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

CfP: BJET special issue on Learning Analytics, Learning Design and Teacher Inquiry (Deadline: 7 Oct)
Teacher-led inquiry, learning design and learning analytics:  a virtuous circle
Guest editors: Dr Yishay Mor, Dr Rebecca Ferguson and Professor Barbara Wasson
This special issue, BJET Volume 46, Issue 1, will be published in January 2015. This issue seeks to explore the synergy between teacher-led inquiry into student learning (TISL), learning design, and learning analytics.  For learning design to be effective, it should be informed and evaluated by teacher inquiry or should form part of a process of inquiry. For TISL to be meaningful, it should support the design of activities and resources. Together, these suggest an integrated dynamic model of teaching as design inquiry of learning. The recent emergence of learning analytics as a field offers to equip learners and teachers with powerful new tools that can support their inquiry into learning practices.

September 18, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Innovating Pedagogy report II is out

The OU’s Innovating Pedagogy reports explore new forms of teaching, learning and assessment, to guide educators and policy makers. The 2013 report updates four previous areas of innovation and introduces six new ones: Crowd Learning, Learning from Gaming, Maker Culture, Geo-Learning, Digital Scholarship and Citizen Inquiry. The report can be downloaded from

September 8, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Call for Submissions – MOOCs and Beyond: eLearning Papers Issue 33

eLearning Papers is currently welcoming submissions which address the challenges and future of Massive Open Online Courses, a trend in education that has skyrocketed since 2008. Issue 33, MOOCs and Beyond, seeks to both generate debate, and coalesce a variety of critical perspectives into a fruitful body of research.

Educators today are confronted with several questions regarding MOOCs. These include:What role do they play in the undergraduate degree system? In particular, what threat do they pose to higher education as it currently operates? Also, what does the path towards proper accreditation for these classes look like?

On a broader level, MOOCs offer another site from which to explore the intersection between technology and pedagogy, in the effort to improve our understanding of how to support learning. How do MOOCs differ from face-to-face, or even on-line closed courses? What is particular about the MOOC learning experience, and what does that teach us?

Contributors are invited to present theoretical or empirical research, specifically regarding the following topics:

- Experiences speaking to the design, implementation or assessment of a MOOC.

The impact of MOOCs within Higher Education.

Learning analytics and MOOCs.

Peer-to-peer learning and MOOCs.

- Analyses of the impact and reach of MOOCs – considering course completion, global recognition.

The guest editor for this edition is Yishay Mor.

Deadline: March 25th, 2013.

Click here to read the complete Call for Papers.

March 9, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

manifesto for teaching online: a design checklist for a 21st Century curriculum?

Cross posted from the OLDS MOOC blog:

Rebecca Ferguson and Mike Sharples pointed me to University of Edinburgh MSc in E-learning 2011’s manifesto for teaching online.

I wonder: how many of their maxims we follow? How many will emerge from the OLDS MOOC participant projects? Here’s a sample:
The possibility of the ‘online version’ is overstated. The best online courses are born digital.
‘Best practice’ is a totalising term blind to context – there are many ways to get it right.
Every course design is philosophy and belief in action.
The aesthetics of online course design are too readily neglected: courses that are fair of (inter)face are better places to teach and learn in.

December 19, 2012 Posted by | design | Leave a comment

this is your brain on code

Hannah Wright has an interesting study on cognitive advantages of programming, which she finds are similar to those of bilinguals:

The performance of 10 professional computer programmers (aged 22–25) and 10 adolescent computer programmers (aged 14–17) is compared to age-matched and IQ-matched controls in two executive control tasks. In the Attention Networks Test, as predicted, programmers recorded faster global reaction times than their monolingual peers; the difference was significant. In the Stroop colour-word task, programmers recorded slower reaction times; however, these results were not significant. Overall, the results suggest that extensive computer programming experience may, like bilingualism, be associated with enhanced executive control. Whatever the direction of this relationship, it could have important implications for education; these are discussed, along with areas for future research.

Hannah is very cautious about her results, and is well aware of the difference between correlation and causation. Nevertheless, this does warrant further investigation. In fact, here is one area of educational research where pre- and post- tests would be meaningful. And, I wonder if there’s a case for a cognitive neuroscience perspective? Yes, surely coding changes your brain – just like any tennis, or any activity you practice regularly. The question is, how?

Another perspective (personal plug – Mor & Noss 2008) is that programming creates mental bridges between mathematics and narrative. Narrative, as Bruner showed, is the means by which we organise experience into meaning. As Hirsh, Mar & Peterson argue: “A growing body of theory and research indicates that the broadest and most integrative levels of an individual’s knowledge system can be characterized as narrative descriptions of reality”. For example, Mar (2011) shows a strong link between narrative comprehension and theory of mind – our core mechanism of social cognition.

What has all this to do with Mathematics? Very little, and that’s the problem. Most people find mathematics hard to grasp, precisely because it is de-narratised. Wittgenstein said “Mathematics is invented to suit experience and then made independent of experience”, stripped of person, time, context – all the elements that make a narrative. The pure perfection of maths is the source of its power, but it leave our narrative apparatus nothing to latch on to.

And this is where coding comes in. Code is narrative in form, but mathematics in essence. A wolf in sheep’s skin. It tells a story, but that story has no tolerance for ambiguity or error. By putting our picture of the world into code, we tell a story – and in doing so construct meaning – but that story is mathematical.

Hirsh, J. B.; Mar, R. A. & Peterson, J. B. (in press), ‘Personal narratives as the highest level of cognitive integration’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Mar, R. (2011), ‘The neural bases of social cognition and story comprehension’, Annual review of psychology 62 , 103-134,

Mor, Yishay and Noss, Richard (2008). Programming as mathematical narrative. International Journal of Continuing Engineering Education and Life-Long Learning (IJCEELL), 18(2), pp. 214–233.

December 16, 2012 Posted by | narrative learning, neuroscience | Leave a comment

My Phd, made practical: “SNaP! Re-using, sharing and communicating designs and design knowledge using scenarios, narratives and patterns”

Mor, Yishay (2013). SNaP! Re-using, sharing and communicating designs and design knowledge using scenarios, narratives and patterns. In: Luckin, Rose; Goodyear, Peter; Grabowski, Barbara and Winters, Niall eds. Handbook of Design in Educational Technology. London: Routledge, (In press).

In order to enable a culture of critical, informed and reflective design practice we need a linguistic framework for communicating design knowledge: the knowledge of the characteristic features of a domain of practice, the challenges which inhabit it, and the established methods of resolving them. Such an infrastructure must “serve two masters”; on one hand, it should adhere to the requirements of scientific rigor, ensuring that the proposed conditions and challenges are genuine and the solutions effective. On the other hand, it should maintain pragmatic adequacy, ensuring that the insights it encapsulates are readily available for practitioners to implement in real-world situations. Several representations have been proposed to this effect: design narratives (Mor, 2011; Barab et al, 2008; Bell, Hoadley and Linn, 2004; Hoadley, 2002; Linn & Hsi, 2000), design principles (Kali, 2006, 2008; Linn, Bell, & Davis, 2004; Merrill, 2002; Quintana et al., 2004; van den Akker, 1999), and design patterns (Derntl & Motschnig-Pitrik, 2005; Goodyear, 2005; Mor & Winters, 2007; Retalis et al, 2006), to name a few. The aim of this chapter is to characterise two of these forms – design narratives and design patterns, and propose a third form – design scenarios, and suggest how these could be embedded in a cycle of reflective learning design.


November 28, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

phenomenology, representation, design

I’m working on a paper on “the grand challenges of learning design”. One of the issues I’m exploring is representation: what would be a good representational infrastructure for learning design? I thought I should look for analogies in other design practices, e.g. architecture. But then: what are we representing? Reading Jones (2011), I thought: are we representing the object, or the phenomena? What does an architectural drawing capture? And to what purpose? Is it a contract between designer, inhabitant, builder? Or is it a metaphor for a lived experience? Or maybe that’s what sketches are for – as Tversky & Suwa (below) note – sketches allow the designer to express “what the designer wants to create”, overlaying spatial information with functional properties. So are sketches our way of articulating phenomena?
Then there’s Latour and Yaneva who are not the least bit impressed my the whole phenomenological project:
All this is very well, except it does nothing more than to reproduce, at the level of architecture, the usual split between subjective and objective dimensions that has always paralyzed architectural theory—not to mention the well known split it has introduced between the architectural and engineering professions (and not to mention the catastrophic consequences it has had on philosophy proper).
The paradoxical aspect of this division of labor envisioned by those who want to add the “lived” dimensions of human perspective to the “objective” necessities of material existence is that, in order to avoid reducing humans to things, they first had to reduce things to drawings.
Jones, D. (2011), An alternative (to) reality, in ‘Proceedings of the Researching Learning in Immersive Virtual Environments Conference’.
Latour, B. & Yaneva, A. (2008), ‘“GIVE ME A GUN AND I WILL MAKE ALL BUILDINGS MOVE”: AN ANT’S VIEW OF ARCHITECTURE’, Explorations in architecture: Teaching, design, research , 80-89.
Tversky, B. & Suwa, M. (2009), Thinking with sketches , pp. 75-85 .
Suwa, M. & Tversky, B. (1997), ‘What do architects and students perceive in their design sketches? A protocol analysis’, Design studies 18 (4) , 385-403 .

November 28, 2012 Posted by | design | , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Innovating Pedagogy 2012

The OU’s Innovating Pedagogy report seems to be generating a lot of interest.

In case you haven’t seen it yet:

The series of reports explores new forms of teaching, learning and assessment for an interactive world, to guide teachers and policy makers in productive innovation.

The first report proposes ten innovations that are already in currency but have not yet had a profound influence on education:


November 14, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Aggregation rumination

Cross posted from

I’ve been thinking about Martin Hawksey’s excellent post “Show me your aggregation architecture and I’ll show you mine“. Martin surveys some 14 MOOCs (or, to be precise, cMOOCs) and compares their aggregation mechanisms. Theoretically, MOOCs are about making connections between learners’ independent journeys, and synergising the resources and insights they bring. If you have hundreds of participants or more – that needs some machinery to make it happen.

There’s a wide range of social technologies in the bag (flickr, twitter, facebook, lots of google groups) but only two RSS aggregators stand out: FeedWordPress and gRSShopper. The first is a wordpress plugin, so obviously only works if you choose wordpress as your platform (and have your own installation, rather than a or institutional one). The second requires root access to a web server. The sourceforge page cites 4 downloads, so I suspect its used mainly by its creators.
Martin seems to suggests we need a robust aggregation technology for MOOCs, and I agree. I’d also like to suggest the kind of activity it needs to support:
Nomination: you run a MOOC, I participate. I want to propose a feed for you to aggregate. you can accept the feed automatically, manually, or by public vote (e.g. it has 3 people to speak for it).
Aggregation: harvest the posts from a large group of feeds and display them in a way that I can easily sift through and find the stuff I’m interested. e.g., let me navigate by tags / keywords / most liked.
Curation: I want to select items from aggregator brought in, and compose a new item from them. Storify style.
Correlation: I want to find and display links between items. “Joe says A, Ann says B. But Ali links the two in a surprising way.”
And – I want it all with zero install. Ideally, as a platform independent embeddable component.

October 13, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment


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