Designing learning and assessment in a digital age
Learning occurs as the result of interaction between learners and their environment. When the learning has a planned outcome, it becomes a purposeful activity that requires the artistry and skill of a learning designer.
About this guide
Head of learning and teaching transformation, higher education
In this guide, we focus on elements of learning and assessment design that research tells us are significant in both the higher and further education and skills sectors.
Drawing on interviews with staff in colleges and universities, and a decade of research into technology-enhanced curriculum design, we explore how digital tools can make a difference to the art of learning design.
Read on to find out more about learning design or jump straight into a section for content and examples under the four areas reflected in our latest model.
What is learning design?
Learning design is a considered, creative process that occurs within a wider eco-system of people, processes, systems and places, in which one element is dependent on the others.
As these elements change, and the technologies available to us increase, engaging with an iterative process of creating and redesigning programmes, modules and learning activities becomes ever more important.
The following diagram, updated from effective practice in a digital age (2007), illustrates the key factors likely to influence this process.
Text version of learning design model diagram
At the centre is activity: interaction of learner(s) with environment leading to planned outcomes supported by other people in specific roles.
There are four points, which feed and are fed by the activity. Each of these four points has a relationship with another. The four points are:
- Learning environments: networks, devices, resources, applications, physical learning spaces and virtual environments
- Learners: preferences, needs, motivations, skills, knowledge, capabilities, modes of participating
- Intended learning outcomes: acquisition of new knowledge, skills and capabilities; evidence of these
- Other people: peers, tutors, facilitators, mentors, instructors, employers
Linking learning environment and intended learning outcomes is impact of learning environment on learning outcomes.
Linking intended learning outcomes and other people is the the roles others play in facilitating learning outcomes.
Linking other people and learners is the interaction between learning and others involved in the activity.
Linking learning environment and learners is interaction between learners and aspects of the learning environment.
What is appreciative inquiry?
An appreciative inquiry approach means considering what you already do well and how you might be inspired further by the resources in this guide. In this guide, we use the lens of appreciative inquiry to help you apply what we have learnt in your own context.
As an example of appreciative enquiry in action, here is part of an interview script from Queen’s University Belfast designed to help staff explore new approaches to assessment and feedback:
“Discovering what worked well in the past reminds us that we can bring about positive assessment and feedback experiences for ourselves and our students. Building on these capacities, envision how you can position yourself to embrace assessment and feedback in a more positive way in the future.
Identifying what works, imagine what YOU can do in your modules or the TEACHING TEAM can undertake to improve assessment and feedback for all.”
Queen’s University Belfast
The headings Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver used in our 2018 model of learning design are drawn from the appreciative inquiry approach to change.
Find out more in the appreciative inquiry chapter of our change management guide.
Key supporting work
View our learning design family tree (pdf) for an at-a-glance view of the main outcomes from our past projects and their links to other key developments in learning and assessment design between 2006 and 2014.