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#learning #design musings

When designing learning experiences (whether they be a traditional face to face experience, situated, distance/online,  MOOCs, SOOCs or a combination of these) there are a number of factors to consider in the design process.

Some factors include:
  • Context (economic, geographic, logistical, virtual, blended, etc)
  • Student characteristics
  • Epistemological perspectives, beliefs/perspectives on how knowledge is acquired
  • Purpose (why create the experience) can help determine your...
  • Outcomes
  • Content (to support the learning experience)
  • Theoretical perspective you will take (links with the third point)
  • How your teaching philosophy influences and is influenced by aspects of the above.
While teaching into an Assessment and Evaluation unit (Grad Cert) last year I asked students to nominate where they start when designing a unit, and recorded the following responses:

The poll was run early on in the unit to see where people sat before going through our learning experience. Unfortunately I did not run the poll again to see how if their positions changed. However it was encouraging to see most people started with learning outcomes when designing their unit. It's useful to note I think that  a persons chosen theoretical perspective is in part a response to their epistemological perspectives.  Those who begin with content may be considering what they want students to know, does this negate an active learning approach to achieving these goals? I don't think so. Similarly do those who begin with outcomes necessarily lean toward an active learning/constructivist/inquiry based/etc learning experience? No, that isn't a given, although it does help as a way of defining the "scope" of the content and determining the kinds of activities and assessment needed. What this poll doesn't show is that, regardless of where one starts, supporting the student on the journey can take many directions. What directions and approaches were these people intending to use and did the starting point have an effect on those decisions? What would be the impact on assessment design, does starting with content infer a tendency to assess knowledge of more than knowledge how? I don't know but I should have asked!

When following the Constructive Alignment (Biggs & Tang, 2007) approach we begin with Intended Learning Outcomes. The main thing is that the core elements of Constructive Alignment are on the table, and aligned. Outcomes (Intended), Content, Activities, Assessment, all aligned to support each other and based on a constructivist pedagogy that takes the view that people construct knowledge in such a way that everyone has their own understanding. Every played a game of Telephone (some know of as "Chinese Whispers")? How often is the original concept/knowledge a carbon copy at the other end? 

At the end of the day it is how we believe knowledge and concepts are developed (learned) and these beliefs will determine our teaching strategy, determining or – perhaps regardless, of where we start the process of design.

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university what the student does. (3rd ed.). Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill/Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.


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