Learning design focus group

We have just finished analysing the data and writing up a summary report from a learning design focus group we held here at the OU towards the end of January. The focus group provided an opportunity for some of those using learning design approaches across the university to share their perceptions of what the term ‘learning design’ means, their experiences of using the approach across faculties, and also discuss the future role of learning design in the university as we move into, and through, a changing educational landscape. Participants came from the support units (Library Services, LTS and IET) and  projects associated with learning design (Curriculum Business Models, OULDI).

We were pleased to find that there was significant alignment and overlap between groups as to their conceptualisation of learning design, although different language was used to describe where learning design ‘fitted in’ to their role, and each group emphasised a different aspects or levels/ granularity of learning design as might be expected in relation to their role. Simon Cross has begun mapping these differences, and we are beginning to see how the practice of  learning design interlinks across the institution (with regards to activity and levels).

There was also coherence around the issue of why embedded learning design processes could be useful for the university, i.e. what problems a learning design approach might solve and these are broadly mirrored in the findings from our partner universities. These are summarised as:

  • There is now too much choice for individual module authors and they cannot manage the design process alone.
  • Currently, decisions can sometimes be made at the wrong time or stage in the production process
  • There should be clearer detachment of the broader design and design components from the technology used
  • Students are now a more diverse and complex group
  • There is a greater need to think about the learning design ‘Problem Space’ including the learning and learner context
  • There is benefit in thinking holistically about all components of the design
  • Making products is an important function for us and a design approach supports this practice
  • It makes the design process more visible and facilitates better communication between those involved
  • There is a belief that money can be saved by adopting a learning design process
  • To allow us to better communicate to students how we are spending their fees
  • To allow us to provide different services based on customer choice and need
  • To ensure consistent and coherent student experience, even if modules are built as a ‘mash-up’ rather than through the traditional process
  • Because the process of designing is changing with a greater focus on ‘orchestration’
  • There will be a better product before the first cohort of students get sight of it
  • Time will be saved later for presentation teams as they will not have to go back and change as much
  • Effort will be saved in module production

This focus group came at a time where several of our colleagues on other JISC funded Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes are starting to report on significant progress, and are offering worked and trialled solutions to some of the problems identified above. Over the last week we have begun to pull some of this together in order to begin to consider what a curriculum design process, with embedded learning design, might look like – for example: enables a more evidence based and holistic design process, and moves focus away from text-based forms as a key design output; begins to overcome issues created by linear, rigid curriculum design structures (such as teams being required to answer questions about aspects of a new course before there is sufficient information to do so!); provides multiple opportunities for light-touch validation and multi-party collaboration and consultation. For example, as has been blogged previously, we are particularly interested in T-SPARCs use of Mahara to collate evidence and artefacts relating to the learning design decision making processes for validation and approval.

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