Learning about Design Part 2

This blog post comes a little later than planned due to being a little bit under the weather of late. However now feeling increasingly better than previously, so time to crack on with the studies once more. Whilst away from my laptop I captalised on old-fashioned hard copy papers and highlighter pens, so over the next few days (completely aware Christmas Eve is in a few short hours!) I will be writing a number of posts from my readings on the theories and concepts of learning design and how this may impact on learner motivation.

Once again, the papers I have sourced relate to formal accredited for-fee study, though I will be drawing parallels wherever I can to informal non-accredited for-free learning and applying where possible.


Learning Design has been a fairly recent noted emergence on the educational landscape, however Holden (2009) commented that design education at The Open University (OU) has been provided since the 1970’s due to it’s unique nature of delivery of distance education to scale. Due to this scale Holden noted that the OU’s approach needed to be more generalist than specialist in view of designs used. This more generalist view is understandable given the sheer volume of students that the OU delivers education to, as Koskinen et al (2011) describes as “the ‘halfway’ between people and things”. Considering the number of people and the range of courses on offer it could be difficult to create a more specialist approach.

However, as record, theorised, and reflected upon by numerous academics since the creation of the OU, that there can be “resistance to learning” (Atherton 1999) when the ideas being presented are incompatible with a student’s view of education and/or its design. In the situation of informal learning, which is on a much larger scale to formal learning (the OU has circa 250,000 formal students, and circa 10 million informal learners), the frequency of resistance could be deemed to be higher of that considered within formal learning, which in turn could lead to impacting on learner motivation.

Bloom’s taxonomy (1984) is still considered to be the foundations of educational design, however it is important to note that it has received academic criticism for being essentially behaviourist in its principles and hierarchical in its construction. Anderson and Krathwol (2001) addressed a number of this criticisms in their updating of Bloom’s taxonomy by the introduction of a number of elements to the construction of the taxonomy such as addition of ‘actions’ (Remembering and Understanding) to the primary feature of ‘things’ (Knowledge and Comprehension).

As summarised by Conole et al (2004) when referring to learning design toolkits there is a range of learning theories in addition to behaviourism, which include:

  • Cognitive
  • Constructivist
  • Activity-based
  • Socially situated learning
  • Experiential
  • Systems theory

Though there is a range of theories to draw upon in the creation of learning design, Conole et al (2004) note:

‘Many described instances of e-learning claim to draw upon theoretical positions, such as constructivism, without explaining how they embody the principles and values of that approach (Oliver 2004). Perhaps as a result many designs reflect ‘commonsense’ rather than theoretically informed design’

In the creation of learning design toolkits Conole et al (2004) wish to address this re-occurrence of the reliance of common sense to develop learning material through the development of practical plans for action (Conole & Oliver 2002), and differentiation of approaches to evaluation (Conole, Crewe, Oliver, & Harvey 2001). Through the application of a toolkit it may even be possible to engage the process of reflection-in-action (Schon 1987), or Sadler’s (1989) approach to the monitoring of the quality of own work as part of a summative learning process. Walker (2009) states that in addition to synchronous reflection reinforced by asynchronous summative reflection should be a mechanism to feedback and the student’s understanding of feedback as a response, thus creating a student-centred approach (Biggs and Tang 2011) to increase the effectiveness of the learning.

However, once more it is important to consider that the above is related to formal study at a lower scale and narrower range (or of less frequency) than that of informal learning. The introduction of the element of informal learning creates an extra tension that makes it difficult to;

‘achieve balance between process and product, between responsive and contractual accountability and between individual and system outcomes’

(Gleeson & Donnabhain 2009)

The introduction of informal learning to a wider, larger, and subsequently diverse population is that there is possibly the over reliance of the system to deliver the learning, resulting in more of a generic response as part of the contractual obligation of the learning material. This over reliance can lead to the sense of ‘indoctrination’ (Chomsky 2012) in the trapping of learners into a system by conducting education of a market and its learners as customers. The difference here, in comparison to formal students, is that informal learners are more consumerist in nature than that of a customer. There is no monetary exchange required so the marketplace is more open and the learner can abandon their ‘acquisition’ at any time. In informal learning there are no barriers to exit, so motivation is one of the primary bargain chips in this marketplace. If a learner does not feel like a VIP in their exchange of time and motivation for informal learning, or that the requested learning outcomes are deemed too ‘pricey’ then the learner is able to either increase their time and motivation to create ‘value for money’ or decide that the expense is to great in consideration of their proposed investment.

It is important therefore to consider all the stages of learning design to ensure that the design created is ‘fit for purpose’ and the marketplace. Conole et al (2004) state that there a five stages for consideration:

  1. Reviewing learning theories
  2. Identifying common characteristics across the learning theories
  3. Building a model in relation to the theories
  4. Mapping learning theories to the model, thus identifying learning clusters
  5. Applying and testing the model, developing the learning design toolkit in relation to learning activities and associated mediating tools and resources.

Conole et al (2004) then develop the toolkit further as a model to include the following elements:

  • Individual – where the individual is the focus of learning
  • Social – learning developed through interaction with others (discourse and collaboration)
  • Reflection – experiences transformed into learning through conscious reflection
  • Non-reflection – the explanation of learning through conditioning, process learning, skills learning, and memorisation (Jarvis, Holford, & Griffin, 1998)
  • Information – through text, artefacts, and bodies of knowledge form learning and experiential foundations
  • Experience – through direct experience, activity, and practical application

Conole et al (2004) as part of their writing develop a number of representations of the six elements creating connections and relationships between the elements dependent upon the mapping of the learning theories to the aforementioned learning models. However, it is important to consider that all of the six elements, regardless of the models to which they are mapped to, seem to be of equal weighting. Though beneficial to have the presence of all six elements within a learning design, should not the extend of their presence also be considered? Whereby creating learning designs for informal learning to be delivered at mass, perpetually, and online to an ever moving community of informal learners, should consideration be given to the greater presence of certain elements over others? Would this cause a lever effect on the levels of learner motivation?

Dimitriadis, McAndrew, Conole, and Makriyannis (2009) argue that teachers don’t fully understand OER (Open Educational Resources) enough to effectively reuse them, coupled with the need then for them to apply effective learning design suitable for the plethora of learners increases the difficulty in the creation of suitable learning for context. Teachers may understand that learning can be developed through the ‘mediation of artefacts’ (Kuutti, 1991) to include ‘instruments, signs, language, and machines’ (Nardi, 1995), but Dimitriadis et al (2009) state that this context should also include ‘a process of abstraction of learning activities, and may include models, patterns, case studies, vocabularies or iconic representations’ as defined by Conole (2008). These are all different elements that comprise of the ingredients to create OER objects for learning. These objects may be large and complex enough to be considered as individual learning designs, or most commonly are building blocks to the creation of a learning design. In the case of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) it is prevalent, given the length of the courses, that they are constructed from individual OER with an adjoining or flowing narrative to create the learning journey. What is important to consider here is that each of these elements may have been designed differently, but different academics, for different purposes, potentially causing an ebb and flow effect to the learning that could have an impact on learner motivation to complete all of the various stages. It this sequencing of methods and media (Lewis & Merton 1996) that requires close scrutiny in the construction of a learning design and the establishment of its course overview (Harrison 1994), such ‘orchestration’ (Littleton, Scanlon, & Sharples, 2012) in the planning, management, and guidance of learning design needs close attention, not just for the narrative of the course, but also the elements within it.


Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D.R. (Eds). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.

Atherton, J. (1999). Resistance to learning: a discussion based on particpants in in-service professional training programmes. Journal of Vocational Education &Training, 51(1), 77-90. doi: 10.1080/13636829900200070

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does. (4th ed.). (Society for Research Into Higher Education). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Chomsky, N. (2012). The purpose of education. Retrieved from http://www.learningwithoutfrontiers.com/2012/02/noam-chomsky-the-purpose-of-education

Conole, G. (2008). Capturing practice: the role of mediating artefacts in learning design. In Handbook of Research on Learning Design and Learning Objects: Issues, Applications and Technologies,  L. Lockyer, S. Bennett, S. Agostinho, and Harper, B. (Eds), 187-207, Hersey PA: IGI Global.

Conole, G., Crewe, E., Oliver, M., & Harvey, J. (2001). A toolkit for supporting evaluation. The Association for Learning Technology Journal, 9(1), 38-49

Conole, G., & Oliver, M. (2002). Embedding theory into learning technology practice with toolkits. Journal of Interactive Educational Media, 8. Available: http://www.jime-open.ac.uk/ .

Dimitriadis, Y., McAndrew, P., Conole, G., & Makriyannis, E. (2009). New design approaches to repurposing open educational resources for collaborative learning using mediating artefacts. In: ascilite 2009: Same places, different spaces, 6-9 December 2009, Auckland, New Zealand.

Gleeson, J., & Donnabhain, D.O. (2009). Strategic planning and accountability in Irish education. Irish Educational Studies, 28(1), 27-46. doi:10.1080/03323310802597291

Harrison, C. (1994), ‘The role of learning technology in planning change in curriculum delivery and design’, ALT-J, 2(1), 30-7

Holden, G. (2009). Design at a distance. Paper presented at the Engineering and Product Design Education Conference. Brighton.

Jarvis, P., Holford, J., & Grifin, C. (1998). The theory and practice of learning.  London: Kogan Page.

Koskinen, I., Zimmerman, J., Binder, T., Redstrom, J., & Wensveen, S., (2011). Design research through practice: From the lab, field, and showroom. Amsterdam: Elsevier, Retrieved from http://bscw.wineme.fb5.uni0siegen.de/pub/bscw.cgi/d814752/DesignResearchComplete.pdf

Kuutti, K. (1991). Activity theory and its application to information systems development and research. In Information systems research,  H.E. Nissen (Ed.), 529-549, Amsterdam: Elsevier Science.

Kuutti, K. (1997). Activity theory as a potential framwork for human-computer interaction research. In B. Nardi (Ed.),  Context and consciousness: activity theory and human-computer interaction (pp. 17-44). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Lewis, R. & Meron, B. (1996). Technology for Learning: Where are We Going?. Independent Learning Unit position paper, University of Lincoln and Humberside.

Littleton, K., Scanlon, E., & Sharples, M. (2012). Editorial introduction: Orchestrating inquiry learning. In K. Littleton, E. Scanln, & M. Sharples (Eds.), Orchestrating inquiry learning.  New York: Routledge.

Nardi, B. (1995). Studying context: A comparison of activity theory, situated action models and distributed cognition. In Context and consciousness: Activity theory and human-computer interaction, B. Nardi (Ed.), 690101. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Oliver, R. (2002). Winning the toss and electing to bat: Maximising the opportunities of online learning. In C. Rust (Ed.), Proceedings of the 9th improving student learning conference (pp. 35-44). Oxford: OCSLD.

Sadler, D.R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science18(2), 119-144. doi: 10.1007/BF00117714

Schon, D.A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley and Sons.

Walker, M. (2009). An investigation into written comments on assignments: do students find them usable? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(1), 67-78. doi: 10.1080/02602930801895752



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