Chapter nine – pedagogical planners

IntroductionThis chapter will review and discuss the range of pedagogical planners that have been developed in recent years, to guide and support practitioners in making informed learning design decision. It will begin by discussing the rationale and perceived benefit behind the development of these planners and then focus in on a number of specific planners; namely DialogPlus, Phoebe, the London Pedagogical Planner, the Learning Design Support Environment (LDSE) and LAMS. It will compare and contrast these and conclude by considering where this area of research is likely to go in the future.The need for pedagogical planners 

As discussed elsewhere in this book, there is a gap between the potential of using technologies for learning and their actual use in practice. Practitioners are confused by the plethora of tools that are now available to them and have difficulty creating pedagogically effective learning interventions that make effective use of new technologies. As a result there has been considerable interest in recent years in the creation of pedagogical planners that provide guidance and support to practitioners as they create learning interventions. The aspiration behind these planners is that they provide structured guidance and resources to help practitioners create learning interventions. They differ from some of the other learning design tools discussed elsewhere in this book (such as visualisation tools, pedagogical patterns and social networking sites) in that the focus is primarily on content about the design process. As will be evident from the examples discussed in this chapter each tool differs in its design and functionality. 

Masterman defined pedagogical planners as being ‘purpose-built to guide teachers through the construction of plans for learning sessions that make appropriate, and effective, use of technology’ (Masterman, 2008a, p. 210). She argues that pedagogic planners are the direct equivalent of lessons plans, characterised as:

[descriptions of] how learners can achieve a set of learning objectives… how a series of lessons or a single lesson should take place… which activities learners and teachers must carry out, the order in which the activities should be carried out, the circumstances under which the activities will be carried out, how learners will be grouped and what materials or technology may be used (Van Es and Koper, 2006, quoted in Earp and Pozzi, 2006, p. 35).

Conole et al. state that the purpose of a pedagogy planner is to offer a way of enabling teachers to exploit technology while creating pedagogically sound activities (G. Conole, Littlejohn, Falconer, & Jeffrey, 2005).

San Diego et al. argue that the main functions of a pedagogy planner are to support: planning, decision-making, progressive innovation, analysis, collaboration and administration (San Diego, et al., 2008).

Cameron (2011) argues that such tools should emphasise the core elements that need to be considered if a learning design is to be a success and that they should help users adopt a clear, definable structure to their design process. Details include the characteristics of the students, pedagogical approaches, types of technologies and activities, the learning environment, roles and learning outcomes. She lists a number of uses of these tools:

1.      As a step-by-step guidance to help make theoretically informed decisions about the development of learning activities and the choice of appropriate tools and resources.

2.      To inspire users to adopt new teaching strategies.

3.      To provide design ideas in a structure way, so that the relations between design components are easy to understand.

4.      To combine a clear description of the learning design and offer a rationale which bridges pedagogical philosophy, research-based evidence and experiential knowledge.

5.      As a database of existing learning activities and examples of good practice that can then be adapted and reused for different purposes.

6.      As a mechanism for abstracting good practice and metamodels for learning.

7.      To produce runnable learning designs intended for direct use by students.

8.      To encode the design in such a way that it supports an iterative, fluid process of design. 

The DialogPlus toolkit

The DialogPlus toolkit was based on an underpinning taxonomy containing the components associated with a learning activity. Each component had an associated set of resources and advice to help inform practitioners in its use. The learning activity taxonomy is discussed in more detail elsewhere (G. Conole, 2008). It was developed through an extensive requirements specification through a series of sessions with practitioners as they articulated their design process. A range of practitioners were followed over a number of months and included an expert researcher creating an advance level module on census data, a novice taking over a course and an established teacher repurposing an existing module based on evaluation and feedback from students. We followed these individuals through a series of decision-making processes over a period of months in terms of designing a new course, component of a course or individual learning activity. The focus was to elicit information on each practitioner’s thought processes as part of the decision-making, and identify trigger points, support mechanisms and barriers to design. The intended outcome was to understand better the process of design and the types of presentations individuals used to facilitate their design process.

The sessions consisted of a mixture of the ‘think aloud’ protocol, supported by a series of prompting questions. Questions covered issues such as: What were the key aspirations inherent in the proposed design of the course? What did they want the students to be able to achieve? How did they find information to support their design process? Where did they find resources? How were resources incorporated into the design process? Were there any explicit or implicit pedagogical models being used? What difficulties or issues were they encountering at that point? There is a synergy here with the empirical evidence we gathered on design practices as part of the OU Learning Design Initiative discussed in Chapter 8.

The data collected us enabled us to gain an understanding of the way in which practitioners thought through the design process. As was also evident from the OULDI interviews, it was clear that the design process is ‘messy’, creative and iterative; practitioners think about design at a number of levels and oscillating between the different factors involved in their decision-making. From these sessions the factors involved in design began to emerge and were used to develop an initial specification for the toolkit, as well as an underpinning taxonomy, which described the components involved in creating a learning activity.

At the heart of the toolkit is the notion of a learning activity (LA) (Figure 1), which is defined as consisting of three elements:

1.      The context within which the activity occurs, this includes the subject, level of difficulty, the intended learning outcomes and the environment within which the activity takes place.

2.      The learning and teaching approaches adopted, including the theories and models

3.      The tasks undertaken, which specifies the type of task, the techniques used, associated tools and resources, the interaction and roles of those involved and the assessments associated with the learning activity.


Figure 1: The top-level components of the Learning Activity Taxonomy

The essence of a learning activity is that it must have one or more intended ‘learning outcomes’ associated with it. Learning outcomes are what the learners should know, or be able to do, after completing the LA; e.g. understand, demonstrate, design, produce, appraise. In order to achieve the intended learning outcomes there is a ‘sequence of tasks’ that must be completed. Examples of tasks are reading paper(s), discussing ideas, accessing database(s), extracting or manipulating data, answering questions, making decisions. The task ‘type’ taxonomy is shown in Figure 2, with one of the elements expanded to show the full tree. Task techniques include:  brainstorming, exercise, fieldwork, role-play, reflection and syndicates. We have identified almost thirty techniques to be stored in the toolkit such that advice can be offered to practitioners. Interactions required are likely to be individual, one to many, student to student, student to tutor, group or class based. When undertaking tasks participants in the learning activity (both teachers and students) are assigned appropriate ‘roles’, such as individual learner, group participant, or presenter. Assessment can include diagnostic, formative or summative assessment or no assessment at all.


Figure 2: Breakdown of the task component

Resources’ include: web pages, databases, video streams or interactive maps, may be included. Tools’ include: search engines, discussion boards, spreadsheets, media players, blogs, portfolios, wikis and social networking sites. The tasks and associated roles undertaken to achieve the prescribed learning outcomes occur within a particular context with characteristics which include a description of the subject domain (e.g. Physical Geography), the level (e.g. introductory), the perceived skills which will be used or acquired (e.g. numeracy, critical analysis), the time anticipated for completion of the activity (e.g. 2 hours), and any associated prerequisites (e.g. first year course completion, database skills). 

A central premise of this approach is that learning is centred on the set of tasks undertaken by the learner, that constitute the learning experiences that the students will engage in, either independently or collaboratively, in order for them to achieve the intended learning outcomes associated with the learning activity.  In designing a learning activity a teacher usually has a linear sequence of tasks in mind but, especially in an online learning environment, learners will not necessarily follow that sequence.  Indeed an early project experience flagged up the need to enable learners to move easily around the resources and tasks.

In addition to context and tasks, the toolkit includes taxonomies and models for learning and teaching approaches based on a review by Mayes and De Frietas (2004) which groups learning theories according to whether they are associative (learning as activity), cognitive (learning through understanding) or situative (learning as social practice) (Figure 3).


Figure 3: The pedagogy component

The toolkit is available at Individual learning activities within the tool are called ‘nuggets’. Figure 4 shows part of a learning design created using the DialogPlus toolkit.


Figure 4: A Learning Design in the DialogPlus toolkit

Teachers can work through the toolkit in a linear fashion or choose their own path through it (Figure 5).


Figure 5: Working through the toolkit


Figure 6 shows the tabs associated with a particular task. For each there is further information, mapping to the learning activity taxonomy components described above, as well as in many cases links to additional information and support.


Figure 6: The task panel and associated tabs

The toolkit was evaluated with Geographers involved in the JISC/NSF-funded DialogPlus project[1] and also through a series of workshops with broader practitioners at conferences. In general evaluation of the toolkit was positive. Practitioners find the structure and guidance of the toolkit valuable and found it easy to use. The toolkit is still being used and many of the designs are publically viewable. A potential drawback of the toolkit is that despite the fact that practitioners can choose which component to complete when, it still feels like a relatively linear approach to design, which doesn’t resonate with actual design practice which is messy, creative and iterative. In addition, the format is primarily text-based, and hence doesn’t harness the power that visualising designs offer in contrast to tools like CompendiumLD discussed elsewhere. More details on the development and evaluation of the toolkit are available elsewhere (Bailey, Zalfan, Davis, Fill, & Conole, 2006; Grainne Conole & Fill, 2005; Fill, Conole, & Bailey, 2008). 


Phoebe adopts a similar approach to DialogPlus by attempting to provide a comprehensive online resource of tips and hints to support decision-making. It is wiki-based and provides a valuable set of guidance’s on the different components of a learning activity. The following text available from the JISC website provides a summary of the tool:[2]

Intended for practitioners working in FE, HE and ACL, the Phoebe tool brings together the key components of a learning design (or lesson plan), prompts teachers’ thinking, allows them to record ideas and requirements, and makes it easy to cross-reference components as they design the activities that make up a learning experience. It offers both flexible and guided paths through the planning process, and provides access to a wide range of models, case studies and examples of innovative learning designs.

There are four possible activities in Phoebe: create/modify your learning designs, view shared learning designs, browse guidance or manage design templates. Figure 7 shows part of the screen for a newly created design. The page is split with a template for completion on the right hand side and associated guidance for each of the boxes on the left hand side.


Figure 7: Screenshot of a learning design being created in Phoebe

One of the strengths of Phoebe is the considerable amount of information that is available to guide the user through completing the various steps of the design. The guidance includes information on: contextual information associated with the design, learning outcomes, assessment, students, learning activity sequence, contingencies, reflection. There is also extensive information on teaching approaches and techniques. Of particular use are the sections on ‘What technologies can I use for a particular activity?’ (Figure 8) and ‘What can I do with a particular tool?’.


Figure 8: Part of a screenshot of the ‘What technologies can I use a particular activity?’ section

In addition, as with DialogPlus, users can choose to make their learning designs available so that others can use them for inspiration or repurpose for use in another context (Figure 9).


Figure 9: Examples of design for collaborative learning

The creation and revision of individual learning sessions appeared to be the most frequent level of granularity of learning design. There was relative consistency in the core components of the task, but a wide variation in the actual approaches adopted. This suggested that a pedagogy planning tool should be capable of supporting a variety of routes through the design, as well as supporting teachers’ underlying pedagogic approach, whether derived from a formal theory of learning (e.g., associative, cognitive or situative) or from personal experience and actual practice.

However, Phoebe suffers from similar drawbacks to Dialogplus, in terms of a non-intuitive user interface and a linear, sequential navigational route for the design process. Evaluation of the tool (Masterman, 2008b) indicated that use of such tools are not enough to bring about changes in practice, it is too easy for practitioners to use them to simply map existing practice. Nonetheless many felt that it was a useful tool for reference and reflection and that it might be particularly valuable for novice teachers to guide them through the process of design. The evaluation also found that Phoebe would be best suited for practitioners who adopt a systematic approach to their design practice, rather than those who prefer to map out ideas visually.

The London Pedagogical Planner (LPP) 

The pedagogic planner is closely linked to Laurillard’s Conversational Framework (Diana Laurillard, 2002). It adopts a modelling perspective through mapping tasks to resources and attempting to align the design with specific pedagogical approaches. It is attempting to adopt a user-orientated approach and plans to integrate the tool with LAMS[3] a tool for managing and delivering learning activities:

This development of the pedagogy planner begins, therefore, with lecturer’s needs, in order to bridge the current gap between the technical origins of the ‘learning design specification’ and the reality of the teaching context. This means it must make use of an existing learning activity design environment, populated with existing support tools, so that collaborating lecturers have the opportunity to test it against their current practice, and engage in further specification of their requirements. Engaging lecturers at the start should help to secure their longer-term involvement and a sustainable product. This iterative approach to user-oriented design should then produce a working model, as well as clear requirements for further development of the learning design specification and its implementation in support tools for lecturers.

The modelling approach restricts to some extent how the tool can be used and the results that are returned. In initial versions of the tool many of the parameters were ‘pre-configured’. The planner also focuses more on helping to plan formal, ‘traditional’ learning activities – with an emphasis on timetabled and sequential work. The aims of the tool are: i) To give educational practitioners support for innovating with interactive, adaptive, reflective, discursive and collaborative learning designs, ii) To support lecturers and educational practitioners in building learning technologies into courses with tight budgets (D. Laurillard & San Diego, 2007).

The LLP tool is available to download. The first screen invites the user to complete general information about the learning intervention. It is also possible to ensure that the topics covered, assessment and learning outcomes are mapped, i.e. constructively aligned.


Figure 10: General module information

The next section calculates resources, in terms of student and staff time involved. The user enters the amount of time to be spent by the students on the different types of activities (lecture, tutorial, etc.) and hours are automatically calculated against Laurillard’s types of activity (attending, investigating, discussing, practising and articulating).


Figure 11: Module resources for students and staff

The topics are then mapped to a calendar and the user can allocate the number of hours across the types of activities and the topics.


Figure 12: The LLP calendar

The final section enables the user to search the HEA case studies database ( for existing examples of good practice on their topic of interest that they can draw on.

Laurillard and Masterman (2010b) describe how LPP was based on a model of the critical relationships among the components of learning design and aimed to support lecturers from the initial curriculum requirements, learner needs and resource constraints, through to the TEL activities in which their students would engage (citing San Diego et al., 2008). The planner takes the user through a series of design decisions, displaying their consequences in multiple dynamic numerical and graphical representations of their learning design. The LPP then gives feedback in terms of the likely amount of time for which each method will elicit the different kinds of cognitive activity on the part of the learner (attention, inquiry, etc.).

LLP very much starts from existing practitioner experience, in that it focuses on topics and allocation of time across a calendar. One of the drawbacks of this approach is that it is likely to lead to teachers replicating existing practice, rather than changing their practice. A more activity-based approach might be better and it would be useful if the tool contained more explicit examples of different types of learning activities and how these can be mapped to different pedagogical approaches, with examples of how technologies can be used to support these.

The Learning Design Support Environment (LDSE) 

The lessons learnt from the development of Phoebe and LPP are now being taken forward in a new TLRP TEL-funded research project – LDSE (Learning Design Support Environment).[4]

The project is based on four key assumptions: i) teachers will be required to use progressively more TEL; ii) the teaching community should be at the forefront of TEL innovation, and not cede responsibility to other professionals; iii) the development of new knowledge, in this case about professional practice, should be carried out in the spirit of reflective collaborative design; and iv) the same technologies that are changing the way students learn can also support teachers’ own learning in new ways. Computer-supported collaborative learning has long been established as an important form of TEL for students; we believe it is equally applicable to teachers’ professional development…. We are working with practising teachers to research, and co-construct, an interactive Learning Design Support Environment (LDSE) to scaffold teachers’ decision-making from basic planning to creative TEL design.

LDSE is based on the following principles: social constructivism, collaboration, constructionist learning and knowledge building (D. Laurillard & Masterman, 2010a). It is possible to create a module, session or activity with the tool. Figure 13 shows the main session editing view. Users input general information about the module here, including: the name, start and end dates, elapsed time, learning time, number of students, topics and aims. It is possible for users to input their own aims or choose from an existing palette.


Figure 13: The main session editing view

Designs can be evaluated in terms of the amount of different types of activities they contain (acquisition, production, practice, inquiry and discussion) and the balance of personalised and social learning involved (Figure 14).


Figure 14: Evaluating Learning Designs

Figure 15 shows the session timeline where different types of activities are mapped across the module calendar. A palette of different types of learning activities is available that users can choose from and additional information for each can be included, such as activity notes and any associated resources for the activity.


Figure 15: The design timeline

The project has also produced a library of existing patterns that users can download and adapt.[5] Figure 16 shows one example of a pattern ‘Teach to learn’ where students work in small groups to teach each other about activity theory.


Figure 16: The teach to learn pattern 

Learning Activity Management System (LAMS)

LAMS [6] differs from the other tools discussed in this chapter in that it is both a graphically based tool and provides a runnable environment for the design produced. However it is included here as it does provide a structure mechanism for producing designs and because it has an associated Activity Planner tool. Dalziel provides an overview of the development of LAMS (Dalziel, 2003). It aimed to provide practitioners with an easy to use authoring environment to create structured content and collaborative tasks (called sequences) (Dalziel, 2007). The tool consists of a series of activities, such as small group debate, grouping activities and reflective group response. User drag activities onto the main design space and then connect them to create a learning activity sequence.  Once a sequence has been created it can be run with a group of students, as they progress through the teacher can monitor both group and individual activities. Sequences can be saved and exported and saved with others. The Activity Planner provides a set of templates based on good e-teaching practices. Templates include advice on using and repurposing these templates for different learning contexts.


Figure 17: Screenshot of LAMS

LAMS has two distinct advantages. Firstly it is an easy to use, graphically based tool. Secondly, it provides a runnable learning environment as an output from the design process. However the tool does not include structured guidance for the design process and because it is a runnable tool the focus is on a set of tools. It does not include details on other aspect of design such as learning outcomes, etc. and hence there is a danger that the design will be technologically driven. 


Cameron in her review of pedagogical planners (Cameron, 2011) concludes that:

The complex task of learning design for the higher education environment might be improved with good guidance, inspiring examples, and supportive tools. The current range of pedagogical planners acknowledge these factors in their design, along with the potential to streamline the planning process with direct input from the university’s databases (such as learner records, timetabling) and learning management system. The planners also provide an opportunity to share examples of good design practice, which can be tailored to meet the lecture’s particular requirments.

Both the Phoebe and LLP tools were produced as part of the JISC e-learning pedagogy programme. JISC define ‘designing for learning’ as:

Designing for Learning with a practitioner planning focus on e-Learning explores the process of designing, planning, sequencing or orchestrating learning tasks which may include the use of e-Learning tools.

The programme included a review of existing pedagogical theories used in e-learning and the funding of the development of the two pedagogical planners. These were designed to provide practitioners with the practical assistance they need in understanding how best to design activities for their learners. Beetham provides a detailed review of the Design for Learning programme and the lessons learnt (Beetham, 2008).  

The first four pedagogic planners consist of a combination of examples and supporting text to guide practice, whilst LAMS provides a graphical interface. However, they differ not only in the specific content and examples but also in their underpinning approach. Fill, Conole and Bailey (2008) argue that

A key challenge in today’s technology-enhanced educational environment is providing course designers with appropriate support and guidance on creating learning activities which are pedagogically informed and which make effective use of technologies. ‘Learning design’, where the use of the term is in its broadest sense, is seen by many as a key means of trying to address this issue.

However it is important not to underestimate the complexity and subtlety of the design process. As described in this chapter and articulated in the learning activity taxonomy which underpinned the DialogPlus toolkit, pedagogy is contingent on many different factors, which means that assuming that a relatively linear and simple decision making design tool will be suffice to scaffold design may be over optimistic. On the other hand it is evident that these pedagogical planners do provide valuable support for reflection and exploration, and help scaffold the design of learning activities.

A key issue identified across the use of all these tools is the problem of practitioners simply replicating existing practice. Individual beliefs about practice are deeply seated and not always articulated or even realised. Donald and Blake describe the HEART system, which aims to support teacher’s learning design practice by eliciting and depicting the pedagogical beliefs underpinning a learning design (Donald & Blake, 2009; Donald, Blake, Girault, Datt, & Ramsay, 2009).  The system is based on 13 belief/practice dimensions developed by Bain and McNaught (2006). These dimensions are used as the basis for a questionnaire where teachers respond to a five-point Likert scale representing a continuum of teacher-centred beliefs to student-centred beliefs and technology-supported teaching practices. The results are displayed using a visualisation tool, Many Eyes (IBM, n.d.). The visualisation illustrates the pedagogical dimensions of the course or learning design. Teachers are then encouraged to reflect on these, in order to better understand their inherent pedagogical beliefs.

San Diego et al. (2008)list a number of issues which need to be addressed when designing; pedagogical issues, contextual and cultural issues, representation and visualisation issues, balance of control over data, flexible database design and ownership. They argue that all of these need to be addressed in the development of requirements for a pedagogy planner. 

A lot has been learnt about the design process through the use and evaluation of these tools. In particular it is evident that whilst guidance and support needs to start from existing practice, it is also important to provide a mechanism for changing practice and for getting practitioners to focus more on the nature of the learning activities being created rather than subject content. All of the tools have an associated library of existing designs, the aspiration being that these can be used for inspiration and as a starting point to repurpose designs for new contexts of use.  However, in reality there is little evidence of these designs being repurposed.


Bailey, C., Zalfan, M. T., Davis, H. C., Fill, K., & Conole, G. (2006). Panning for gold: designing pedagogically-inspired learning nuggets.

Bain, J., & McNaught, C. (2006). How academics use technology in teaching and learning: understanding the relationship betwen beliefs and practice. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22(2), 99-113.

Beetham, H. (2008). Review of the Design for Learning programme phase 2, JISC Design for Learning programme report.

Cameron, L. (2011). Could pedagogical planners be a useful learning desing tool for university lecturers? Paper presented at the Internatinal conference on information communications technologies in education, Rhodes, Greece.

Conole, G. (2008). Capturing practice, the role of mediating artefacts in learning design In L. Lockyer, S. Bennett, S. Agostinhi and B. Harper Handbook of learning designs and learning objects: IGI Global.

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Conole, G., Littlejohn, A., Falconer, I., & Jeffrey, A. (2005). Pedagogical review of learning activiites and use cases, LADIE project report, JISC e-learning programme. Southampton: University of Southampton.

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Laurillard, D., & Masterman, L. (2010a). Implementing a constructionist approach to collaboration through a learning design support environment: Balancing users’ requirements with researchers’ theory-informed aspirations. Paper presented at the European LAMS and Learning Design Conference, Wolfson College, Oxford University.

Laurillard, D., & Masterman, L. (2010b). Online collaborative TPD for learning design. In J. O. Lindberg & A. D. Olofsson (Eds.), Online Learning Communities and Teacher Professional Development: Methods for Improved Educational Delivery (pp. 230-246). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Laurillard, D., & San Diego, J. P. (2007). Development and testing of a ‘Pedagogic Planner’. Paper presented at the Center for Distance Education (CDE) Fellows Conference, Institute of Education, University of London.

Masterman, L. (2008a). Activity theory and the design of pedagogic planning tools. In L. Lockyer, S. Bennett, S. Agostinho & B. Harper (Eds.), Handbook of research on learning design and learning obkects: issues, applications and technologies (Vol. 1, pp. 209 - 227). Hershey, New York: Information Science Reference.

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San Diego, J. P., Laurillard, D., Boyle, T., Bradley, C., Llubojevic, D., Nuemann, T., et al. (2008). Toward a user-oriented analytical approach to learning design. ALT-J, 16(1), 15-29.















2 Responses to “Chapter nine – pedagogical planners”

  1. Carsten Ullrich Says:

    Very good overview on this topic, thanks.
    In my PhD I build a “planner” that automatically generates courses (freely naviagatable sequences of HTML pages) according to the learner’s competencies and learning goal, e.g. “Overview on Derivation”, “In-depth course about Groups”. Courses consist of resources (paragraphs of text) and tools.
    Ullrich, C. & Melis, E. (2010), “Complex Course Generation Adapted to Pedagogical Scenarios and its Evaluation”, Educational Technology & Society. Vol. 13(2), pp. 102-115.
    Ullrich, C. & Melis, E. (2009), “Pedagogically Founded Courseware Generation based on HTN-Planning”, Expert Systems With Applications. Tarrytown, NY, USA Vol. 36(5), pp. 9319-9332. Pergamon Press, Inc..

    In case you are interested, you can find all my publications on my homepage:

  2. Gráinne Says:

    Thanks so much looks interesting and very relevant will take a look, glad you found the chapter useful and good luck with the PhD!

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