. [..] Common understanding is that the persona is a description of a fictitious person, but whether this description is based on assumptions or data is not clear, and opinions also different on what the persona description should cover.

It is important to try and be as detailed as possible when describing a persona. An understanding of the characteristics of potential learners will help inform and shape the design process, to ensure that it is targeted at the right level in terms of learners’ competencies and motivations. Cooper (1999) argues that:

Personas are the single most powerful design tool that we use. They are the foundation for all subsequent Goal-Directed design. Personas allow us to see the scope and nature of the design problem. They make it clear exactly what the user’s goals are, so that we can what the product must do – and can get away with not doing.

Tables 1 and 2 show two personas, for Joe and Marie. The personas illustrate the very different characteristics of the learners, in terms of their background and motivations and goals.



Name: Joe

Gender: Male

Age: 19

Lives in: Gloucester, UK with his parents

Likes football and music

Education and experience

Joe has had a conventional education completing 9 GSCEs and 3 A levels (in Chemistry, Physics and Maths). He works in a local restaurant as a waiter at the weekend. He has not travelled much outside of the UK. His hobbies include watching football and playing in a local band

Roles and responsibilities

He has worked as a waiter for two years and now supervises new employees. He runs a computer programming club, which has 15 members. They meet every Sunday more for two hours. He publishes a monthly newsletter on their activities.

Technical skills

He is a proficient internet user and has good programming skills, which he has learnt in his spare time. He has a laptop and an iPad. He uses the latter primarily for surfing the Internet and keeping in touch with friends.

Subject domain skills and knowledge

He has good science skills and a reasonable level of general knowledge, although he does not keep up much with current affairs.

Motivation and desires

He wants to get a job in the IT industry as a computer programmer, he is passionate about programming and is very gifted at it.

Goals and expectations

His goal is to complete a computer science course and then get a job in the IT industry.

Obstacles to their success

His one weakness is a lack of concentration. He does not have very good study skills and tends not to put too much effort into his learning.

Unique assets

He is a gifted computer programmer and is very sociable and confident with lots of friends.

Table 1: Joe’s Persona



Name: Maria

Gender: Female

Age: 45

Lives in: London, UK with her husband and two children

Likes classical music, theatre and reading

Education and experience

Marie left school having completed 5 O’ Levels. She later returned to college to complete a HND in cooking. She has run her own Italian restaurant for 15 years. Her parents were Italian and moved to the UK when Maria was ten years old.

Roles and responsibilities

Her restaurant business is very successful. She employs five people, including a full-time chief. She has overall responsibility for the business, including the finances and deciding on the menus, in conjunction with the chief.

Technical skills

She does not use the Internet very much and has relatively low levels of IT proficiency. She does own a desktop computer but using it mainly for sending and receiving emails.

Subject domain skills and knowledge

She is more practically orientated than academic. Her Italian is rusty, she hasn’t practiced it much since moving to the UK when she was 10.

Motivation and desires

Her husband and her would like to move back to Italy when their children (19 and 19) have left home. They would like to set up a restaurant business there. As a result she wants to improve her Italian skills. She is not interested in getting a qualification per se, she just wants to be proficient in Italian.

Goals and expectations

Her goal is to complete an online intermediate Italian course with the Open University, UK and then to move to Italy and set up a new restaurant business.

Obstacles to their success

The main problem she has is a lack of time, she is kept busy with the restaurant (working very long hours) and her family. The OU course requires 7 hours a week as a minimum, she will need to be very focused and motivated to ensure she meets this commitment. In addition, she will need support to begin with to develop her Internet skills, given that the course is wholly delivered online.

Unique assets

She is very practical and has a good business sense. Once she commits to something she is very driven. She has good general language skills and that fact that she lived in Italy for ten years should give her a good head start.

Table 2: Maria’s Persona


[1] The following is taken from