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Learning Design: a framework for modelling (e-)learning activities?. Helen Beetham Programme Consultant, e-Learning and Pedagogy. This morning I will:. Suggest a rationale for the present interest in learning design and modelling (e-)learning activities Offer some working definitions

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learning design a framework for modelling e learning activities

Learning Design:a framework for modelling (e-)learning activities?

Helen BeethamProgrammeConsultant,e-Learning and Pedagogy

this morning i will
This morning I will:
  • Suggest a rationale for the present interest in learning design and modelling (e-)learning activities
  • Offer some working definitions
  • Consider learning design as an approach to modelling learning activities
  • Describe how this work is being taken forward though the JISC e-Learning and Pedagogy programme
  • Outline some of the challenges
why the interest in learning design
Why the interest inlearning design?
  • Widespread adoption of designed, standards-based learning environments and tools
    • Pedagogical issues… appear to have been of secondary concern until now. JISC/UCISA (2003)
    • First generation VLEs do not obviously support innovative or diverse learning activities… [They are] strongly based around information transmission .. with little consideration given to the activities that the learners themselves might engage inBritain and Liber (2004)
  • Convergence of pedagogical research and practitioner education around ideas of
    • learner-centredness, ‘active’, constructive learners, outcomes-based teaching with emphasis on relevant tasks
why the interest in learning design4
Why the interest inlearning design?
  • Practitioner demand (from consultation):
    • ‘curriculum design’, ‘practical examples of learning activities’, ‘designing activities within VLEs’
    • (note the popularity of Salmon’s (2003) e-tivities)
    • ‘a means of describing practice’, ‘a means of mapping theory onto practice’ ‘a means of mapping activities onto outcomes’, ‘a common set of terms for all of this’
  • E-learning strategy:
    • Engaging teachers and lecturers through simple e-learning design tools would bring them closer to experimenting with pedagogical design DfES (2003)
  • Learning activities are central to learning
  • Designing/selecting and orchestrating tasks (‘designing for learning’) is a challenge
    • especially in computer-based learning environments
    • which focus on content and highly constrained or stereotyped interactions (access, post, submit etc)
    • where everything has to be represented explicitly
  • There is a need for conventional ways of representing activities and tasks, so:
    • effective activities/tasks can be shared
    • practitioners can make informed decisions about activities and approaches (including e/non-e)
    • evaluators can compare outcomes of different approaches
    • practitioners, researchers and developers of systems can communicate about what is effective for learners
    • learners themselves can reflect more effectively – and critically – on their learning activities
at this point you might like to consider
At this point you might like to consider…
  • What are the advantages of a conventional framework to describe (e-)learning activities?
  • Do we have one already? Is it any good?
  • What are the difficulties and risks of trying to develop (a better) one?
existing frameworks
Existing frameworks
  • Theoretical frameworks (mainly explanatory)
    • systems theory, activity theory, situated learning, cognitive/constructivist, individual differences (learning styles) etc…
  • Practice frameworks (descriptive/prescriptive)
    • CSALT networked learning model, Britain and Liber, Salmon, Laurillard, Peters, Pang&Hung, ID protocols…
  • Taxonomies
    • LTSN, DialoguePlus, CANDLE, SESDL, (Bloom, Reeves, Biggs etc)
  • Standards and specifications
    • technical standards e.g. IMS LOM, LD (may be hidden)
    • practice standards e.g. QA procedures, CPD frameworks
  • Useful accounts that don’t fit neatly into frameworks
    • case studies, action research reports
    • project findings: FDTL, TLTP, X4L, JISC, NLN evaluation, 5/99, ScotCIT, Europa, other EU projects…
    • guidelines and staff development materials: FPP, ELT, NetSkills courses…
    • ‘models in use’, rules of thumb, non-articulated expertise…
a pragmatic way forward
A pragmatic way forward…
  • Descriptions/models should meet specific users’ needs
    • taking account of factors relevant to their activities
    • using appropriate language and conventions
  • Users in first instance are learning and teaching practitioners engaged in designing for learning
    • practitioner planning perspective
  • Needs to be complemented by (and ideally mapped to) alternative perspectives, e.g.
    • developer (designing standards and systems)
    • manager (planning the implementation of systems)
    • researcher (explaining outcomes, developing paradigms)
    • learner (reflecting on previous learning activities and planning future learning activities – PDP strand)
  • Need to work with communities of practice
    • To encourage sharing, adoption, adaptation, evaluation and further development of descriptions (may be v local)
    • To help build bridges with other CoPs (may be v narrow)
key tasks from review e learning models
Key tasks (from review: e-learning models)
  • The e-learning and pedagogy programme will seek to define a range of practice models, i.e. distinct but comparable approaches among which practitioners, working in a specific context, can make an informed choice.
  • Any framework or terminology used must have a high degree of recognition and usability in the practitioner communities
  • The programme will be concerned with theoretical (explanatory) models insofar as these provide general frameworks for discussing, comparing and evaluating practice models (especially in relation to learner experience).
  • Where possible, practice models will be mapped totechnical standards and specifications to ensure that future systems are compatible with the needs of learners and teachers.
  • The focus will be on learning activity/task as the basic unit of modelling:
    • fits with conclusions from UKeU, CANDLE, Dialog+ and work at the OU (eLTN)
at this point you might like to consider10
At this point you might like to consider…
  • An effective technology-supported learning activity that you have experienced as a learner or a teacher.
  • How would you explain what was effective about it so that another teacher, working in another context, could decide whether to use or adapt it?
  • How you would describe the activity so that the other teacher could reproduce the important elements for his/her own learners?
what is learning design
What is ‘Learning Design’?
  • Broadly:
    • The planning and ordering of learning activities in a course or session (vb)
    • A ‘practitioner planning’ view on a learning situation, e.g. a lesson plan or a LAMS design (n)
    • In this broad sense, ‘designing for learning’ will be the focus of our programme’s work in the first year.
  • Narrowly:
    • A new IMS specification for sequences of interaction between learners and system components (compare LOM for content, PDPs/LR for learner data)
    • A sequence of activities specified according to LD
    • Is ‘Learning Design’ in this narrow sense a good candidate for the modelling framework we need?
learning design spec
Learning Design spec
  • Based on Educational Modelling Language (OUNL)
  • Specifies learning activities according to roles and resources
  • Activities are coordinated within an overall activity structure or learning flow, analagous to a workflow
  • Potentially allows expression of different pedagogical approaches as different structures or flows of activities
  • User-tested for both ‘generality’ and ‘expressiveness’

structure/flow of activities












theoretical approach

Levels of description (activity/approach)(H.Beetham, Feb ‘04)

a pproaches translated into activity structures flows hb
Approaches translated into activity structures/flows (HB)
  • Problem-based learning(1) present problem (2) learner elaborates problem (e.g. through analysis, discussion) (3) learner seeks information (4) learner analyses and evaluate information for relevance (5) learner applies information to problem (6) learner presents solution(s)
  • Conversational model (Laurillard)(1)set task goal (2) describe conception of subject (3) learner describes conception of subject (4) re-describe in light of learner action or description (5) adapt task goal in light of action or description (etc)
  • Cognitive scaffolding (Piaget)(1) present content (2) learner engages in content-related task (3) test comprehension (4) present next content in scaffolded sequence (5) next content-related task (etc)
advantages of ld
Advantages of LD
  • Focus is on interactions rather than on content
    • specifies collective as well as individual activities
  • Two distinct levels of representation
    • activity (specific interaction between users and system components) and use case (sequence of interactions)
  • Use cases can be expressed in machine-readable terms
    • an EML ‘player’ and the LAMS software are already being piloted by practitioners to develop sequences
    • interoperable with VLEs and other standards-based educational software
  • Use cases can also be expressed in ways readily understood by practitioners (e.g. graphically)
    • Approach=sequence escapes use of loaded and poorly-defined terms e.g. learner-centred, constructivist
  • Potentially enables re-use of activity sequences/flows with different subject content
    • NB this is what LD spec is designed to do!
problems with ld as a framework for modelling
Problems with LD as a framework for modelling
  • Most theoretical models use more than two levels of description for approach/activity
    • in fact the number of levels required may vary widely in different contexts (e.g. ‘read this extract’)
  • Sequencing sets limits on learner autonomy as well as practitioner improvisation
    • but without sequencing it’s unclear how the specification is an advance on existing schema
  • Terms used are unfamiliar to practitioners
    • Need an intermediary e.g. software tool
  • Activities are defined only thru interactions between users and content resources
    • How do activities support learning outcomes?
    • What are the specific relations between resources, tasks and goals (i.e. what makes interactions meaningful for learning?)

Learner(s)needs, motives, prior experience of learning, social and interpersonal skills, learning styles and approaches

Prior subject knowledge and skills of learner(s), prior conceptions, motivation to achieve specific outcomes, match of style/ approach to content

Prior experience of learner(s) with tools, environments, services; match of learning style and approach to affordances of learning environment

Outcomesubject/discipline area, target knowledge/ skills

Environmentavailable tools, facilities, services, resources, environments etc

Knowledge represented in specific media and formats; skills facilitated through specific tools; impact of learning environments on the meaning of knowledge and skills


‘interaction of learner with environment, leading to planned outcome’

A specification for learning activities (H.Beetham, Feb ‘04)

implications for modelling e learning
Implications for modelling (e-)learning
  • Useful to differentiate learning activities/tasks from learning approaches (= sequences or clusters)
  • But may be variable no. of ‘steps’ between these, e.g.:
    • Approach – activity structure – activity – activity…
    • Philosophy – approach – strategy – tactic (CSALT)
    • Activity cluster – activity – micro-activity (Dialog+)
  • Approaches to learning may be described
    • in terms of sequences of activity (workflows)
    • or structures/clusters of activity (parallel/branching)
  • Activitiesdefined as interactions between a learner and an environment with a planned learning outcome:
    • May not be analysable into smaller components
    • Means there are an infinitely large number, poorly classified
    • May be difficult to re-use except in very similar contexts
taking this forward current elap projects
Taking this forward: current eLaP projects
  • Desk study (e-learning models)
    • Produce tool for describing learning activities and approaches in conventional terms
    • Suggest possible mappings to standards-based and to theory/research-based means of description
    • Provide examples and guidelines
    • Produce complementary tool for evaluating described activities (e.g. in relation to learner experience)
  • Research study (practitioners)
    • Describe forms of representation/representational practice relevant to e-learning practitioners
    • Assess which are most effective at supporting practitioner change
    • Recommend the form(s) that outcomes of the programme should take
further projects
Further projects
  • Develop series of described and evaluated instances
    • different learning activities and approaches
    • different subject areas
    • different educational sectors and learner needs
  • Develop representations of practice that are of proven value to practitioners
    • lesson plans/learning designs for different environments
    • representations (e.g. video) of different approaches in use
    • a toolkit or planning tool for practitioners
    • a database of activities indexed to learning outcomes or needs
    • re-usable ‘activity sequences’ e.g. for use in a LAMS-type system
    • an online ‘knowledge garden’ in which participants contribute, refineand link e-learning concepts
    • materials for use in staff development and/or reflection, e.g. integrated into FPP modules
    • new digital library/portal functions
    • other ideas??
holistic view of elap year one designing for learning

Evaluation framework (evaluation tool)

analyse review collate evaluate



Resources, guidelines and tools

Evaluated models

Activity models


Consultation, needs analysis & resource development



Specific instances of e-learning activity

Case studies/evaluations

Holistic view of eLaP(year one: designing for learning)

Developing e-learning models

Descriptive framework(modelling tool)

your role
Your role

Please take part in the consultation exercise by filling in one of the forms available today

Return it to me now (Helen Beetham) or to the programme manager (Sarah Knight) at the address on the form

Visit the programme web-site and download some of the documents referred to:


Get involved via our email discussion list and ongoing consultation activities

Bid for funds under forthcoming invitations to tender!

an idea from activity theory
An idea from activity theory
  • A model is rooted in a particular view of the world (discourse, paradigm, ‘modelling language’…)
    • e.g. instructional design, systems design and engineering, activity theory, constructivism…
    • certain aspects are seen as important (abstraction)
  • It also has particular affordances for use in the world
    • e.g. it can be used to structure future activities such as systems design, learning, planning, research…
  • A model is both an artefact and a tool
    • As an artefact it is a product of the culture that made it (it is not ‘true’ but constructed, partial and conventional)
    • As a tool it is a guide to future action, again in specific cultural contexts

We can develop frameworks for modelling either by making a commitment to a particular paradigm of production (likely to be contentious) or by determining how the models can best be used as tools

we need
We need:
  • Representations of (e-)learning
    • activities/tasks
    • overall approach (=orchestration of activities/tasks)
  • that can be
    • shared
    • compared (including use/non-use of computer-based technologies)
    • generalised (to some degree)
    • applied to new contexts
  • within a common framework
    • e.g. taxonomy, ‘modelling language’, ‘plain English’ etc
we might want to differentiate
We might want to differentiate:
  • What needs to be represented/modelled in e-learning systems
    • i.e. according to technical standards/specs
    • highly interoperable BUT representationally poor
    • conventions widely agreed by designers but hidden from users
  • What needs to be represented/modelled outside the system
    • i.e. according to shared conventions between people
    • richer representations BUT not easily generalised: Which conventions (whose)? How widely accepted?
    • can be openly expressed, shared and critiqued
  • What cannot be represented/modelled
    • i.e. no standard or conventional terms exist
    • may need to be experienced ‘for real’, played out, given v rich (e.g. multimedia) representations
What is represented/modelled in e-learning systems
    • i.e. according to technical standards/specs
    • can be ‘designed’ and formally agreed
    • likely to be hidden from end-users
  • What is represented/modelled outside the system
    • i.e. according to shared conventions between people
    • can be openly expressed and critiqued
    • But which conventions (i.e. whose)? How do they gain acceptance? How general are they really?
  • What cannot be represented/modelled
    • i.e. cannot be expressed in standard or conventional terms
    • aspects of learning interaction which may need to be experienced ‘for real’, played out, enacted etc