Why is learning design important?

Key terms

Learning design: is a learner-centred design approach that enables...

Learning design lies at the heart of all teaching. Although the design for learning is usually hidden from students, it involves deliberate choices about what, when, where and how to teach. Decisions need to be made about the content, structure, timing, pedagogical strategies, sequence of learning activities, and type and frequency of assessment in the course, as well as the nature of technology used to support learning. Making these decisions is the process of creating your own design.

Designing a course for learning is similar to completing a jigsaw puzzle: some pieces will not fit first time, and a complete picture requires careful consideration of the alternative options.

In some contexts the term 'instructional design' may be more familiar than 'learning design' to you and your colleagues; indeed, this terminology is often reflected in departmental and faculty job titles. Nevertheless, in general, the concept of learning design signals a shift away from focusing on the teacher and the instructional process to concentrating on the learner and the learning process. Whereas instructional design focuses on systematic planning, learning design focuses on pedagogically informed decision making. In other words, the two terms reflect quite different philosophies (Beetham, 2013).

What does learning design mean
for developing my courses?

Learning design is an approach that helps you consider all the necessary factors in designing an online activity or course. You will consider:

  • Learners' needs
  • The context learning objectives (intended learning outcomes)
  • The learning environment, tools and resources incorporated
  • Other people who are involved in the course
  • The underpinning learning and teaching approach

We can think about the learning design process in terms of three phases of development, as outlined in the activity below. As we work through this course, the elements in each of the three phases will be explored in greater depth.

We can think about the learning design process in terms of three phases of development, as outlined below. As we work through this course, the elements in each of the three phases will be explored in greater depth.

In the following activity, use the 'Next' button to move through the activity screens and learn more about the three phases of development in learning design.

1: Pre-development/design

  • Be familiar with the key principles of quality online learning and consider how each can be represented in your own course
  • Get to know the policies related to online learning at your institution
  • Think about your learners
  • Think about the learning environment for the course
  • Consider previous courses taught, face-to-face or online. What went well? What could have been improved?

2: Development/design

  • Plan and develop your learning activities by thinking about content and tasks
  • Select appropriate assessments for your activities
  • Select appropriate materials and media for your content
  • Plan appropriate evaluation activities for your course.

Post-development/design

  • Conduct formative and summative evaluation of learners
  • Conduct formative and summative evaluation of teachers.

Principles of learning design

Learning design uses these and other factors to plan and develop learning resources and activities and assessments that will help students to achieve specific learning goals. Learning design for online courses:

  • Requires careful and rigorous planning
  • Focuses on the learner and the learning
  • Maps learning activities on to the chosen model of online learning
  • Is iterative, taking a cyclical approach to course improvements.

In the following videos, expert practitioners share their thoughts on the importance of learning design, and provide useful tips.

In the following interviews, expert practitioners share their thoughts on the importance of learning design, and provide useful tips.

Click 'Play' to start the video.

Download

Download an engaging Q&A with Jason Carter, a new instructional...

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The blended learning context

Blended learning icon

If you are planning a blended rather than a fully online course, it will have implications for all of the steps in your learning design process. When you consider the blended context, think carefully about the level of the desired learning outcomes, the possible ways of assessing these and how (and which) face-to-face and online learning activities can be woven together in a planned, pedagogically sound manner. You will also need to either:

Useful links

Useful summary of the flipped classroom approach: http://cft.vander...

  • Consider when the scheduled face-to-face meetings should be: can you arrange for these meetings to coincide with the course activities that are more meaningful face to face?
  • Create your course and then decide on which dates you will meet face to face. This will depend on your level of input. You might wish to try out the now popular flipped classroom approach, whereby students complete readings and lower-level assignments before coming to face-to-face sessions to complete the higher-level problem-based activities as a group (see the 'Useful links' pod to the right).
  • Create your course and then decide on which dates you will meet face to face. This will depend on your level of input. You might wish to try out the now popular flipped classroom approach, whereby students complete readings and lower-level assignments before coming to face-to-face sessions to complete the higher-level problem-based activities as a group (see the 'Useful links' pod at the end of the section).

Having worked through this screen on learning design, you should now be familiar with some of the key concepts that we will be using as we proceed through the course. Additionally, after watching the videos from learning design practitioners and hearing of their experiences of design and collaboration, you can start to understand the importance of following a systematic plan as you design your own online course.

Having worked through this section on learning design, you should now be familiar with some of the key concepts that we will be using as we proceed through the course. Additionally, after reading the interviews with learning design practitioners and hearing of their experiences of design and collaboration, you can start to understand the importance of following a systematic plan as you design your own online course.


Key terms

Learning design: is a learner-centred design approach that enables 'teachers/designers to make more informed decisions in how they go about designing learning activities and interventions, which is pedagogically informed and makes effective use of appropriate resources and technologies' (Conole, 2013, p.7).

Instructional design: is 'the systematic and reflective process of translating principles of learning and instruction into plans for instructional materials, activities, information resources, and evaluation' (Smith & Ragan, 1999).

Download

Download an engaging Q&A with Jason Carter, a new instructional designer from Purdue University, as he talks about the excitement and challenges of developing an online course for the first time. Do any of his experiences sound familiar?

Useful links