Bootcamp beginnings

We are at the start of our Learning Design Bootcamp journey and have been encouraged to reflect – so lets do it!

I’m not completely new to designing online learning: I’ve supported colleagues through the design of free online courses on FutureLearn, I’ve authored self-paced learning units (on Canvas), and have worked with module teams to redesign Masters level modules for blended delivery.  I also had a rich online student experience studying on OU’s MAODE (Masters in Online and Distance Education).

Current approaches to learning design

As far as I know, we don’t really have an institution-wide approach to designing learning, but our programme and module approval process ensures that modules can be articulated in terms of learning outcomes, teaching methods and an assessment rationale.  Constructive alignment is hard-baked in! 

I’m based in LTDS, and with colleagues we have looked at a few design approaches in detail: Carpe Diem, Cairo, ViewPoints, ABC and I’ve dipped into others during my MAODE travels (Ulster’s Hybrid Learning Model  and various frameworks from Grainne Conole), I dabbled with rhizomatic with Dave Cormier in Change11 and lasted a few weeks in OLDS MOOC.

I’ve been involved in supporting a small number of modules/programmes where I have been allocated to them on a “project basis”.   Project work could involve delivering a series of workshops running over a year, or a redevelopment project involving both design and content development.

“Blended” is not the goal

For the projects I’ve supported we’ve found UCL’s ABC particularly useful.  It works in our campus-based context and has been effective in helping module teams to consider blended approaches as options (rather than starting out with a goal of N% online). 

But ABC only works well when you come to it with a clear view of aims, students, learning objectives and possible assessment approaches. 

If these haven’t been thrashed out already, say for a new module or programme, we choose from a range of tools to come up with a shared view. 

Go-to tools for “vision” are things like student personas which we draw up to reflect our prospective students.  We can also imagine them in the future – and ask “what will students most value about the programme 2 years after graduation?”  And, where possible we back this up with input from prospective students, current students (in person or via student voice) and employers as we form the feel, shape and values of the project.

Once the concept is fixed, we’ll work with colleagues to write and refine clear learning outcomes – using guidance from our own institution (and QMU have a great guide too).  Next we weigh up appropriate assessment options -what methods will sit best with with the outcomes and skills we want to develop.  If we want to encourage creative assessment we’ll offer some form of an assessment sorting hat activity and use prompts on viewpoint cards to spark conversation around feedback or authenticity. 


The tools and activities we use are dotted around different workshop folders – we’ve not brought them to a single place.  Our pick and mix approach at the moment is somewhat  “artisan” and isn’t scalable, or easily communicable to colleagues.  I up for picking up new ideas and learning new approaches. One of the things I’d like to see by way of output from this project is a clear pathway of activities leading towards a design goal.

The power of collaboration

In my experience multiple viewpoints and an understanding of the interactive nature of design makes for a better end product.  I know design to be a messy, and sometimes contentious process.  But with experience comes the knowledge that the uncomfortable thrashing it out process is essential.  It helps the project to become “our thing” and at the end there are artifacts and storyboards that articulate what the thing is about, and almost as importantly what it is not about.  If there isn’t a shared vision and understanding there will be trouble down the line!

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