The 8-Stage Learning Design Framework, or 8-SLDF for short, 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 below.
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 (Atkinson, 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.
1: Designing for Students
Courses, whether entire programmes or individual module, are designed to reflect our institutional specialisms and priorities but we sometimes risk forgetting that they will be taken by flesh-and-blood students! Profiling students’ learning orientations is challenging. In this workshop, we will explore students’ educational, circumstantial, dispositional and cultural orientations for learning. We will discuss practical interpretations of the scholarship about personal epistemologies in order to design courses that a best suited to the intended student (Atkinson, 2014).
2: Designing for Professional or Discipline Contexts
Tertiary providers are increasingly expected to deliver ‘work-ready’ graduates. This is a challenge when we must acknowledge that many graduates will begin a career, in a years time or in the three years, that does not exist today. Identifying the competency frameworks within our disciplines and those of our professional colleagues is a good place to start (Atkinson, 2015). We can then identify a range of graduate attributes that will underpin our programme outcomes and inform the development of real-world assessment.
3: Media Choices Informing Design
Students’ expectations with respect to the digital formats, accessibility and flexibility of learning materials and communication channels have put enormous pressure on institutions. Most have relied on a single institutional Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and continue to wrestle with the ubiquitous nature of Wifi and handheld devices. In this workshop, we will identify the media needs of your students, both in terms of what is currently provided and what your graduates might expect to meet in their future practice. Designing courses in a flexible manner using for appropriate media, and justifying those decisions to your students, secures greater engagement.
4: Developing Effective Learning Outcomes
After orientating ourselves to the notion of constructive alignment and level differentiation, we will use educational taxonomies for five domains of learning to draft intended learning outcomes. These will be appropriate to the aims of the module and programme and take account of their need to be assessable. They will also be drafted to reflect the needs of the disciplines or professions your graduates are intending to pursue.
5: Developing a Meaningful Assessment Strategy
Knowing what our intended learning outcomes (ILO) are, enables us to design meaningful assessment that provides opportunities to students to evidence their learning against those ILOs. In this workshop, we will identify which outcomes can be combined across different domains of learning in order to manage the assessment load, for both faculty and student, whilst ensuring all ILOs are assessed. We will draft marking rubrics for the appropriate level that represent all the guidance that individual assessors and students need to guide their practice.
6: Designing Engaging Learning Opportunities
The third element in a constructively aligned course design is the learning activities that allow students to prepare for the assessment of their learning outcomes. This workshop is not about the content that we share with our students, it is about how we do that. Some modules will require a good deal of knowledge to be acquired by novice learners and a set-text and discursive seminars may be the appropriate strategy. Could we use one-minute papers, ‘Pecha Kucha’, lightning talks, and other techniques to secure student engagement? Alternatively, we might be designing a more advanced module in which a discovery learning approach is more appropriate. Could we use enquiry based learning models here instead, asking our students to prepare to take a debate position, run a Moot or team-based discussion? The important thing in this workshop is that we are developing a strategy and practical approaches that build on our design, not seeking innovation for innovation’s sake.
7: Exploring Opportunities for Feedback Throughout
The fourth element in a constructively aligned course design approach is feedback throughout. Closely reflective of both our assessment practice and our learning activities, feedback is best fully integrated into the learning rather than seen as a separate administrative response to submitted work. Designing feedback throughout opportunities in our courses will lead us to adopt variations in our learning activities and potentially to modify our assessment strategies too. There is no point in assessing students in a form that has not allowed them to rehearse for such assessment. Identifying how to feedback on preparatory activities acts as a litmus test for sound assessment. It also allows us to identify fresh approaches to learning activities.
8: In-course and Post Course Evaluation Strategies
It may seem strange to design our evaluation structures before we have even recruited students onto our programmes. We need first to understand the importance of both the evaluation for-learning and the evaluation of-learning. It is important to ensure that we have efficient and effective in-course evaluation techniques already in mind to make sure there is an opportunity to enhance the course as it is underway. We need to avoid making knee-jerk adjustments to a module that appears not to be working. In-course evaluation needs to be appropriately positioned within a course, with the correct amount of time and preparation allowed. We also need to decide in advance where we anticipate the enhancement opportunities are for our course and design post-course evaluation instruments to capture them. Most institutions’ NSS and end-of-module evaluation processes do not generate actionable data. We can design-in some of our own.
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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.
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