The ICEBERG principles: Learning design for retention

Retention – helping students complete the studies they’ve signed up for – is an essential element of learning design. Open University researchers Jitse van Ameijde, Martin Weller and Simon Cross developed the ICEBERG principles (2015) to highlight seven learning design elements that support retention. Below we’ve outlined briefly what the principles look like in practice.

Learning that is designed for retention should be:
Learning materials are constructively aligned: activities and other materials support assessment, ultimately helping students pass the module.
Learning activities include opportunities for students to articulate concepts to one another and reflect on them in new contexts. Collaboration also builds connections between students, helping them feel part of a supportive community.
Learning materials connect to students’ interests and goals via case studies, readings and varied activities. The academic team should be visible to students too, so that they can ‘hear’ the real people behind the curriculum.
Workload is manageable and evenly distributed throughout the module. Sudden jumps in effort needed can be alarming and may not fit in around students’ other commitments.
Learning materials cover what’s needed to ensure students meet the learning outcomes – and nothing more. Other content – however interesting – can distract students and upset their planning.
Activities include opportunities for regular reflection to help students test their understanding and see their progress.
Materials build understanding and skills gradually, helping students grasp the basics before exploring more complex concepts.

Find out more
Visit Professor Martin Weller’s blog to download the full report and to explore his insights into the research.

Van Ameijde, J., Cross, S. and Weller M. (2015) Designing for Student Retention. The ICEBERG Model and Key Design Tips [Online]. Available at model/