Learning Design for Online and Blended Learning

In June, the Blended Learning Unit at Mary Immaculate College hosted Professor Gráinne Conole for a workshop on learning design for online and blended learning that I was fortunate to attend.  Professor Conole is currently a Visiting Professor and the National Institute of Digital Learning (NIDL) at Dublin City University.  This half day workshop would focus on her 7 Cs of Learning Design framework:

  • Conceptualise
  • Capture
  • Create
  • Communicate
  • Collaborate
  • Combine
  • Consolidate

As this is normally a much longer workshop, we were treated to an overview of the process and carried out some tasks that would help us to think about the creation of online and blended learning spaces while being cognizant of the pedagogical features necessary in the course, the learner persona, and the relationship between the pedagogy and the chosen technology.  The resources are freely available, and it’s worth noting that there are different ways in which to approach the design process.  You can certainly use the tools on your own to work on your own course, but they can also be used by colleagues within a discipline to revise an existing module.  For this workshop, my team consisted of a learning technologist, an academic developer, and an academic, which really helped to bring differing perspectives to the design process.

The first group activity was a pedagogical features sorting exercise that used materials from the Open University Learning Design Initiative (JISC-OULDI) project. Groups were tasked with analysing course features and determining which pedagogical features were very important, somewhat important or not important. The cards were categorised as:

  • Orange = Guidance and Support
  • Blue = Content and Experience
  • Green = Communication and Collaboration
  • Purple = Reflection and Demonstration

This exercise provided for much discussion.  Most participants tried to classify too many features as “very important”, so much so that the cards were falling off of tables around the room.  It also became clear to the room that there needed to be more balance in terms of colour, especially with the blue “content” cards.  You can see the progression from our team in these before and after photos:



We tried to achieve more balance in terms of the categories, but still failed to trim down the number of features extensively.  However you might decide to use this resource, it was really beneficial to maintain an awareness of pedagogy and balance while completing a hands on exercise.  After all, online courses do need a good degree of planning behind them.

The next activity was to fill out a persona card for our students, and to take stock of not only aspects such as their digital skills, aspirations, educational background, and their role within the course.  Again, this proved to be an enlightening exercise, especially in terms of online learning.  In face-to-face, synchronous settings we have some opportunity to get to know students.  In an online environment, how can this be achieved?  While some courses can draw quite specific cohorts of student, others can be quite varied.  Age was discussed a lot, especially in terms of the digital skills necessary to undertake an online course, but it’s worth noting recent research on digital natives.

The last activity was to complete a course map using the four colours/categories to decide which tools we would use in our course, and what roles/responsibilities correspond to the use of each tool. I found this part of the day to be useful, as we had to triangulate the roles of teacher, learner and tool. A recurring theme in our group was the correct modelling of tools by the instructor, both technically and pedagogically. We also found that communication tools such as discussion boards can often fall flat in terms of student engagement if not introduced with a clear objective. This can occur as a result of a lack of exemplar content, rubrics, or modelling by the instructor.

This half day workshop was a whirlwind, but participants came away with some extremely useful resources to use as they begin the design process.  To summarise the day, I think it’s best to remind ourselves as educators that the technology we use must always correspond to the pedagogy.  In this workshop, we had to look at pedagogy and our learners before we even touched upon technology.


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