3. Media Choices

8-Stage Learning Design Framework

Student Profiles Contexts Media Choices Intended Learning Outcomes Assessment Learning and Teaching Activities Feedback Evaluation
Media Choices Informing Design

31 July 2018

Citation: Atkinson S.P. (2018) Media Choices Informing Design. Retrieved from https://sijen.com/research-interests/8-stage-learning-design-framework/3-media-choices

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. At this stage of the framework, and in its associated 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.

Media has always supported learning. This is true whether it was printed media in the form of books, journals or handouts, or as audio and visual resources. The only change and it has proved to be significant, is the nature of the media. Today it is often digital and as a consequence can be extremely malleable, adaptable and can be reused over and over again. 

At its most basic the reason why we consider media at this stage is that there is simply no point in planning for the provision of rich video content to internet poor students, or relying on engagement activities using interactive elements with digitally illiterate students.

There are five considerations we should take into account as we either work with media in learning or design learning using media.  The relative importance of each of these depends on the level, context and nature of the module or programme but all should need reflection in any learning design. These five are

  • Students: orientation and disposition to learning with and through media.
  • Staff: abilities to work with media. Their abilities to identify appropriate media and manipulate it as appropriate.
  • Professional needs: present and future demands of the professional context in using media appropriately.
  • Content & Resources: Identifying existing, or creating, effective media resources for learning.
  • Institutional Choices: The constraints and opportunities for learning designers to develop media.

Visualisation of factors impacting on media choices

Students orientation to  learning through media

Student orientation towards the use of media in learning is extremely complex (Jones, Ramanau, Cross, & Healing, 2010). If a student has learned primarily from printed materials, handouts, then even being expected to build knowledge on a whiteboard requires support. On the other hand, if a student’s pre-University experience was highly digitally immersive they may find working through paper-based exercise frustrating.

  • As you profile your students (1-8SLDF) you might want to consider pre-dispositions to media use. There is little point in building a sophisticated online scenario for digitally illiterate students.

Students’ assumption about media use deeply effects that way they approach your learning materials. A whiteboard is an educational media format that does not have (an obvious) ‘social media’ equivalent – most people don’t ‘play’ with whiteboards out of the classroom. On the other hand, video and digital representations are now nearly ubiquitous and students, therefore, have a wealth on non-educational contexts against which to contrast the efficacy of your media use.

  • Given that the use of media in education is increasing you need to develop a rationale, as a programme, module or possibly even as an institution, as to why specific media are being used. How might you blend media to greater effect (6-8SLDF)?

Staff have a responsibility to model the use of media appropriately in order to develop skills. If you would expect your graduates to be able to make a clear and concise, informative, presentation using media in their first month in work after graduation, they deserve to see you do the same in your teaching.

  • Mimicry is an essential part of the learning process. Staff require media handling skills in order to emulate good practice.

Students use of media should not be incidental. It is now essential in the contemporary world of work and so the associated skills and abilities should be embedded into the learning design. Enabling outcomes requires them to be defined at a Module or Programme level as assessable Intended Learning Outcomes (4-8SLDF)

  • Given that ILOs are intended to be skills and abilities that students will be able to do on successful completion of your module or programme, and by definition, might be expected to be capable of doing on day one in work, it is incumbent on learning designers to identify the professional needs of their discipline (2-8SLDF)

Staff capabilities

Once you have a clear idea of the relative skills and expectations of your likely student body (1-8SLDF), and you already have a clear idea of the professional needs of your graduates (2-8SLDF), the time has arrived to ask yourself the challenging question: Do I have the skills to design and teach with appropriate media?

Or perhaps a more pragmatic, and honest, version of the same question is: How constrained is my learning design by the skills of my designers and teachers?

 Clearly having the ‘book-ends’ of students’ expectations and abilities (not the same thing!) and the needs of your graduates is a helpful design constraint. Let’s take a simple and very familiar scenario and explore two different pathways through it.

Bad Pathway – Laissez-faire Good Pathway – Designed Engagement
Programme ILOs make vague reference to the ability to present orally and in writing in a “professional manner” Programme ILOs identify interpersonal skills required of graduates (LDS4) and this module has a Module ILO explicitly defining the nature of an appropriate use of Slideware
Design team agrees that presentation needs to be worth 10% of the mark. But no explicit ILO defines the nature of the presentation. Design team having crafted the ILO now develop a marking rubric to assess that ILO (LDS5)
No marking rubric explicitly refers to the presentation. The team identify that their own performance might be wanting against this same rubric.
· Team organises some training and redesigns some of its content to reflect good practice.
The Teaching team draws attention to their use of media in teaching at the outset of the module.
Students are encouraged to critique teaching materials as part of the learning process.
Templates (mirroring the marking rubric) at various points throughout the module allowing students’ to reflect on, and rehearse, presentational abilities.
Students told to generate presentations and reminded that these will be marked against a different set of criteria from Module ILOs Students develop a presentation using slideware in order to present complex information.
Presentations (as articulated in the Module ILOs) is assessed using defined rubric
Day One in Work – Graduate is expected to develop an effective communication message using PowerPoint

While these two scenarios are caricatures, if we are honest, the ‘Laissez Faire’ scenario is all too prevalent. Going through a design process, as exemplified in Pathway Two, will identify skill deficiencies and enhancement opportunities for Faculty as they build those skills in their students. This is a challenging process but a worthwhile one (Hall, Atkins, & Fraser, 2014).

Professional needs

As we have seen so far students’ expectations, self-perceptions and needs are often misaligned. These are very often also out of balance with the skill set of existing faculty and designers.

At this point it appropriate to revisit some of our work in stage 2 – where we explored the broader context for design – and to think about the issue of ‘evolution of work’ through the prism of media. Clearly, there are challenges to the future of the professions that should be taken into account (Susskind & Susskind, 2017). If we accept that part of our purpose is to model the effective use of media in a learning and professional context it makes sense that we should expose our students to emerging use as well as established use. Let’s consider the challenges in terms of the changing nature of work, and the impact that the evolution of technology and wider media use is having on our disciplines and professions.

Current Media Examples Possible Emerging Challenges to Professional Needs Future Media Needs
Word, Excel, PowerPoint Employment Status: increase in self-employment, consultancy and short-term contracts Voice and video messaging, data presentation and infographics software, virtual presentational software
Skype, Email, Office365 Location: less centralist work-places, more home-working and remote teams across different geographies and time zones Virtual Reality Team rooms, time-delayed submissions
LinkedIn Portfolio: development around a core skill-set rather than a job title or a singular profession. Blending teaching/mentoring, consultancy and contract work Personal portfolio websites, virtual business cards, recorded testimonials, identity protection software
Databases Automation (Machine Learning): Knowledge retrieval and first draft analysis likely to be delegated to computers Deep Learning Languages, Qualitative and quantitative analysis software for big data.

It makes sense to learn how to use the current software well if there is a chance of the need to adapt your practices to new and emerging technologies. How many of your students (or you yourself) know how to use bibliographic software and style sheets with a word processor?

Content & Resourcing

We are not yet ready to identify specific learning materials. At this stage in your design process, we do not want to focus on the detail of material authorship. There is guidance on generating learning materials later in the framework (8-8SLDF). Rather the aim here is to set the broad parameters that inform a ‘policy’ for your programme or module in order to ensure maximum learning effectiveness with any media choices to be made.

Let’s start by inquiring about our current approaches by using the example of the ubiquitous PowerPoint:

  • How many of your PowerPoints use the notes fields?
  • Do you use the standard templates the come with PowerPoint (or the institutional templates) regardless of whether they are good?
  • Are you PowerpOints accessible? Screen-readable?
  • How many times have you seen a PowerPoint presentation with ‘Date & Time’ or ‘#’ at the foot of every slide?
  • How many times have you watch a presentation, even in internal presentations, where the bottom 20-25% of the screen is institutional branding…on every slide…just in case after 10 minutes you forget where or who you are watching?

Some of these questions may have answers in the form of forgivable exceptions, but I would argue that this use of PowerPoint is indicative of a poor information management approach and one that our students will emulate for want of a better example.

As we create and identify, learning resources we really should have standards against which we judge our own, and others’ efforts. In fact, most of the guidance as to how to design media for maximum learning benefit also aligns to guidance on inclusive and accessible design. Given that we have a legal obligation to do the latter, there really is no excuse.

Here is a brief list to prompt your discussions as a course design team:

  • Do you have an institutional policy as to whether to provide all learning materials in well-formed Word or PDF? If not why not establish one for your programme team?
  • Will your PDFs designed to be accessible? Not as easy as it sounds and always worth setting up an accessible version of Adobe Reader to test everything you generate.
  • Do all images have alternative descriptors, have you tested the ‘read out-loud’ functionality on your resources?
  • Will your PowerPoints have associated explanatory notes (using the notes field perhaps)?
  • Will your PowerPoint slides be screen readable?
  • Will your PowerPoints slides all be meaningfully titled?
  • Will you remove all unnecessary ‘stuff’ from your slides?
  • Will your Video and Podcasts all have verbatim transcripts or structured notes associated with them. Alternatively, will they all be subtitled or closed-captioned?

If you are sourcing external content, all of these same criteria should apply. In addition, you need to be aware of:

  • Copyright policy
  • The validity of the sources
  • The currency of the sources

It is always good at this point in your design process to consult with your institution’s Librarian. You may want to adopt a set of evaluative criteria or a model to evaluate future media choices when you come to design learning and teaching activities (Burden & Atkinson, 2010).

Institutional Choices

Instituional Context of Media

Here is one representation of the institutional context in which a module or programme might be designed. In this case, there is a clear demarcation between resources and services that fit ‘inside a ‘walled garden’, accessible through single-sign-on (SSO) and those elements that are clearly outside, available directly through the Internet. [For a presentation by me in 2018 on the Walled Garden see here]

This illustration does not merit a detailed explanation. It is intended simply as a provocation for you and your course design team to sketch an equivalent diagram that fits in your current context. As you do so you might want to consider:

  1. Which functionality are you and your students likely to require or be familiar with?
  2. Would external functionality (outside the walled garden) work better than internal functionality (wikis, blogs, etc.)?
  3. Do you need support from IT to identify technology solutions?
  4. Do you intend to create all media internally (video, podcasts, handouts)?
  5. What processes are in place to check the copyright of any externally sourced media?
  6. How permanent are the links to external content likely to be?
  7. What processes are in place to verify the endurance of external links? (Who’s checking?).

Further detail as to how to create effective media is included in stage 6 of the 8-SLDF.

REMEMBER: These should all be left as open questions subject to the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) yet to be defined in Stage 4.


Burden, K., & Atkinson, S. (2010). De-Coupling Groups in Space and Time: Evaluating New Forms of Social Dialogue for Learning. In L. Shedletsky & J. E. Aitken (Eds.), Cases on Online Discussion and Interaction (pp. 141–158). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Hall, R., Atkins, L., & Fraser, J. (2014). Defining a self-evaluation digital literacy framework for secondary educators: the DigiLit Leicester project. Research in Learning Technology, 22(0). https://doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v22.21440

Jones, C., Ramanau, R., Cross, S., & Healing, G. (2010). Net generation or Digital Natives: Is there a distinct new generation entering university? Computers & Education, 54(3), 722–732. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2009.09.022

Susskind, R., & Susskind, D. (2017). The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts (Reprint edition). Oxford: OUP Oxford.

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