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It is always a privilege to be listed with others whose work one admires. I was pointed recently to a page produced by Laura Heap at the London Metropolitan University in May 2014 on their eLearning Matrix pages. On a page where Laura outlines possible answers to the question "What models are there for blended and distance online learning delivery?" she has chosen to include my work here on the SOLE Model alongside some people that I deeply admire.

LondonMet Reference
LondonMet elearning Website

Laura lists four different models (references on the London Met webpage) which each, in very different ways, seek to clarify dimensions of the challenge presented by distance and blended learning scenarios (something I have already written about on my personal blog). Professor Terry Anderson at Athabasca University (Canada), alongside Randy Garrison, whilst at the University of Calgary back in the late 1990s and 2000s, developed a "community of inquiry model" as an instructional design model for e-learning. It seeks to acknowledge the impact of the mutual interdependence of student and teacher through three overlapping 'domains' of the social presence, cognitive presence and the teaching presence.

Her second inclusion is the '5 stage model' originated by Professor Gilly Salmon, now at Swinburne University (Australia). This model, from memory, originated from Gilly's PhD work at the Open University Business School in the early 1990s and I have been a critic of its simplistic adoption by many others. The original premise was similar to that of Anderson and Garrison's work that learners needed to be socialised into a learning 'community' in order to operate as effective learners. Originally somewhat limited by the world of CMC (Computer Mediated Conferencing) this model has been extended by others.

Laura Heap's fourth 'model' (I'm third so will come back to that) is by Professor Diana Laurillard, now at the the Institute of Education (London) referred to as the 'Conversational Framework'. This work also dates from Diana's time at the Open University late 1990s and early 2000s and has been adapted and developed by a great many others since. Essentially I would describe it as a reinterpretation of dialogic learning, notably in its form advocated by Mikhail Bakhtin (Bakhtin, 1981) who argued that meaning is a co-construction that results in processes of reflection, dialogue, between people. Laurillard builds a simple model that encourages teachers to structure, and plan, that dialogue into their teaching design.

The inclusion of the SOLE Model is flattering and does fit rather well. I tried to incorporate meta-theory into the development of a toolkit which would support learning designers and teachers to create 'communities of inquiry' whilst recognising the 'social' dimension and the the cultural differences which students live through every day. Borrowing particularly from Professor John Biggs's work on the SOLO taxonomy (Biggs and Collis, 1982). I also sought to encourage , after Bakhatin and Laurillard, to embed a conversation between the learner, learning activity and the learning objectives.

What is clear is that to have a theoretical framework for effective on-line learning design is essential. I may have deviated from Anderson and Garrison's separation from the social and cognitive processes, and from Salmon's stress for human socialisation but the SOLE Model does allow for the personal, communitarian and societal dimension to learning. In fact I see the principle difference is the focus on the student's immediate 'campus' environment and to place a greater stress on the student's real and diverse life 'outside' the control of the learning provider. I also differ from Laurillard's sequenced activity designs that result from the conversational framework into a more 'freeform' learning design at the theoretical level, but the toolkit development will hopefully include further structural aspects in the near future. Learning and teaching online (distance or 'blended') presents unique challenges for teachers and students alike. Personally I advocate transparency to design for the student by sharing the design as an advanced organiser (SOLE Toolkit) in order to express clarity of the learning process (dialogue) and to encourage interaction and feedback leading to enhancement. Whichever way you look at it, it is privilege to find the SOLE Model included in such illustrious company.

SOLE Model at London Met
SOLE Model at London Met


Bakhtin, M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Biggs, J., & Collis, K. F. (1982). Evaluating the Quality of Learning: Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome Taxonomy. New York: Academic Press Inc.

I am very pleased that the model and the toolkit continue to attract attention despite the relative neglect that I have subjected it to.

There have recently been to academic enquiries that give me some calls to think that the model and toolkit continues to have significant value. One was a request to use the illustration of the model in an upcoming chapter on blended learning, which was the challenge which prompted the models development in the first place. And the second an invitation to translate the SOLE toolkit into Spanish. This second request is itself particularly interesting since I believe the fundamental concepts to be universally applicable. Some of the early writings around the SOLE model explored the ways in which it might be applied in indigenous educational contexts and so the opportunity to translate into another language community internationally is very exciting.

I hope that in the not too distant future there may be Spanish resources available here to share and this will give an impetus for the further development of the toolkit.

I've been looking recently at a range of new builds in Universities and colleges in the UK and have been struck by the relative lack of any learning theory behind the designs. Beyond, that is, the Vice-Chancellor's evident pride at being able to point to the new coffee franchise and padded benches and say wisely "students' like to learn in these informal spaces you know". Today, ahead of some planned workshops in July, I published a short working paper entitled “Re-visioning Learning Spaces: Evolving faculty roles and emerging learning spaces“.

The paper recognises that new build and refurbishments of educational spaces can be significant financial commitments and often represent ‘flagship’ investments for many universities. It questions whether they are really supporting effective learning. This paper advocates that truly effective spaces need to be more closely associated with the particular learning contexts one is seeking to enrich. Re-visioning our learning spaces requires universities to create and engage with a conceptual model of the learner and faculty, to develop not just new spaces but support for new roles within those spaces. The SOLE model is presented as a conceptual framework through which new spaces and new faculty roles are considered.

Paper can be downloaded at or direct from BPP University College pages (ISBN – 9781 4453 5457 6 / Publication Date: May 2013)

Can one know too much about the learning we design? Why is it we appear to know so little? It's hard to share what you can't articulate. This is an attempt to make the learning expectations, aspirations and intentions we have of learners as transparent as possible. The desire to produce a useable, intuitive (or at least helpful) toolkit to implement the SOLE model of learning design has seen several small incremental updates in 2011.

Version 2.3 of the SOLE toolkit is released today 5th September and introduces a 'modes of engagement' schematic to a new 'dashboard' sheet within the toolkit workbook. The toolkit remains a standard Microsoft Excel workbook, without macros or protected cells that any user can customise and adapt.

Download the toolkit and explore.

Dashboard in Version 2.3 Beta

Following the presentation of the SOLE model and toolkit at Madison-Wisconsin in August 2011, a number of conversations about the ‘diagnostic’ function of the SOLE  toolkit have taken place.

One of the concerns of faculty and students is contact time. How much contact time am I being offered (versus how much I take advantage of), what other opportunities for facilitated guidance do I have. Why indeed, do I as the student not recognise the ‘directed’ learning I have been pointed to, and in the case of the SOLE approach, the entire toolkit forms an advanced organiser that demonstrates the consideration faculty have given to my learning time as a student.

The version of the Toolkit presented at the 27th Distance Education Conference at Madison Wisconsin broke down the learning engagements students were being asked to complete under the 9 elements of the model into 5 areas, or modes, of engagement. These are exploring the notions of learning engagement as reflective, introspective, social, facilitated and directed. In the next version of the toolkit I’m exploring a ‘dashboard’.

The Dashboard is a separate sheet that simply presents an overview, to faculty and potentially students, of the modes of learning being designed for the student. It shows at a glance, alongside the full profile of activities for each week or unit, a schematic that illustrates how much of the activity is facilitated, directed, and so on.


Great afternoon session today at Madison Wisconsin Conference. Some 50-60 people, the majority were faculty, and the majority with some responsibility for learning designs. It was an opportunity to outline the model and explore the cultural and contextual factors that lie behind the conceptual model. Some good exchanges and lots to think about. The toolkit was then demonstrated and seemed broadly appreciated. At least two people downloaded the free Excel Workbook during the session and hopefully more will do so shortly. It would be wonderful to find a US institution that felt the SOLE model could support their instructional design teams and faculty to develop more effective holistic learning design for learners.

The Workshop was run from this WordPress site so all the materials are available here

SOLE Model Poster
ALDinHE Poster - SOLE Model

This years ALDinHE conference had as its theme - “Engaging Students - Engaging Learning” and was a series of small, diverse but very practical sessions ranging from identifying successful work-based learning models to the effective induction of non-traditional learners. In amongst all of that I ran a small workshop on Wednesday 20th April using a single webpage on the wordpress site for the DiAL-e Project. (You are welcome to access the workshop resources if you are interested in the DiAL-e)

I had two posters at the conference, a solo effort with the SOLE model and a joint effort with Kevin Burden from the University of Hull featuring the DiAL-e framework work we have been doing since 2006. There was an excellent response to the SOLE poster and considerable interest in its potential use as a staff development stimulus. I was particularly keen to suggest it form a useful tool for course team development in the broader context of course design, but every conversation helps me refine my own ideas, which is after all why we go to these conferences!

The ALDinHE Poster (as a PDF: SOLE Poster 2011-1 FINAL)


The following brief video presentation was prepared for a Course Team workshop at Massey University NZ in May 2010 to introduce the SOLE Model.

The SOLE model is intended to be developmental, diagnostic, evaluative and descriptive. It is borne out of a desire to make the learning design process transparent to students, to encourage staff to share ‘patterns’ of learning with each other and to provide a basis for self-evaluation and development of specific learning designs. The model is not concerned with the design of specific learning activities but rather the appropriate balance between the different modes of student engagement anticipated.

The model does not prevent an academic scheduling four hours contact time a week and delivering a didactic lecture, but it would illuminate clearly that that was the approach being undertaken. Likewise, the model in and of itself does not prevent staff from reproducing an identical pattern of learning every week through a paper or course, but again, the models’ associated toolkit would make that process clear.

The SOLE model is not prescriptive and it is possible for teams to change and modify any aspect of the toolkit to suit their needs. The intention however is to provide staff with a model of effective practice such that one might be concerned about the quality of the student learning experience if the model illustrated a consistently ‘unbalanced’ approach.


One would anticipate that the visualisation generated by the toolkit would reflect a pattern of learning that differ from paper to paper, and from week to week. One could anticipate for example that in the first week of an undergraduate paper there would be significantly more ‘teacher-centeredness’ than in the twelfth week of a postgraduate paper. The visualisation will differ; the patterns can be expected to reflect different levels of engagement.

Centrality of Biggs Constructive Alignment

It is no coincidence that the model places the intended learning outcomes (ILO) at the centre. In each constructively aligned paper the pattern will be different because the learning outcomes, the assessment designed to illicit evidence of attainment and the patterns of teaching required to support that process will each be different. The SOLE model is precisely that, a model not a template. The model can, and should be adapted by staff to suit their particular approach to learning. It should reflect the nature both of their discipline, students existing context and the specific teaching environment.

The SOLE model was presented to colleagues in Zagreb (via Webinar) on December 8th as one possible way to explore staff preparedness for each cohort of learners they must design for.

I am delighted to be continuing my relationship with colleagues in Croatia at Centar za e-učenje and SRCE. I was asked to present Webinar on staff ‘integration’ of e-learning in their contemporary practice. The presentation for the Croatian National e-Learning Event on Wednesday 8th December comes at a rather opportune time as I have been writing about the myth of the ‘net-generation’ and the extent to which we are preparing academic staff adequately to work within contemporary expectations.

I’ve written a draft presentation entitled: Developing existing and new academic staff to integrate e-learning into their practice, that explores the need for each cohort of academic staff to revision, revitalise and reposition their teaching to suit the appropriate context in which they teach. It therefore becomes less an issue of whether there exists such a thing as a ‘net-generation‘ (I think not) but rather whether they have the reflective skills to enable them to position their practice appropriately and whether there exists learning design models that can support that practice. I cite the SOLE model as one possible approach but others certainly exist.

Webinar Image ScreencaptureIt was a great pleasure to work with colleagues at SRCE in Zagreb on Wednesday 8th for the 2nd National e-Learning Day (Here’s a full programme for the day ) My Adobe Connect Webinar was recorded and is available online. It’s always interesting to watch yourself but I do feel confident at least about the argument. There is a need to ensure that teaching staff see the process of professional development as one that prepares them to support the learning of each successive cohort of learners in an appropriate way, not as needing to find a technologigy solution to meet the ‘current’ perceive need.

The 40 minute webinar itself has also been shared and is available from SRCE online here:

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