How do you define hybrid, or hyflex, learning?

I struggled recently to define hybrid learning to a client. They asked how they could go about creating ‘hybrid learning’ for their learners. A reasonable question?

There appears to be some confusion, in practice and in the literature, as to the differences between hybrid, hyflex (hiflex, hi-flex, etc), and blended learning. So, I would like to take a minute to propose some definitional parameters, and wait to see if you agree or disagree.

The terms hybrid and hyflex are, in my mind, essentially the same thing, but they differ from ‘mainstream’ blended approaches. Blended learning, as curricula and teaching practice, determines where a learner studies, and what they are doing in each space. The blend is anticipated and written into the curriculum. The teacher knows what the student will be doing in-person or as a distance learner. Indeed the course is most probably designed ‘flipped-classroom’ style, to optimise the precious time in face-to-face-face contexts, whether in-person or virtually. There are a few flavours of blended learning but they are all pre-determined by the course creator.

Hybrid, or hyflex, approaches attempt to give some agency, some control, to the learner as to the nature of their learning experience, the when, where and how. Both aim to empower the student to choose what learning should be studied face-to-face and that which should be studied online, and how to go about engaging with that learning. The only apparent difference, largely in US practice, appears to be the unpacking of the the distance participation element as asynchronous or synchronous online engagement. To me it’s a definition without a difference.

This hybrid/hyflex nature very often means courses spawn new hybrid ‘spaces’ in which there is an attempt at seamless integration between real-world in-person and virtual learning experiences. This means that designers of courses that aspire to be hybrid/hyflex learning may be required to enable the same (or equivalent) learning experiences to be modelled in multiple forms or alternative spaces (Bennett et al., 2020; Goodyear, 2020). This could be significant burden. Think about it as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) on drugs.

Blended, hybrid/hyflex are in fact all flexible learning models of delivery. They all make use of different combinations of the two modes of learning, in-person and distance. And they all fall within a regulatory and validation authority that determines the relative openness of programmes of study. Flexible is anything that is less than fixed. Its merely a question of degree. It’s clearly a spectrum. Courses are on a spectrum of curriculum delivery between rigid and flexible.

I persuaded this particular client that they did not need to go ‘all-in’ and design courses for hybrid delivery. Rather, they simply needed to consider what learning and teaching activities were best suited for ‘away-from-the-classroom’ study and to determine whether these required independent study or collaboration with others. To be a bit more… flexible.

It wasn’t the answer they wanted. After all, being ‘hybrid’ is so very much, you know, ‘now’. But it’s the answer they got.

Dr Simon Paul Atkinson

15 July 2022

Bennett, Dawn, Elizabeth Knight, and Jennifer Rowley. “The Role of Hybrid Learning Spaces in Enhancing Higher Education Students’ Employability.” British Journal of Educational Technology 51, no. 4 (2020): 1188–1202.

Goodyear, Peter. “Design and Co‐configuration for Hybrid Learning: Theorising the Practices of Learning Space Design.” British Journal of Educational Technology 51, no. 4 (2020): 1045–60.

Image generated using OpenAI DALL-E

Very Brief Overview of ‘Innovating Pedagogy 2022’

This very brief summary is in no way to be taken as a substitute for reading the full report, or indeed the Executive Summary, which is available here: Innovating Pedagogy 2022

Cover of Innovating Pedagogy 2022This is the 10th annual report exploring new forms in interactive and innovative practice of teaching, learning and assessment. These innovations already exist in pockets of practice but are not considered mainstream. This report, a collaboration between the Institute of Educational Technology in The Open University, UK, and the Open University of Catalonia, Spain, is the result of a filtering process and is compiled, based on a review of published studies and other sources.

Hybrid models
Maximising learning flexibility and opportunities. Beyond the strict curriculum delineations in Blended Learning models, Hybrid forms aim to empower the learner to optimise their own learner choices at to where, when and how to learn. Providing flexible choices requires teachers and institutions to adjust their systemic approaches.
Influencer-led education
 Learning from education influencers on social media platforms. Acknowledging the growth of edu-influencers, who optimise their use of social media tools to share their knowledge, experience, and passion for a range of subjects from the highly specialised to the generic. Evaluating the veracity of the message is a challenge for the learner.
Dual learning scenarios
Connecting learning in classrooms and industry workplaces. A step on from work-integrated learning models, the expectation is that course designers fully meld both formal classroom and work spaces into a coherent experience.
Pedagogies of the home
Understanding the home as a place for cultural learning. Not the same as home-schooling. Rather, it seeks to leverage the wider socio-cultural environment that the learner inhabits. Also recognises the burden on marginalised communities to fully participate.
Pedagogies of microcredentials
Accredited short courses to develop workplace skills. Existing approaches, snippets taken from existing programmes, fail to create an effective learning ecosystem for learners who require support to develop a patchwork portfolio meshing formal, non-formal and informal experiences together.
Pedagogy of discomfort  
Emotions as powerful tools for learning and for promoting social justice. A process
of self-examination that requires students to critically engage with their ideological traditions and ways of thinking about issues such as racism, oppression and social injustice.
Pedagogy of autonomy
Building capacity for freedom and independent learning. Explores notion of incorporating informal, non-formal and formal learning patterns into the learner’s experience, creating self-regulated learners with an emphasis on their metacognitive development and allowing them to reflect their true selves..
Wellbeing education
Promoting wellbeing across all aspects of teaching and learning. Wellbeing education helps students to develop mental health ‘literacy’ by teaching them how to manage their own mental health, recognise possible disorders, and learn how, where and when to seek help.
Watch parties
Watching videos together, whatever the time or place. Leveraging the increased connectivity prompted in response to covid-19, and the move of  media providers to provide educational tools, this is the notion of structured engagement around a shared viewing (or listening) experience.
Combining movement and conversation to enhance learning. Not just used in service of for those in need of emotional support, where the therapeutic benefits have been proven, but across a wide range of learning activities where reflection and thought would be best served by being away from the classroom and being outside and mobile.
10 Themes from the 2022 Innovating Pedagogy report


Kukulska-Hulme, A., (2022). Innovating Pedagogy 2022: Open University Innovation (No. 10). Open University.

Dr Simon Paul Atkinson PFHEA / 13 July 2022

Image is generated by OpenAI’s DALL-E2

Teaching about existential threats: why we need to teach concepts, not just facts.

It has now been more than four months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and I have been thinking how badly we need to be teaching about existential threats. I think we need to develop a curriculum that is open to contemporary real world challenges.

It has now been more than four months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Like many, I have been ruminating. This post it’s about that. Or at least not directly. I have been thinking about how badly we need to be teaching about existential threats. I think we need to develop a curriculum that is open to contemporary real world challenges.

I think global education needs to adjust to new realities. The First World War, the Great War, wasn’t a World war in July 1914. It became one later. The Second World War likewise was not a world war in September 1939, although it engulfed the globe in due course. We are yet to see whether the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine will prove to have been the start of the Third World War. Hopefully it will not become that kind of milestone, but i think we owe it to students to prepare them for that possibility.

Education is different now than it was in 1914 or 1939. Now we have wall to wall coverage, ubiquitous social media and real-time battlefield insights piped into childrens’, adolescents’ and adults’ television screens, tablets and smartphones. There is almost as much misinformation as there are facts on many platforms; as many well-meaning transmitters of misleading (sometimes factually inaccurate) news, as there are respectable and accredited voices. The democratisation of information is a good idea, but it assumes individual generators of that information are well-informed, critical and, if opinionated (or biased), state that upfront.

I have learnt a great deal about Ukraine in recent months. Some of it from listening to TikTokers and YouTubers. Some summarise Ukrainian news sources for us. and others share their daily lives from war torn cities. Some review Russian media sources. Some provide valuable daily summaries. Others share emotive responses to news as it happens. I am aware that I am, I believe, relatively digitally literate. I’m critical of the sources, often look up the individual commentators on other social media, check their LinkedIn profile and review past output. This last element is particularly interesting. I have been suspicious, though not dismissive, of social media account that started in late February 2022. Some are clearly chasing followers, clicks and likes. Some are clearly trying to provide what they see as a genuine information service. Being able to identify the difference is not always easy. Our students need to learn these skills.

Risk evaluation is a very difficult thing to teach. Each student will have different life experiences to make them more or less fearful of uncertainty. Those who lived through the Cuban missed crisis or the nuclear standoffs in the early 1980s may say they’ve seen it all before. What is different now is the ubiquitous nature of information, and misinformation, which is in danger of confusing students’ ability to make their own judgements.

Educators are morally obliged to teach the unseen. That includes climate change and the risk of nuclear war. There is not a discipline that cannot leverage the moment. Social sciences and humanities obviously have an edge. Physical sciences are often less flexible in terms of the curriculum. But I think it’s important that anyone teaching today pauses before delivering any concept, any idea or thought, and consider whether there is a contemporary example amongst the unseen existential threats that exist. It means sometimes abandoning our own safe assumptions, our own safe havens, and exploring things that we ourselves may see as uncertainties.

There any number of examples of elements within any curriculum that can leverage the Russia-Ukraine war. Political scientists can explore the notion of the Eurasian multipolar world view. Geographers can explore the three seas project, and Sociologists can explore the religious realignment we are now seeing amongst the Orthodox churches. Examples are endless if we focus on the concept rather than the content. Beyond any obvious historical comparisons there are lessons to be learnt across all the disciplines using contemporary examples. The learning of concepts, geopolitical perspectives, resource management and cultural power, are all more useful to the students that any specific set of facts.

How relevant the current Russian invasion of Ukraine may be perceived by faculty and their students alike will depend largely on geography. While the conflict itself is seen as a largely European ‘problem’, and it’s global economic implications are yet to be clearly felt, I would understand that these reflections are probably more relevant to my European colleagues than to many others. But the principle still stands. All concepts that form any part of the curriculum need to be based within a contemporary world context. We need to leverage the current crisis that is being seen and witnessed by students through the prism social media. In doing so we can both serve the curriculum and educate students with critical judgement about their sources of information.

Concepts not Content

I am passionate about privileging the teaching and learning of concepts rather than content. Concepts are instruments that serve to identify, define, explain, illustrate and analyse real-life elements and events, past, present or future. These are usually within the confines of a particular geography, social context and within discipline conventions, but when defined well, reach across all cultural boundaries.

There are essentially two kinds of concepts: sensory and abstract. Sensory concepts are tangible, they can be experienced through our senses. Abstract concepts are not directly experienced, they are often not visible and need to be imagined. There is a simple three step process for you to consider as you build learning with concepts: define, illustrate, and imagine.


It’s important to keep the definition of a concept at its simplest. It should be a self contained concept.

Let’s take for example the statement that Regional wars have global consequences.

We could then unpack what we means by regions, wars and global consequences. The easiest way to validate your concepts’ definition is to see how easy it is to state its opposite. Regional wars do not have global consequences.

I can already envisage an assessment task that asks students to identify regional conflicts that did not have global consequences, and then have their peers challenge them subsequently as alternative perceptions of those consequences (after some enquiry-based learning).


Illustrating a concept helps learners to catagorize new knowledge, to cement that new learning in a hierarchy or order of reality. Illustrations can be examples that demonstrate the truth of the definition, or it’s opposite. An illustration that does not match the definition also serves to help learners make sense of the definition. So in this example “Regional wars can have global consequences”, I could describe the key protagonists and events that led to the war in the Middle East between Israel and Arab powers in 1956, which had profound long term implications for European loss of influence and the rise of the United States as a regional power broker.

For its opposite I could take the regional war fought between the Sahrawi Indigenous Polisario Front and Morocco from 1975 to 1991 (and involving Mauritania between 1975 to 1979), for control of Western Sahara which has had minimal global impact. Although it is still a live issue in that region.

Neither world wars, both clearly regional conflicts but with different impacts. A useful conceptual space to unpack thoughts and idea with students. Learners do not need to have detailed knowledge about the background histories of the parties to be able to develop and understanding why these two different conflicts result in different implications. The challenge for them to unpack the factors that make up the definition of the concept shared earlier, that regional wars do not have global consequences.

I am not teaching my students about the 1956 Israel-Arab war or the war in Western Sahara, I am illustrating the factors that go into making the truth of my definition self evident. Examples and non-examples both support the interpretation of concepts.


Imagining scenarios in which the concept might be illustrated, perhaps using analogies, can prove very effective. Interpreting analogies requires the learner to deconstruct and reconstruct the element of the concept, it supports deeper comprehension, improves retention and allows the learner to adapt then meaning of a concept into their own sociology-cultural context.

It’s important that as you construct your imagined scenario or your analogy, that you ground it in the existing, or at least conceivable, experience that your learners already have or could have. There is a danger that we forget just how culturally diverse our student cohorts are. References to popular culture, national habits and pastimes may mean something to you but are not going to be generally understood.

You could for example ask students to imagine a conflict between whichever country you are teaching in and ask how a conflict with a neighbour state might, or might not, have global consequences. I acknowledge for too many in the world this is not merely an intellectual exercise.

Changing Practice

Concepts are foundational to all new learning but we, in tertiary education, are in the habit of burying or obscuring the key concepts amidst the weight of information, and then expecting the learner to be able to think in abstract terms.

I had a lecturer recently tell me that they didn’t have time to change the example that they were using to teach supply and demand, a well developed scenario based on the oil price during the Second Gulf War. I found it very hard to believe, given that the current Russian invasion of Ukraine has had a direct impact on oil and commodity prices globally. Why, I suggested, why didn’t they ask the students to fill in the details of his scenario so that they would understand better the duplications of each factor rather than sharing a preprepared example. I suggested that might also provide an opportunity for students to talk more openly about the current threats that they may perceive impact on them personally as result of this particular war.

Strange as it may seem I think that the current war provides an important catalyst for the re-evaluation and revitalisation of much of our social science and humanities curriculum. It reminds us that there are existential threats around us, and that these should service as pivotal points of reference as we explore concepts with our students enabling them to make meaningful connections.

Students need to be encouraged to seek out sources of information with a critical eye in order to be better prepared for the unforeseen.

Photo by Антон Дмитриев on Unsplash

Why I am not a social-constructivist

I have never believed in social-constructivism. At least not the way the educational anthropologists’ definition of the phenomena has been distorted and contorted into current practice. Social-constructivists justifiably argue that knowledge is often constructed through social interaction. Further, they state that the social and cultural context in which that learning occurs is significant. I just don’t believe that it necessarily requires in-person encounters. And I don’t think it applies to all forms of learning and disciplines.

Atharva Tulsi at Unsplash

The fetishism of ‘group-work’, which has continued to grow since the 1980s on the back of skimming the literature about social constructivism, and further enabled through digital tools in developed economies, has been applied to nearly all disciplines and all levels. This simply doesn’t make sense. Socialisation matters for children in K-12 as they learn diverse social skills through subject-based curriculum; at least in theory. Group-work, applied to much of the University curriculum has been poorly conceived. Rich courseware should provide a  transparent socio-cultural context for its learning. It rarely does. Unless the intention is to refine and extend the processes of socialisation for University students, students can, and should, be empowered to mediate the knowledge through their own socio-cultural reality.

When I read, listen, or watch something I am engaged in learning from another human being. Often this learning is asynchronous, sometimes time-displaced to an extreme degree, but there is still evidence of a voice. How well crafted the learning is, will depend on the coherent nature of that voice, but there is always a voice. At the Open University in the early 2000s Course Teams worked hard to ensure that no matter how many course authors might contribute to a course, there was a consistent ‘voice’. I just don’t believe that it is appropriate to assume that an individual’s learning is enhanced somehow by having ‘horizontal’ conversations with others who are at the same level of learning as themselves. I agree that one can learn from others. That is not the same as saying one necessarily learns with peers.

Personally, I believe we should be designing learning experiences, and courseware, that the individual student can deploy in their own context. If learners ‘want’ to learn with others, with whānua (family/community) or colleagues, they can do so. We may want to encourage them to mobilise people around their own learning, and to build networks to support their learning journey. This would be a truer representation of their lifelong learning experience going forward.

I don’t believe we should force students to ‘come and learn with us‘. To do so is to perpetuate an arcane model of learning that reinforces notions of power and privilege. It’s a model of learning that centralises access to knowledge, and maintains the notion of gatekeepers to learning. We should empower and enable learners through our courseware, not enslave them through it.

Photo by Atharva Tulsi on Unsplash


Why there is no place for self-directed learning in formal and non-formal education

I have a problem with the use of the term ‘self-directed learning’. Or more precisely, the misuse of the term, certainly as it relates to formal programmes of study as defined by United Kingdom (QAA) and New Zealand qualifications authorities (NZQA), and others. The casual use of vernacular language to define specific concepts is a constant problem for me. I would prefer if we would use the term ‘independent learning’, which is more accurate.

In my worldview, self-directed learning has a specific definition. Based on the work of Malcolm Knowles , self-directed learning requires the learner to have the freedom to decide what outcomes they intended and the resources and the path they will travel to gain the learning. Knowles’s own definition was that “In its broadest meaning self-directed learning describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes” (Knowles, 1975, p. 18). My emphasis.

There is an important distinction to be made here between formal, non-formal, informal, and incidental learning. Formal, non-formal and informal learning all have intentionality, the learner intends to learn something. That distinguishes it from incidental learning, which is gained ‘accidentally’, without the learner intending to learn anything. Formal and non-formal learning can be distinguished from informal learning because both forms have some structure, some curriculum, and some prescribed learning goals (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2012).

It’s important to make this distinction because so much of the commentary on the web, and even in the academic literature, journals, books and YouTube or LinkedIn videos conflate these concepts.

Clearly, any programme or course that has a defined curriculum, which accounts for most of the learning that takes place in schools, colleges, polytechnics, and universities, has learning goals, or outcomes, prescribed. This makes it literally impossible for the student to be ‘self-directed’. Self-directed is, by definition, learning where the individual decides for themselves what their curriculum is going to be and what the outcome of their learning will be. Self-directed learning cannot be non-formal or formal learning because both forms have curriculum already prescribed.

I would advocate that there are three modalities of learning applicable to contemporary formal (and non-formal) education. These three are taught, guided, and independent learning. Taught modality requires relatively close proximity to the instructor. Using Vygotskyian language, ‘taught’ constitutes the in inner space within the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) close to the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). ‘Guided’ still requires close attention to the voice of the MKE but can be experienced at a distance, spatially and temporally, but is still closely following a predetermined path. ‘Independent’ study may deviate to varied degrees from the voice of the MKE, encouraging students to explore their own learning context, real-world experiences or identifying multiple voices from which to learn, but all within a prescribed learning journey with predetermined outcomes in mind.

We can encourage students to explore specific learning resources and activities more independently of the tutor’s gaze and away from other students. This is independent study. This is likely still to be guided by the teacher with an agreed set of outcomes in mind, it is just not taught learning.

We would serve the learning community better if we talk about self-directed learning only in the context of informal learning. Self-directed learning requires the individual to decide for themselves the outcomes they want to achieve. When we are talking about learners doing their own thing in the context of formal and non-formal programmes of study, we should describe that as ‘independent study’ or ‘independent learning ‘.

I would like to see national qualifications authorities to adopt these distinctions. ‘Taught’ implies face-to-face real-time encounters between learners and teachers. ‘Guided’ is more suitable for time-displaced and distance learning, but still requires students to follow the lead by the voice of the MKO. Independent learning is still restricted by the agreed outcomes but allows the student to move away from the voice of the teacher and to make autonomous decisions as to best achieve the prescribed outcomes. There is no place for self-directed learning in formal and non-formal education.

Disclaimer: this post represents a personal view and in no way represents the views of any institution with which I am, or have been, associated.

Knowles, M. (1975). Self-directed Learning: A guide for learners and teachers. Association Press.

UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (2012). International standard classification of education: ISCED 2011. UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

Photo by Mika Matin on Unsplash


Designing Pathways: which way to innovation?

We need to continue to move away from seeing tertiary education as the imparting knowledge and see it rather as developing the skill of all students to be able to decide which learning pathways best suits their context, prior experience and aspirations. One of the consistent messages I try and instil in others’ practice is the importance of the social context in which the student inhabits.

In November 2018 I contributed to an EDEN online webinar talking about ‘Innovative Education’ as part of the 2018 European Distance Learning Week. Here is my presentation, entitled “Designing Pathways: which way to innovation?”

Pedagogy, Andragogy and Transformative Change (23’20”)

This online lecture, first delivered as part of a UK University PGCert for educators, reviews the concepts of pedagogy and andragogy before going on to examine the applicability of Mezirow’s transformative learning theory to professional education. It also identifies Paulo Friere and bell hooks as radical thinkers in education worthy of note. Please note that this lecture was originally intended to be supplemented with a synchronous webinar and additional readings.

These resources from 2013-2017 are being shared to support colleagues new to teaching online in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. 


What is missing from the UKPSF?

(Coaching is available for direct entries for Fellowship. Contact me to discuss)

The majority of academic staff in the United Kingdom will have come across the UKPSF in one form or another. It has been a benchmark for my academic development practice for fourteen years. The United Kingdom Professional Standards Framework is a set of statements, arguably objectives, for the ‘complete’ skill profile for an academic working in tertiary education. Divided into three areas, core knowledge, professional values and areas of activity, there is some potential overlap but it remains sufficiently broad to reflect the reality at the chalk-face (or PowerPoint screen). It has proved itself to be largely unopposed in the UK context  (certainly there are few rivals) and despite some tweaking of the original 2004 version in 2011, unchanged.

The stability and endurance of the framework is a tribute to its authors, with contributions drawn from across the tertiary sector. The homogeneous nature of the inputs does give us a framework that sometimes feels like a United Nations Security Council resolution, written in diplomatic English, designed not to offend and to be  ‘universal’, in other words euro-centric. Therein lies the difficulty.

As the Aotearoa New Zealand academic community has struggled to adopt and adapt the UKPSF to their unique post-colonial context, they have faced a challenge. In Aotearoa, the Treaty of Waitangi is enshrined in much of public policy and practice. An acknowledgement of the values ascribed to indigenous Māori perspectives, the Treaty is a touchstone for any professional practice framework. For this reason, Ako Aotearoa (NZ’s professional academic body equivalent to AdvanceHE, the inheritor of the HEA’s remit) continues to consider its position with respect to the UKPSF. Incorporating a range of Māori cultural and philosophical perspectives, kaupapa māori, including philosophical doctrines, indigenous knowledge, skills, attitudes and values, is an ongoing challenge. So far, I am aware only of one iteration of an NZ revised PSF operated by Auckland University of Technology, AUT, under the name of Ako Aronui ( Having been denied the opportunity to modify the original UKPSF (to ensure recognition process remained intact), the team at AUT have appended a Māori perspective to each element in the framework (Buissink et al., 2017). At face value, this could appear to be a mere translation, but it is much more than that. It could be seen as a cultural reinterpretation of each concept or notion. It falls short of a reappraisal of the fundamental indigenous approaches to learning, but it appears respectful and well-considered.

Australian colleagues have taken a somewhat different approach, drafting a ‘University Teaching Criteria and Standards Framework’ that directly linking roles and promotional structures to values and attributes within their framework. Australian colleagues claimed only to have used the UKPSF as a reference source rather than as a template. In the absence of an embedded or enshrined single treaty arrangement with the heterogeneous Aboriginal peoples of Australia, there is significantly less widespread inter-cultural reverence for different perspectives on learning. (

As a diverse, and somewhat eclectic, sector, the Canadian tertiary sector does not have a single professional framework for educators to aspire to. This is a country in which quality assurance is largely the responsibility of the Provinces, and there is no central national oversight, so this it is hardly surprising. Nonetheless, there are positive moves towards a recognition of the inherent values embedded in indigenous customs and practice with regards to learning, in a document produced by Universities Canada in 2015, entitled “Principles on Indigenous education“.

What the Aotearoa and Canadian examples share, and are absent from both the Australian and UK contexts, is an explicit desire not only to be inclusive and make liberal use of words such as access and equality (shared by all) but also to advocate for the indigenization, as well as the internationalization, of the learning experience. I would argue this is a serious omission from the UKPSF. It is absent from any derivation that does not, or is not permitted, to alter the original. There needs to be, I suggest, an acknowledgement of the unique cultural context in which any framework is drafted and explicit recognition of the philosophical and socio-cultural values that are embedded within it.

In the context of the UKPSF, this could be remedied by an additional statement in each category of elements; I’d make them top of the list, or number ‘0’.

Core Knowledge (K0) The cultural context in which knowledge is created and valued within their discipline.
Professional Values (P0) Recognise different epistemological frameworks and perspectives on learning and disciplinary knowledge.
Areas of Activity (A0) Embrace indigenous perspectives in all aspects of the educational practice.

That’s what’s missing. The challenge from an Anglo-European-American (post-enlightenment, Judeo-Christian, rationalist) perspective is to acknowledge that there is ‘another’ way of experiencing and learning-in and -about the world.


Buissink, N., Diamond, P., Hallas, J., Swann, J., & Sciascia, A. D. (2017). Challenging a measured university from an indigenous perspective: placing ‘manaaki’ at the heart of our professional development programme. Higher Education Research & Development, 36(3), 569–582.

Simplifying the Alignment of Assessment

Some recent work with programme designers in other UK institutions suggests to me that quality assurance and enhancement measures continue to be appended to the policies and practices carried out in UK HEIs rather than seeing a revitalising redesign of the entire design and approval process.

This is a shame because it has produced a great deal of work for faculty in designing and administering programmes and modules, not least when it comes to assessment. Whatever you feel about intended learning outcomes (ILOs) and their constraints or structural purpose, there is nearly universal agreement that the purpose of assessment is not to assess students ‘knowledge of the content’ on a module. Rather the intention of assessment is to demonstrate higher learning skills, most commonly codified in the intended learning outcomes. I have written elsewhere about the paucity of writing effective ILOs and focusing them almost entirely the cognitive domain (intellectual skills), with the omission of other skill domains notably the effective (professional skills) and the psychomotor (transferable skills). Here I want to identify the need for close proximity between ILOs and assessment criteria.

It seems to me that well-designed intended learning outcomes lead to cogent assessment design. They also suggest that the use of a transparent marking rubric, used by both markers and students, creates a simpler process.

To illustrate this I wanted to share two alternative approaches to aligning assessment to the outcomes of a specific module. In order to preserve the confidentiality of the module in question some elements have been omitted but hopefully the point will still be clearly made.

Complex Attempt to Assessment Alignment

Complex Assessment AlignmentI have experienced this process in several Universities.

  1. Intended Learning Outcomes are written (normally at the end of the ‘design’ process)
  2. ILOs are mapped to different categorizations of domains, Knowledge & Understanding, Intellectual Skills, Professional Skills and Attitudes, Transferable Skills.
  3. ILOs are mapped against assessments, sometimes even mapped to subject topics or weeks.
  4. Students get first sight of the assessment.
  5. Assessment Criteria are written for students using different categories of judgement: Organisation, Implementation, Analysis, Application, Structure, Referencing, etc.
  6. Assessment Marking Schemes are then written for assessors. Often with guidance as to what might be expected at specific threshold stages in the marking scheme.
  7. General Grading Criteria are then developed to map the schemes outcomes back to the ILOs.

Streamlined version of aligned assessment

streamlined marking rubric

I realise that this proposed structure is not suitable for all contexts, all educational levels and all disciplines. Nonetheless I would advocate that this is the optimal approach.

  1. ILO are written using a clear delineation of domains; Knowledge, Cognitive (Intellectual), Affective (Values), Psychomotor (Skills) and Interpersonal. These use appropriate verb structures tied directly to appropriate levels. This process is explained in this earlier post.
  2. A comprehensive marking rubric is then shared with both students and assessors. It identifies all of the ILOs that are being assessed. In principle we should only be assessing the ILOs in UK Higher Education NOT content. The rubric will differentiate the type of responses expected to achieve varies grading level.
    • There is an option to automatically sum grades given against specific outcomes or to take a more holistic view.
    • It is possible to weight specific ILOs as being worth more marks than others.
    • This approach works for portfolio assessment but also for a model of assessment where there are perhaps two or three separate pieces of assessment assuming each piece is linked to two or three ILOs.
    • Feedback is given against each ILO on the same rubric (I use Excel workbooks)

I would suggest that it makes sense to use this streamlined process even if it means rewriting your existing ILOs. I’d be happy to engage in debate with anyone about how best to use the streamlined process in their context.

Why ‘learning analytics’ is like a sewer

Back in the late northern hemisphere summer of 2013 I drafted a background paper on the differences between Educational Data Mining, Academic Analytics and Learning Analytics. Entitled ‘Adaptive Learning and Learning Analytics: a new design paradigm‘, It was intended to ‘get everyone on the same page‘ as many people at my University, from very different roles, responsibilities and perspectives, had something to say about ‘analytics’. Unfortunately for me I then had nearly a years absence through ill-health and I came back to an equally obfuscated landscape of debate and deliberation. So I opted to finish the paper.

I don’t claim to be an expert on learning analytics, but I do know something about learning design, about teaching on-line and about adapting learning delivery and contexts to suit different individual needs. The paper outlines some of the social implications of big data collection. It looks to find useful definitions for the various fields of enquiry concerned with collecting and making something useful with learner data to enrich the learning process. It then suggest some of the challenges that such data collection involves (decontextualisation and privacy) and the opportunity it represents (self-directed learning and the SOLE Model). Finally it explores the impact of learning analytics on learning design and suggests why we need to re-examine the granularity of our learning designs.

I conclude;

Learning Analytics Cover“The influences on the learner that lay beyond the control of the learning provider, employer or indeed the individual themselves, are extremely diverse. Behaviours in social media may not be reflected in work contexts, and patterns of learning in one discipline or field of experience may not be effective in another. The only possible solution to the fragmentation and intricacy of our identities is to have more, and more interconnected, data and that poses a significant problem.

Privacy issues are likely to provide a natural break on the innovation of learning analytics. Individuals may not feel that there is sufficient value to them personally to reveal significant information about themselves to data collectors outside the immediate learning experience and that information may simply be inadequate to make effective adaptive decisions. Indeed, the value of the personal data associated with the learning analytics platforms emerging may soon see a two tier pricing arrangement whereby a student pays a lower fee if they engage fully in the data gathering process, providing the learning provider with social and personal data, as well as their learning activity, and higher fees for those that wish to opt-out of the ‘data immersion’.

However sophisticated the learning analytics platforms, algorithms and user interfaces become in the next few years, it is the fundamentals of the learning design process which will ensure that learning providers do not need to ‘re-tool’ every 12 months as technology advances and that the optimum benefit for the learner is achieved. Much of the current commercial effort, informed by ‘big data’ and ‘every-click-counts’ models of Internet application development, is largely devoid of any educational understanding. There are rich veins of academic traditional and practice in anthropology, sociology and psychology, in particular, that can usefully inform enquiries into discourse analysis, social network analysis, motivation, empathy and sentiment study, predictive modelling and visualisation and engagement and adaptive uses of semantic content (Siemens, 2012). It is the scholarship and research informed learning design itself, grounded in meaningful pedagogical and andragogical theories of learning that will ensure that technology solutions deliver significant and sustainable benefits.

To consciously misparaphrase American satirist Tom Lehrer, learning analytics and adaptive learning platforms are “like sewers, you only get out of them, what you put into them’.”

Download the paper here.

Siemens, G. (2012). Learning analytics: envisioning a research discipline and a domain of practice. In Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (pp. 4–8). New York, NY, USA: ACM. doi:10.1145/2330601.2330605

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