Designed for learning

learning – teaching – research – design – technology

The art and science of learning design – a supplement of the Journal of Research in Learning Technology

I’m very happy to share the fruits of a long and intensive collaborative efforts.

The Journal of Research in Learning has recently published a supplement on “the art and science of learning design“, of which I am a co-editor. This supplement includes eight papers and an editorial. The work on this collection started at the “art and science of learning design” workshop. Some of the papers are direct descendants of contributions presented at the workshop, others are reflections and commentaries on the ideas discussed there, and two – Rashomon I and Rashomon II are new pieces of research proposed at the workshop’s concluding session.

Research and practice in learning design aims to make the tacit practices of design for learning explicit, provide suitable textual, visual and computational representations to support these practices, and suitable tools to manipulate them and share them. The editorial begins by considering the meaning of design, and the rationale for positioning education as a design practice.  We argue that whatever your interpretation of “learning” or “education”, it always concerns change – from an existing pattern of action or intentional state to a preferred one. This fits with Herbert Simon’s notion of design: “Engineers are not the only professional designers. Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. “. We then expand the discussion, by considering Ertmer, Parisio, and Wardak definition of design, and Latour’s 5 “advantages” of design.

We argue (provocatively?) that the “grand challenge of learning design” can be summarised by three words: language, practice and tools. Language refers to the representational systems used in the act of learning design. Language also refers to the scientific and professional discourse about learning design. Representing educational practice is one of the central themes of learning design. A growing body of literature raises the questions of representing, understanding and advancing the practices of learning design themselves. Finally, effective design practices need to be supported by powerful learning design tools. Such tools need to support the expression of design knowledge in a range of languages. Thus, tools connect practice, language, and knowledge.

The other papers in this supplement speak to these challenges. While all papers touch on the three themes of language, practice and tools – each one has a different balance of attention among them.

McKenney’s Designing and researching technology-enhanced learning for the zone of proximal implementation presents a case for technology-enhanced learning research and development that focuses more on what is practical today than on what could be effective in theory in the future. The paper proposes methodological considerations for the design of clear, value-added and tolerant innovations aligned with the real needs of today’s implementation contexts. This perspective calls researchers to include in their studies attention to broad factors focused on how innovations are understood and used by teachers and schools.

Pozzi and Persico Sustaining learning design and pedagogical planning in CSCL focus on learning design in the Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) domain. In particular, the paper discusses diverse existing approaches to design, represent, refine and visualise collaborative learning designs, and proposes a unifying model for pedagogical planning in the CSCL design process, with a strong focus on supporting decision making. The unifying design model considers the four dimensions of Task, Teams, Time and Technology.

Goodyear and Dimitriadis, in In medias res: reframing design for learning, go beyond considering design as a significant task of the teaching practice and focus on the role of design as a relevant means of helping people learn. The paper discusses why it is important to have a theory of design for learning and set out some of its elements. Key issues addressed in the paper are around the different actors involved in a framework of design for learning (people creating designs which can help other people learn, the learners, teachers supporting people learn) or the kinds of things that can be designed and re-designed, and how they may relate to multiple learning layers and goals. In Forward-oriented design for learning: illustrating the approach Dimitriadis and Goodyear turn to the recent design for learning literature to illustrate their forward-oriented design approach. They focus on two key facets of the approach, design for orchestration and design for reflection, and identify key points for reflection upon their design approach. They then draw upon fieldwork from two case studies to highlight how their approach addresses important design problems and provides suitable solutions.

Masterman and Craft (Designing and evaluating representations to model pedagogy) further emphasise the importance of theoretical grounding, turning their emphasis to the problem of the selection of representations of learning designs. To capture learning designs requires representing them in some way, both during and after the design process. The authors propose using a framework for epistemic efficacy adapted from the cognitive psychology literature, to aid in evaluating the effectiveness representations. To illustrate this, they show how the framework can be applied to the evaluation of one pedagogic planning also, the Learning Designer.

Continuing the theme of design representations, in the next paper, Katsamani and Retalis’ Orchestrating learning activities using the CADMOS learning design tool discusses the tension between formal representations of learning designs (such as IMS-LD) and the concerns of educational practitioners, who are not versed in technical formalisms but need intuitive visual and textual representations which are easy to share and manipulate. They compare five popular LD tools (MOT+, Compendium, WebCollage, OpenGLM, and LAMS) using five criteria: usability, guidance, formalisation, pedagogical neutrality and design flexibility. They argue that no single tool satisfies all five criteria. They propose CADMOS as a tool which aims to address these concerns, by guiding practitioners in a design process which is based on the principle of “separation of concerns”: maintaining two parallel models of the design – a conceptual model and a flow model. They discuss the results of a user evaluation of the tool, and map its future development.

As the number of learning design tools and representations continues to grow, it becomes more difficult to keep track of them and to engage with them. Therefore, not many researchers or practitioners have time to try more than a few tools, and they are unlikely to use several different tools to author the same design. They are perhaps even more unlikely to take into consideration different approaches to the learning design process, itself. This is especially true for practitioners, who must cope with the day-to-day demands of teaching. Hence, the motivation for the concluding two papers in this supplement. We take our inspiration from the internationally acclaimed film, Rashomon (1950) by the late Japanese film director, Akira Kurosawa. Rashomon is notable not only because it introduced Japanese cinema to Western audiences, but also because of the novel plot device used by Kurosawa, in which the same narrative (a mysterious murder) is revealed from the perspectives of three different characters. We hope to provide the same benefit of multiple viewpoints in the papers Rashomon I and Rashomon II. As a result, these two concluding papers are rather different to the traditional research literature, but we believe they provide compelling perspectives on the contemporary opportunities and challenges in our field.

In Rashomon I Persico et al. consider the tensions and possible synergies between different approaches to LD by examining a single activity – the PI project Healthy Eating activity (Anastopoulou et al2012) through the lens of five different design approaches, each supported by particular representations and tools. These approaches are the 4SPPIces Model, the 4Ts, the e-Design Template, the Design Principles Database and the Design Narratives. The authors compare the various approaches according to their underlying pedagogical assumptions, their mode of use, and their advantages to the designer and educator. Each approach guides the designer through key decisions in the design process (or in the case of Design Narrative – in post-hoc reflection on it). The comparison does not claim to be extensive, or to conclude that one approach is superior to another. Its value is in exposing the reader to the diversity of the field and allowing her to form an understanding of what would serve her best in particular situations.

In the companion paper Rashomon II, Prieto et al. take the approach of modelling the same activity using five different tools. The authors use the same “healthy eating” activity from the PI project and describe how this inquiry-based learning scenario is implemented in all five tools, providing illustrations and a detailed discussion for each. They are thus able to uncover key differences and similarities among the tools. These entail differences in their use and usefulness, their audiences, and pedagogic specialties, among others. This comparative approach therefore also illustrates some of the key contemporary challenges for the field of Learning Design.

We hope this contribution is useful not just for the learning design community, but for all researchers and practitioners engaged in educational innovation.

October 7, 2013 Posted by | design, design patterns, learning design, technology | , | Leave a comment

mLearning project ideas from my students

A couple of weeks ago Daniel Spikol visited my mLearning class. My students prepared a presentation, outlining their projects. I asked for their permission to share it with the world. Comments are very, very welcome. I promise to pass them on:

(I tried to embed the presentation, but the plugin doesn’t seem to work, so you can watch the presentation here)

May 14, 2011 Posted by | design, technology | , , , , , | 1 Comment

beware of JamMo!

Last week at CAL I heard Lorna McKnight talk about JamMo. It sounded interesting, so I instinctively went to their download page and followed the instructions.

Big mistake.

The installation packages are enormous. They clogged up my system, then failed in mid-installation, leaving my poor little Ubuntu unusable. It took me a week until I realised there’s no avoiding root shell access (well, to be honest – I was walking in the Peak District most of it). Today I dived in, removed the jammo packages, removed its repository from the sources list, and rebooted. Haaaa. Nice to see that familiar screen again.

Now all I need to figure out is why my windows has gone blue-screen-of-death.

April 29, 2011 Posted by | technology | 2 Comments

internet makes you smarter, and these here scans show it

Next time some apocalyptic bore starts yapping about how facebook causes cancer pull out your copy of Small, Moody et al. or Small & Vorgan’s  iBrain and show the audience that brain scans demonstrate how middle-aged and older adults with little Internet experience were able to trigger key centres in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning after just one week of surfing the Web.

October 20, 2009 Posted by | neuroscience, technology | , , , , | Leave a comment

This is a Man’s world

BBC gloats over a new Harvard twitter study. See – its not so social, is it? You’re just another broadcast medium. Ha. We know broadcast.

Yeah, well, its called the power law of participation, dude. So far all the BBC has proven is that Twitter is a social networking site. Broadcast medium? Let’s talk when the BBC hits the 10:90 producer:consumer ratio. The Harvard statistics included the majority of people who just registered for a glimpse of what the noise is all about but never came back. Again, typical of social nets. All that reflects is the fact that such sites are valuated (as in money) by the number of subscriptions.

What the BBC missed, however, is the huge gender gap:

Of our sample (300,542 users, collected in May 2009), 80% are followed by or follow at least one user. By comparison, only 60 to 65% of other online social networks’ members had at least one friend (when these networks were at a similar level of development). This suggests that actual users (as opposed to the media at large) understand how Twitter works.

Although men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, men have 15% more followers than women. Men also have more reciprocated relationships, in which two users follow each other. This “follower split” suggests that women are driven less by followers than men, or have more stringent thresholds for reciprocating relationships. This is intriguing, especially given that females hold a slight majority on Twitter: we found that men comprise 45% of Twitter users, while women represent 55%. To get this figure, we cross-referenced users’ “real names” against a database of 40,000 strongly gendered names.

Even more interesting is who follows whom. We found that an average man is almost twice more likely to follow another man than a woman. Similarly, an average woman is 25% more likely to follow a man than a woman. Finally, an average man is 40% more likely to be followed by another man than by a woman. These results cannot be explained by different tweeting activity – both men and women tweet at the same rate.

Twitter’s usage patterns are also very different from a typical on-line social network. A typical Twitter user contributes very rarely. Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one. This translates into over half of Twitter users tweeting less than once every 74 days.
At the same time there is a small contingent of users who are very active. Specifically, the top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for 30% of all production. To put Twitter in perspective, consider an unlikely analogue – Wikipedia. There, the top 15% of the most prolific editors account for 90% of Wikipedia’s edits.

I don’t have the reference at hand, but I remember that FaceBook, for example, is dominated by women in the 25-35 band. What is it about Twitter that makes it a masculine medium? Is it the exhibitionist style of the tool? Or the fact that it is perceived as a marketing / business venue more than a social one? Whatever it is, is there a causal link between the gender bias of Twitter and its unique social dymanics? In other words, are woman better at listening and sustaining a conversation, while men just want to shout “Look at ME – I’m BIG!”

June 9, 2009 Posted by | Social Software, technology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

no excuse

The web has been around from 1990, and still we see crap sites. When someone who has little to do with technology puts up a pathetic site, you can sneer and move on. But when sites that claim to be about learning, knowledge and technology can’t get their act together – there’s just no excuse. Yet too often I see sites that are technologically dysfunctional, hard to navigate, have no fit for purpose, or are just plain ugly (I’m avoiding links her on purpose).

And really, there is no excuse. All it takes is a bit of attention to detail. Not just because the technology is cheap, not just because there’s a lot of good designers out there. Most of all, the design knowledge is out there, its free and its easy to find. Let me make it even easier. Here are a few useful collections of design patterns for UI / web / interaction / visualisation design. From now on, evey time you have a problem – find the relevant patterns and apply.

Books with companions sites:

van Duyne, Landay and Hong: design of sites

Jenifer Tidwell: Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design

Till Schümmer and Stephan Lukosch: Patterns for Computer-Mediated Interaction

Michael Mahemoff: Ajax Design Patterns

Web collections / repositories

Martijn van Welie’s interaction design patterns

the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library

Tom Ericson’s interaction design patterns (a collection of collections)

Interface design patterns

Great info visualisation patterns, and true to form – a very nice visualisation of the patterns themselves

Mobile UI design patterns

New and promising

These two are low on content, but I like their style. They are open repositories, so hopefully will grow with time

Fluid project open source design pattern library


Brian Christiansen pattern collection

Is hosted by  Chris messina as a Flickr collection, with each pattern represented by a short text and a heap of screenshots, so obviously appealing to visual thinkers

And of course..

The Pattern Language Network, which I’ve been working on for the last year and a bit. Still a bit messy, focused more on the social practices than the technology, but worth a look

(we should get nicer URL soon)

April 19, 2009 Posted by | design patterns, technology | Leave a comment

attribution bugs in the formative e-assessment report

The report I posted a few days ag0 had some serious faults in terms of links, credits and references. If you’ve downloaded it, please discard and get a fresh copy. Sorry for the inconvinience.

March 1, 2009 Posted by | London Knowlege Lab, Social Software, technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hackit & Bankwell: learn Linux from comix

hackit and bankwellYay! I never have to tell anyone how to install Ubuntu again. I can just send them this comic book (CC PDF).

Issue #1: Switching to Ubuntu – Print Version Available Now

This Issue is especially useful to power users who want to switch to Linux with Ubuntu!
Synopsis: Woody Hackett learns from his business partner, Jerome Bankwell, that they are the new owners of a documentary production studio that still uses Mastersoft, and that he will need to visit their facilities in the desert in order to teach them Ubuntu Linux. At “Interplanetary Pictures,” Woody shows their crew how to get started using the Ubuntu GUI following an installation. Guiding them through some basic software installation, Woody demonstrates to Kaori Soto and her associate Calvin Green basic ideas of GUI operation, so that they can use what they’ve learned to install other programs they might need down the road.

Well, to be honest, I never did have to tell anyone how to install Ubuntu. Just burn a CD and say “stick this in your drive and do what it says”. Still, nice art & it does run you through the history as well as basic ops in a cute way.

February 26, 2009 Posted by | open source, technology | , , , , | Leave a comment

cows in love?

I’ve been playing around with, trying different words. Of all the things I tried, the one word where the UK dominated was -


Now, what is going down in Nigeria?


And the one word with the most uniform global spread?

February 24, 2009 Posted by | technology | Leave a comment

Tom Stienberg wants £1,000,000

Tom Steinberg wants £1,000,000. And I hope he gets it. have been leading a quite revolution. Not only have they set up some of the most effective sites of civic empowerment, but they have also inspired other worldhackers across the world. Now they want to scale up. As Tom says, quoting David Lloyd-George: “You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps”. (I love that quote. I think I’m going to adopt it as a motto).

What’s the chasm? Surprisingly familiar. Tom knows how to make a system that “holds people’s hands through the process of lobbying for more serious changes at a local or national level” but those systems have two components: a bit of code, and a huge chunk of his time. Code is cheep, and there’s a lot of people who can do it good. Tom is unique. Its the same problem we’re facing at the Pattern Language Network. If you want your project to exceed the limits of your personal capacity, you need to take yourself out of the equation. Create systems that do not require your presence to work. And that, my friends, is expensive.

February 20, 2009 Posted by | technology | Leave a comment


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