My 10 key points about how to design learning, teaching and the student experience (LTSE)

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Before I list the points, there are some underlying principles (coming from experience and from design research) concerning how design works in the real world:

A. That designing doesn’t all happen up-front and in clear stages (as in ADDIE). It’s a continual, responsive, adaptive, evolutionary process.

B. It has to be a holistic approach, in which many different aspects interact and influence each other.

C. Designing is something that everyone can do, but desiging effectively is a capability that needs to be actively developed through reflective practice and the application of techniques, concepts and tools. Design Thinking is an approach for developing and applying this capability. The foundation for Design Thinking is a well-developed ability to observe, describe, and critically-creatively respond to designs in action. This is best developed collectively.

And here’s my 10 11 key points:

  1. Use backward design: starting off with a good vision for what the outcomes of learning should be, and then working out how best to achieve those goals with specific students given the constraints present and opportunities that are available (which will change over time and during teaching). Include an understanding of your virtues, guiding principles, and context (employability, fit with the wider curriculum, student backgrounds etc.).
  2. Students need to be co-definers of the goals, to keep them relevant.
  3. Understand and think about all of the aspects that impact on learning (the ACAD approach is good for this), including emotional, social, cognitive, behavioural.
  4. Document, visualise, share your designs so as to make them clearer to everyone involved, and to spark design thinking leading to improvements. There are lots of different ways to visualise learning design, don’t just stick with one, use several to capture the full picture and the dynamics.
  5. Use a student-centric (not teacher-centric or content-centric) approach.
  6. Design learning events as narrative arcs, but expect things to change when implemented.
  7. The narrative can have multiple levels of granularity, and multiple pathways, but it’s good for a whole class to have points of convergence and coherence.
  8. Design for responsive teaching: continually reassessing progress, drawing from a repertoire of techniques and activities, responding creatively with new approaches, allowing students to innovate and contribute ideas.
  9. Use all the information you can get to monitor impact and progress, designing-in frequent checks, but don’t let assessment get in the way of learning.
  10. Designing from experience, knowing what works and what doesn’t, what fits with different types of students, and where the difficult bits are – especially identifying threshold concepts and developing ways to help students to get over the challenges.
  11. Keep an open notebook. Keep notes during the whole process, including during and after teaching. Review and reflect often with colleagues and students. Build collections of resources, use digital tools to curate effectively.

Dr Robert O'Toole NTF

Senior Teaching Fellow, Arts Faculty, University of Warwick. Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, National Teaching Fellow, Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence.

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