Our learning programmes are designed to reflect our institutional specialisms and priorities, to play to our strengths. Sometimes we risk forgetting that they will be taken by real people with different dispositions, orientations and perspectives. For this reason, the first stage of my 8 Stage Learning Design Framework is concerned with profiling students. Much the same way that any product designer asks 'who is my customer going to be?', we need to do the same thing in education. I'm sharing here a process in which we describe between four (five or six works too) imaginary individuals who are as different from each other as we can imagine as our potential students. I advocate a diversity matrix to build these characters, articulating different dispositional, educational, circumstantial and cultural parameters. We then run these user-cases through four further perspectives to reassess their discipline orientation, learning orientation, personal context and social context. There are overlaps and contradictions, a creative tension that reveals the strengths and relative weaknesses of any potential programme design. See the Research pages for more of Student Profiles
This an introduction to a new resource being shared on this website, the 8-Stage Learning Design Framework, or 8-SLDF for short. The framework provides a supportive step by step process to enable faculty and course designers to develop robust and well-aligned programmes or modules. Publication of the 8-SLDF is in preparation so only brief explanations are provided but resources will be shared over time with associated commentaries. These blog posts will find a permanent home on the research pages of this site too.
I believe that the best way of ensuring that students and faculty can both engage in a meaningful, positive and fruitful learning collaboration is by designing courses well.
By well, I mean that courses that are constructively aligned, relevant to the real-world experience of students, engaging and transparent. Courses must also be cultural and socially aware. Students need to know why they are being asked to perform learning tasks and we should always have an answer. Knowing 'why' an activity matters because it is the first step in any individual's self-reflective process, their metacognition and the development of their personal epistemologies (Atkisnon, 2014). We also need to know 'why' because doing anything for the sake of it is clearly wasteful of our time and energy. We as faculty are valuable players in the relationship between our students, the discipline, our institution and the wider world. Being good at what we do makes a difference. Designing courses that enable us to be better at what we do simply makes sense.
The 8-Stage Learning Design Framework has had a long gestation. It has its foundations built through my educational development practice around the work done by John Biggs on constructive alignment (2007) and the SOLO taxonomy (1982). I then incorporated work by Anderson and Krathwohl's reworking of Bloom's cognitive domain taxonomy (2001) alongside others domain development, including the original Bloom project's articulation of the affective domain (1956), Dave's psychomotor domain (1967), and my own interpretations of Metacognitive and Interpersonal domains.
The issue of the effective materials design was inspired by the Open and Distance learning world (pre-digital), particularly by Derek Rowntree (1994) and Fred Lockwood (1994), on my collaborations with Kevin Burden around the DiAL-e Framework (2009) and my own scholarship around the SOLE Model (2011). More recently I have drawn inspiration from the work of James Dalziel and Gráinne Conole (2016), and Diana Laurillard (2012), in their learning design conceptualisations, particularly as it relates to learning activities.
The result is I believe a comprehensive, flexible and adaptable learning design framework not just for activities but for entire courses, module and programmes. It is an appropriate framework regardless of the discipline, level, context or mode of learning. It is a framework for any adult, formal, learning context.
Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing : a revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.
Atkinson, S. P. (2011). Developing faculty to integrate innovative learning in their practice with the SOLE model. In S. Ferris (Ed.), Teaching, Learning and the Net Generation: Concepts and Tools for Reaching Digital Learners. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
Atkinson, S. P. (2014). Rethinking personal tutoring systems: the need to build on a foundation of epistemological beliefs. London: BPP University College.
Atkinson, S. P. (2015). Graduate Competencies, Employability and Educational Taxonomies: Critique of Intended Learning Outcomes. Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 10(2), 154–177.
Biggs, J., & Collis, K. F. (1982). Evaluating the Quality of Learning: Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome Taxonomy. New York: Academic Press Inc.
Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for Quality Learning at University: What the Student does (3rd ed.). Buckingham. GB: Open University Press.
Burden, K., & Atkinson, S. P. (2009). Personalising teaching and learning with digital resources: DiAL-e Framework case studies. In J. O’Donoghue (Ed.), Technology Supported Environment for Personalised Learning: Methods and Case Studies (pp. 91–108). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
Conole, G. (2016). Theoretical underpinnings of learning design. In J. Dalziel (Ed.), Learning design: conceptualizing a framework for teaching and learning online (pp. 42–62). New York: Routledge
Dave, R. H. (1967). Psychomotor domain. Presented at the International Conference of Educational Testing, Berlin.
Krathwohl, D. R., Bloom, B. S., & Masia, B. B. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook II: Affective Domain. New York; David McKay Company, Inc.
Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a Design Science (1 edition). New York: Routledge.
Lockwood, F. (Ed.). (1994). Materials Production in Open and Distance Learning. London: SAGE Publications Inc.
Rowntree, D. (1994). Preparing Materials for Open, Distance and Flexible Learning: An Action Guide for Teachers and Trainers. London: Routledge.
There is a wealth of literature that describes the purposes of providing feedback as part of the learning process in higher and professional education. I’m going to distil this voluminous research and scholarship into four key purposes.
Firstly, feedback for student learning is about increasing capacity for future actions. Indicating to the student how a piece of work, in-class contribution or whatever form of evidence, is provided by the students could be made better next time is about increasing their capacity. It’s human nature to think, “ok, well that’s task is completed, I passed, let's just move on”, but understanding how to do better, even in an imaginary ‘next time’, builds capacity.
This relates to the second purpose, developing self-awareness or metacognition in the student. Giving students the sense that even if there isn’t going to be another opportunity to provide evidence of learning in the same way again, there will be similar activities, tests, trails or exams and what they learn from the current feedback can be transferred into this new context.
Which leads us on to the third purpose of feedback, of developing academic skills. Poorly designed assessment might just be testing content knowledge, and it's very hard to provide meaningful feedback on such assessment. If on the other hand your assessment is well constructed, against distinct learning outcomes and using a meaningful marking rubric, then the feedback students receive should also be developing the academic abilities and skills beyond what they can recall.
The fourth and final purpose for providing feedback for student learning is to enhance the self-confidence and well-being of the student. Whether your feedback is providing confirmation of progress and success on the part of the student or providing supportive corrective guidance to a struggling student, the purpose remains the same, to bolster a positive attitude to learning, to the subject, to the practices associated with the discipline.
If you are struggling to meet these four core purposes in providing feedback to your students, you may want to think about reading a practical guidebook on providing feedback, enrolling on a professional development programme or just get together with your colleagues, and go through a course redesign or re-evaluation. You could invite a consultant to review your practices. You may find that your assessments and your in-class learning and teaching activities could be better designed to make providing meaningful feedback easier for you, and more useful for your students.
Simon Paul Atkinson
Consultancy for International Higher Education
There are social conventions, unwritten rules, around feedback in a formal education setting. Most students associate feedback as coming from the voice of authority in the form of red marks on a written script! It is important to redefine feedback for university and professional learners.
In this short overview video (3'30") Simon outlines four 'contractual' arrangements all faculty should establish at the outset of their course or module with respect to feedback for learning.
1) ensuring that students know WHERE feedback is coming from
2) WHEN to expect feedback
3) WHAT you mean by feedback
4) WHAT to DO with the feedback when it's received.
Feedback is undoubtedly expected from the tutor or instructor but there are numerous feedback channels available to students if only they are conscious of them. These include feedback from their peers but most important from self-assessment and learning activities designed in class.
Knowing where feedback is coming from as part of the learning process relieves the pressure on the tutor and in effect makes feedback a constant 'loop', knowing what to look out for and possibly having students document the feedback they receive supports their metacognitive development.
Being clear with students as to what you regard as feedback is an effective way of ensuring that students take ownership of their own learning. My own personal definition is extremely broad, from the feedback one receives in terms of follow-up comments for anything shared in an online environment to the nods and vocal agreement shared in class to things you say. These are all feedback. Knowing that also encourages participation!
Suggesting to students what they do with feedback will depend a little bit on the nature of the course and the formal assessment processes. Students naturally enough don't do things for the sake of it so it has to be of discernable benefit to them. If there is some form of portfolio based coursework assessment you could ask for an annotated 'diary' on feedback received through the course. If its a course with strong professional interpersonal outcomes (like nursing or teaching for example) you might ask students to identify their favourite and least favourite piece of feedback they experienced during the course, with a commentary on how it affected their subsequent actions.
What's important is to recognise that there are social conventions around feedback in a formal education setting, normally associated with red marks on a written script! It is important to redefine feedback for university and professional learners.
Simon Paul Atkinson (PFHEA)
SIJEN: Consultancy for International Higher Education
In response to a question from a client, I put together this short video outlining four types of assessment used in higher education, formative, summative, ipsative and synoptic. It's produced as an interactive H5P video. Please feel free to link to this short video (under 5 mins) as a resource if you think your students would find it of use.
I believe a sound learning design process should ensure students experience all five domains of educational objectives. Course designs that do not reflect the broad range of skills and attributes that university graduates should acquire through their studies do our students a disservice.
To support both course designers (module or programme), and those responsible for designing individual learning activities or assessments, I have created a poster that shows circular representations of all five domains. These provide a structure of progressive complexity for each educational domain taxonomy;
The sixth circle is an attempt to map each of these taxonomies against each other, and the SOLO taxonomy created by Professor John Biggs and reflects his work on Constructive Alignment (top right). There is also an illustration of my 8-stage learning design process (top middle) and a visualisation of the structure, common to all domains (top left).
Designers may choose to combine an activity that reflects across more than one domain and so reflects more than one intended learning outcome. Using these visual prompts should assist in this.
In January 2018 I shared on the project pages of this site a newly revised version of my 'educational taxonomies' poster. Now available as an A1, 150gsm, full-colour version posted in a reinforced tube anywhere in the world. See this page for costs and details.
The vast majority of employers ask that new employees, notably graduates, be effective communicators; that they should be able to work well within a team; that they take responsibility and that they are accountable for their actions. Increasingly in a global context, new employees are also expected to be culturally 'aware' or 'sensitive'. A great many universities go to significant effort to promote their 'graduate attributes' that usually include things like 'global citizenship' and ‘being an effective member of society'.
These abilities or attributes, communication, conflict resolution, collaboration, and cross-culture communication, all fall within the educational taxonomy of educational objectives, described as the interpersonal domain, with some overlap to an affective domain as it denotes personal value structures. The affective certainly underpins the interpersonal. Yet it is remarkable to find an institution, certainly here in the UK, in which interpersonal domain is adequately represented in their intended learning outcomes (ILO) with any notion of progression throughout a programme.
There will be elusions to 'being able to work together in a team' or 'communicate effectively' but these are rarely articulated in the form of an assessable ILO. Surely, given its importance as a personal attribute interpersonal skills should be the central feature of at least some modules within any given programme of studies. We know students pay more attention to those skills that are directly assessed so rather than having catch-all communication-lite style ILOs we should direct address and assess such attributes. My scholarship has derived an interpersonal domain taxonomy that maps the four facets of the interpersonal, communication, conflict resolution, collaboration, and cross-culture communication. Mapped within a single domain across five progressively complex levels of competence (articulate, argue, debate, translate, interpret) all four facets are represented.
As with all of my circular visual representations the boundaries between levels is fluid and can be breached by designers based on their personal needs. There may be reasons for articulating a 'lower-level' ILO for conflict resolution within an 'articulate' range whilst at the same time having an ILO addressing cross-cultural awareness from the highest 'interpret' level in the same module. This visual representation is intended simply to prompt discussions within learning design teams as to the appropriate language for structural ILOs and associated assessment. I also hope that it advocates for a greater balance across the domains.
A conference with the same title, held between 10-13 September 2017, at the Université du Luxembourg’s Belval Campus, Esch-sur-Alzette, was provocative, insightful and challenging. Of our contribution later, but it’s worth pointing out that of all the discipline groups it is perhaps the Humanities that increasingly struggles to justify their place in the academic pantheon. The Arts, despite unfunded, at least sees tangible products in its performance. Science delivers the ‘advances’ that our societies demand and the Social Sciences observe, comment on and pontificate over such advances. It is the Humanities that feel so out of place, with the contemporary, with the narcissistic individualism focused on ‘me right now’ and the imminent promises of tomorrow.
There is a clear need emerging from this conference to remind our societies that they depend on the cultural skills and knowledge highlighted through the humanities disciplines. They are invaluable in revealing the present and future, reflected in the past. The Humanities sense of their responsibility towards societies is sadly not requited.
The conference provided multiple tracks all serving to highlight the means by which the humanities engage with, and inform, future societal cultural endeavours. The emphasis, at times with a tinge of defensiveness, was clearly on an acknowledgement of the need to reach beyond established academic practice. Hence there were contributions from neuroscience and linguistics, from political science and social policy as well as some analysis of the curriculum disparities in the humanities disciplines.
Our contribution, that of my wife Dr Jeanette Atkinson and myself, was a presentation entitled “An Alternative Education for the Heritage Decision Makers of the Future”. The presentation documented the course development process I’ve been evolving over a decade, and first taught as a PGCert module at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences in 2011. It integrates other personal scholarship, notably around educational taxonomies and constructive alignment (S. P. Atkinson, 2013), but the process is in essence a structured professional dialogue between educational developer and academic course teams.
In this case the dialogue originated from a need, identified by Jeanette, based on her experience in researching and writing about the perspectives of heritage professionals in New Zealand (J. C. Atkinson, 2014). This work prompted a desire to inform practice in postgraduate education for future heritage professionals, focussed less on the preservation of the past, but rather on future societal impact through a popular engagement with heritage. Giving primacy of cultural values in any such education, combined with my research on higher education learning design processes, we went through the design process and originated a Masters programme. Given that the programme is currently being considered by a UK-HEI it is inappropriate to share too many details here, beyond the fact that following a sound educational learning design model, resulting in a constructively aligned curriculum, future graduates will develop not just subject knowledge but a range of contemporary and relevant intercultural skills.
The abilities, identified as being key affective and interpersonal domain learning objectives, are believed to be crucial skills for future graduates in an increasingly complex geopolitical landscape to advise and guide international policy processes well beyond the heritage sector. Flipping the process from ‘what’ to teach but to ‘why’ to teach, results in an original programme structure rich with significance. Arming students with these skills is surely one of the ‘Ends’ of the Humanities.
Atkinson, J. C. (2014). Education, Values and Ethics in International Heritage: Learning to Respect. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Group.
Atkinson, S. P. (2013). Taxonomy Circles: Visualizing the possibilities of intended learning outcomes. London: BPP University College.
I had the pleasure of working with 9 heritage professionals on Wednesday 7th September at thestudio in Birmingham on a research workshop exploring both a novel data collection methodology and the relevance of a particular educational model to the heritage sector. I have to say that thestudio is a great venue. Accessible, well equipped, well-lit and easy to book and use. It’s a commercial venue so not inexpensive but I figured that since all my participants were doing so for free, the least I could do was to ensure they were provided with a hot lunch and ample supplies of muffins, teas and coffees.
As a research method it also had the advantage of me not requiring to organize one-on-one interview-style meetings with each individual, paying to travel (and possibly stay over) to wherever they were based. It also ensured that individuals were away from their institutions, working with others, engaged in a professional dialogue as they annotated a large version of learning model. Working in three groups of three, each table annotated a single diagram, recording their existing institutional practices against the elements of the learning model. After lunch, the same teams did the same exercise with the focus of future activity. I borrowed a technique from World-Café workshops I’ve run before where between sessions the teams rotate and can see how other teams have responded.
There is a lot of data to go through, as I plan to convert people’s handwritten annotations into ‘type’. I’m looking forward to going through the responses and looking for any emergent patterns.
Recently I have been advising colleagues on how they should write Intended Learning Outcomes across all five educational domains (cognitive, knowledge, affective, psychomotor and interpersonal) and conform to the QAA guidance (UK). This guidance (widely adopted across UK higher education a sector) breaks ILOs into:
Knowledge and Understanding
Practical and Professional Skills
I don't agree with this guidance and would prefer learning designers to identify a balance of outcomes, appropriate to the nature of the discipline, the focus of the module and the modules shape or purpose within a programme. I suggest it makes more sense to do this by using five distinct domains, rather than the existing four vaguely defined catagories. Pragmatically though it is possible to map five distinct domains onto the four existing catagories. This is illustrated below.
Table 1. Mapping educational domains to QAA categories
Knowledge and Understanding
Knowledge often describes the scope of the subject intended to represent the ‘nature’ of the discipline with reference to the personal-epistemological and metacognitive development of students
Cognitive often referred to as intellectual skills refers to ‘knowledge structures’ in cognition, the progressively complex use of knowledge artefacts
Practical and Professional Skills
Affective sometimes referred to professional ‘skills’ or attributes perception of value issues, and ranges from simple awareness (Receiving), through to the internalization of personal value systems
Psychomotor referred to as practical skills refers to progressively complex manual or physical skills. This could be the ability to use a complex piece of software, instrument or paper documentation
Interpersonal referred to as communication skills refers to progressively complex levels in interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, collaboration and cross-cultural communication
As stated elsewhere I think higher education fails to accurately describe the skills, attributes and knowledge that students are intended to acquire through their studies. Creating meaningful ILOs is the beginning of well designed constructively aligned curricula.