The impact of early learning design on the efficiency and effectiveness of curriculum design processes and practices

The aim of this pilot, based in the Open University’s Faculty of Education and Language Studies (FELS), was to develop and trial an approach to module design which drew on both the Course Business Models (CBM) project and Open University Learning Design Initiative (OULDI). In particular this pilot sought to develop an approach which provided greater emphasis on pedagogy and support for learning design, and that would lead to the design and development of modules which met the aims of a faculty’s learning and teaching strategy. That is, modules which evidence:

  • an increased proportion of active student learning compared with passive assimilation of presentation content (i.e. reading, watching, listening)
  • the full integration of student digital literacy skills into the module design
  • an increased proportion of student activity on the VLE

This was achieved through the development and delivery of module team workshops and support early in the design process (i.e. prior to the submission of the Business Appraisal and early specification documents).

This pilot appears to have worked very well both in terms of promoting the development of a coherent structural design for student engagement and improving the efficiency, effectiveness and reliability of the business and production process. Although it is not possible to identify how much money might be saved by engaging in this ‘front-loaded’ design process, it seems clear that the module team have been able to make design decisions faster than they might usually, have higher levels of confidence in these decisions and that module team meetings have been shorter and more focused.

However, until the university’s business and production process (the stage gate process) fully integrates learning design and CBM, module teams are likely to require additional design support particularly in relation to the ‘translation’ of design decisions and outputs into the stage gate forms. In addition, the module team chair at the centre of this pilot has voiced concerns that the use of the term ‘front-loading’ may actually be unhelpful. She believes that key to the successful roll-out of this process – even once the new stage gate process is in place – will be targeted support for the module team at key points in the production process. This could be through a new role which oversees and supports the pedagogical coherence of the module primarily at the beginning of the design process as trialled in this pilot, but also at key points throughout to ensure that early design thinking is effectively integrated into the development of student activities, assessment tasks and guidance and support strategies. It is the view of this project that this role would be most effective if faculty based, and that faculties should support the role as appropriate within their structures.

Open University (2012) OULDI pilot report FELS (including appendices), pp61

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