If the product works, but what about the people?

This is probably going to be an even more incoherent ramble than normal but I have been trying to write posts around a number of things for the last couple of weeks I’m going to try and merge them.

A couple of weeks ago, I read this post by David Wiley. At the time I tweeted:

I confess to a more than a bit of this sentiment, and not just in relation to OER,   “Much of the OER movement has a bad attitude about platforms.” I am always wary when the focus is on developing platforms and not developing the people who will use these platforms.

I was once in a meeting where I put forward the “people and process not platforms and products” case. I was told that what was being discussed was platform “in the Californian sense of platform”.  . .  I’m sure a classic WTF look must have passed over my face, but it was explained that this meant people as well as technology.  Geography aside, three years later this sense of platform doesn’t seem to be that wide spread or acknowledged. Maybe I need to go to California. But I digress.

Not long before the Wiley post I was reading the Pearson White Paper on learning design.  It caused me a bit of unease too.  Part of me was delighted to see learning design being recognised by, whatever might happen to them, a significant player in the education technology provider field.   Using learning design to help product design is a bit of a no brainer. Technology should be driven by educational need or as Pearson put it :

“Products and systems that effectively leverage learning design can deliver superior learning outcomes.”

One example in the paper referred to work they had done in social science classes

“we quickly recognized that students were easily distracted by conventional textbooks. This told us we needed to eliminate distractions: any extraneous cognitive load that doesn’t promote learning. Fortunately, our learning design work reveals many proven techniques for accomplishing this. REVEL segments all content into manageable pieces and presents it via a consistent structure. It provides strong signaling cues to highlight key material and places all relevant content on screen simultaneously to offer a continuous, uninterrupted experience”

Which kind of related to this point from the Wiley post:

“Our fixation on discovery and assembly also distracts us from other serious platform needs – like platforms for the collaborative development of OER and open assessments (assessments are the lifeblood of this new generation of platforms), where faculty and students can work together to create and update the core materials that support learning in our institutions. Our work in OER will never be truly sustainable until faculty and students jointly own this process, and that can’t happen until a new category of tools emerges that enables and supports this critical work. (Grant money for OER creation won’t last forever.)

And don’t even start trying to explain how the LMS is the answer. Just don’t. “

Well of course Pearson do try to explain that:

“As testing progresses, we can overcome problems that compromise outcomes and build a strong case that our design will support learning. The very same work also helps us tightly define assessments to find out if the product works in real classrooms”

Of course they don’t really touch on the OER aspect (all their learning design stuff has been made available with CC goodness) but I’ll come back to that.

That phrase “if the product works”, I keep coming back to that.  So on the one hand I have to be pleased that Pearson are recognising learning design. I have no argument with their core principles .  I agree with them all.  But I am still left with the niggle around the  assumption that the platform will “do” all the learning design  for both staff and students. That underlying  assumption that if only we had the right platform all would be well, everything could be personalised, through data and analytics and we’d have no retention issues.  That niggles me.

I was part of a plenary panel at the HESPA conference last week called “the future of learner analytics” where a number of these issues came up again.   The questions asked by this group of educational planners really stimulated a lot of debate. On reflection I was maybe a bit of a broken record.  I kept coming back not to platforms but people and more importantly time.  We really need to give our staff and students (but particularly our staff) time to engage with learning analytics.   Alongside the technical infrastructure for learning analytics we need to asking where’s the CPD planning for analytics?  They need to go hand in hand. Cathy Gunn, Jenny McDonald and John Milne’s excellent paper “the missing link for learning from analytics” sums this up perfectly:

there is a pressing need to add professional development and strategies to engage teachers to growing range of learning analytics initiatives If these areas are not addressed, adoption of the quality systems and tools that are currently available or underdevelopment may remain in the domain of the researchers and data analysis experts” 

There seems to be an assumption that personalisation of learning is a “good thing” but is it?  Going back to learning design, designing engaging learning activities is probably more worthwhile and ultimately more useful to students and society than trying to create homogenised, personalised chunked up content and assessments.  Designing to create more effective engagement with assessment and feedback is, imho, always going to be more effective than trying to design the perfect assessment platform.

In terms of assessment, early last week I was also at a Scotbug (our regional Blackboard user group) meeting, where I was in a group where we had to design an assessment system. This is what we came up with – the flipped assessment – aka student generated assessments.


Not new, but based on pedagogy and technology that is already in use ( NB there’s been a really great discussion around some of this in the ALT list this weekend).   I don’t think we need any new platforms for this type of approach to assessment and feedback – but we do need to think about learning design (which encapsulates assessment design) more, and give more time for CPD for staff to engage more with the design process and the technologies they either have to,  use or want to use.  This of course all relates to digital capability and capacity building.

So whilst  we’re thinking about next gen platforms, learning environments, please let’s not forget people. Let’s keep pressing for time for staff CPD to allow the culture shifts to happen around understand the value of OER, of sharing, of taking time to engage with learning design and not just having to tweak modules when there’s a bit of down time.

People are the most important part of any  learning environment – next gen, this gen, past gen. But people need time to evolve too, we can’t forget them or try to design out the need for them for successful learning and teaching to take place. Ultimately it’s people that will make the product work.

Using Trello for learning design

I was introduced to Trello last year by my colleague Jim Emery. For those of you unfamiliar with it,  Trello is a “free, flexible, and visual way to manage your projects and organize anything.”

Like many people I seem to have an aversion to most project management tools, but I have to say I took to Trello like a proverbial duck to water. We used it last year when we were developing our open course GCU Games On. In that instance we really used it more for task management,  having a board with three categories – to do, doing and done. But it can be used for so much more than that.  Doug Belshaw has a created a little video where he illustrates a workflow between Trello, gmail and github.  It’s strength really is it’s flexibility and the fact that it works cross platform and on any device. It also embeds into our VLE which is kinda handy too.

Earlier this year we recommended it to another of our colleagues, Anne Russell. Anne is a Senior Lecturer on our staff CPD programme. As part of a redesign and re-approval of the programme Anne was looking for a  tool to help her plan, and give an visual overview of her new module structure.  What she has come up with using Trello is, imho, pretty fab.  She has exploited features such as the colour coded labels in a really effective way to breakdown the activities, interactions and resources in each timed block of study. The screen shot below provides an illustration (click on the picture to see a larger version).

screenshot of trello board

We are also currently providing support for staff developing fully online programmes. We’ve been using a variety of learning design methodologies (see here and here). Today we ran a session for some colleagues in our school of Health and Life Sciences where we moved from paper based design to actual course and activity structure.  All of the participants today had already developed an outline paper storyboard. At the start of the session we showed Anne’s trello board. Immediately I could see lightbulbs going on. Within 5 minutes they were all totally absorbed and creating their own boards, sharing them with others not at the workshop and generally “having the most fun I’ve had all year”.

I’ve never really thought of Trello as a learning design tool, but I am now.  It has an almost natural flow with the Carpe Diem and Hybrid Learning Model storyboard/cards approach. The Trello board can be shared and adapted by course teams,  and the overall structure can then be used as they structure for a prototype (or actual) course design. Collaboration, deadlines, tasks etc can easily be built in too. I wish we’d had a tool like this back in the heady days of the Jisc Curriculum Design programme when there were a number of card/paper based design tools developed but a common challenge was what to do next with the paper prototype.

We are encouraging our staff to use Coursesites as a prototype area, primarily as our VLE is Blackboard and so it is a very familiar environment for them to work in. However we are also encouraging our staff to think about open, online courses, and Coursesites is a stepping stone in allowing people to make their designs more open and think about run them or bits of them as open courses.  The Coursesites option also allows for far easier peer review as the staff have complete control over who can access their sites.

We seem to have a really nice workflow now from paper storyboard to online, sharable, more detailed structure/activities/resources (via Trello) to prototype (Coursesites) to final delivery via our VLE GCULearn.  Over the coming months as this develops I’ll share how it is actually working, but as usual I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have in the comments.

design workflow model

Quick review of the Larnaca Learning Design Declaration

Late last month the Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design was published. Being “that time of year” I didn’t get round to blogging about it at the time. However as it’s the new year and as the OLDS mooc is starting this week, I thought it would be timely to have a quick review of the declaration.

The wordle gives a flavour of the emphasis of the text.

Wordle of Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design

Wordle of Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design

First off, it’s actually more of a descriptive paper on the development of research into learning design, rather than a set of statements declaring intent or a call for action. As such, it is quite a substantial document. Setting the context and sharing the outcomes of over 10 years worth of research is very useful and for anyone interested in this area I would say it is definitely worth taking the time to read it. And even for an “old hand” like me it was useful to recap on some of the background and core concepts. It states:

“This paper describes how ongoing work to develop a descriptive language for teaching and learning activities (often including the use of technology) is changing the way educators think about planning and facilitating educational activities. The ultimate goal of Learning Design is to convey great teaching ideas among educators in order to improve student learning.”

One of my main areas of involvement with learning design has been around interoperability, and the sharing of designs. Although the IMS Learning Design specification offered great promise of technical interoperability, there were a number of barriers to implementation of the full potential of the specification. And indeed expectations of what the spec actually did were somewhat over-inflated. Something I reflected on way back in 2009. However sharing of design practice and designs themselves has developed and this is something at CETIS we’ve tried to promote and move forward through our work in the JISC Design for Learning Programme, in particular with our mapping of designs report, the JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery Programmes and in our Design bashes: 2009, 2010, 2011. I was very pleased to see the Design Bashes included in the timeline of developments in the paper.

James Dalziel and the LAMS team have continually shown how designs can be easily built, run, shared and adapted. However having one language or notation system is a still goal in the field. During the past few years tho, much of the work has been concentrated on understanding the design process and how to help teachers find effective tools (online and offline) to develop new(er) approaches to teaching practice, and share those with the wider community. Viewpoints, LDSE and the OULDI projects are all good examples of this work.

The declaration uses the analogy of the development of musical notation to explain the need and aspirations of a design language which can be used to share and reproduce ideas, or in this case lessons. Whilst still a conceptual idea, this maybe one of the closest analogies with universal understanding. Developing such a notation system, is still a challenge as the paper highlights.

The declaration also introduces a Learning Design Conceptual Map which tries to “capture the broader education landscape and how it relates to the core concepts of Learning Design“.

Learning Design Conceptual Map

Learning Design Conceptual Map

These concepts including pedagogic neutrality, pedagogic approaches/theories and methodologies, teaching lifecycle, granularity of designs, guidance and sharing. The paper puts forward these core concepts as providing the foundations of a framework for learning design which combined with the conceptual map and actual practice provides a “new synthesis for for the field of learning design” and future developments.

Components of the field of Learning Design

Components of the field of Learning Design

So what next? The link between learning analytics and learning design was highlighted at the recent UK SoLAR Flare meeting. Will having more data about interaction/networks be able to help develop design processes and ultimately improving the learning experience for students? What about the link with OERs? Content always needs context and using OERs effectively intrinsically means having effective learning designs, so maybe now is a good time for OER community to engage more with the learning design community.

The Declaration is a very useful summary of where the Learning Design community is to date, but what is always needed is more time for practising teachers to engage with these ideas to allow them to start engaging with the research community and the tools and methodologies which they have been developing. The Declaration alone cannot do this, but it might act as a stimulus for exisiting and future developments. I’d also be up for running another Design Bash if there is enough interest – let me know in the comments if you are interested.

The OLDS MOOC is a another great opportunity for future development too and I’m looking forward to engaging with it over the next few weeks.

Some other useful resources
*Learning Design Network Facebook page
*PDF version of the Declaration
*CETIS resources on curriculum and learning design
*JISC Design Studio