What do you do?

My friend is investigating learning design, more specifically “Learning design systems to support the design and production of online learning experiences at scale”, which is exciting stuff. They’ve asked me to share my responses to a few questions.

How would you explain the practice of learning design to a layperson?

I would explain the practice of learning design as the intentional authoring of an experience whereby the participant is able to know or do something differently than they did before they started. Of course, we’re working in a formal education context, so what the participant needs to know and do differently is measured against a set of specific outcomes or expectations relevant to the area of interest.

What types of pedagogical approaches do you use in your work?

We favour a social learning approach and encourage and enable discussion and collaboration between participants as well as connection with the educators. We design our learning to be practical and immediately useful. Participants must be able to bring their own personal/professional context to the experience, especially when it comes to assessment and/or demonstrating their learning.

What types of standards, principles and frameworks do you use in your practice and why are they important?

Our learning is unique and engaging and is built on the foundations of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) with a hint of Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA). We’re always looking to do better and take new inspiration from things like User Experience Design for Learning (UXDL) – it’s super cool.

Right now, one of our focus areas is professional development. We know that professionals are different. Not only from the typical undergraduate student at university, but also from each other. They might be juggling full time jobs, they might be taking on some extra study while commuting, maybe balancing family life or studying at odd hours. They could be new to technology or very familiar. We look closely at the end users, right from the start and we uniquely design for them.

We always aim for a modern look and feel that combines the flavour and function of present-day websites, and digital services our participants may already use. We make sure that all our learning can be used on any device, which is reassuring, particularly if our participants are returning to study after a break or are learning on the go. Ease of use is crucial. There’s no point having a text-heavy video or document for example, when we know participants could be accessing content with their smartphone. Our approach means that our participants’ efforts are fully-focused on their learning – not trying to figure out what they need to do.

Everyone is busy these days, with competing demands for their time and attention. Our goal is for all of our learning experiences to be comfortable, calm, warm and welcoming – as well as concise, professional and even, fun.

We carefully design our learning so that participants know from the very start what they need to do and how they can do it. Our learning is designed to make it easy for participants to identify where they are in their learning journey, navigate to where they need to go and also track their progress. They can pause their learning on one day and then easily pick-up where they left off on the next. This means they can plan their learning in and around other aspects of their lives, and also make the best use of their limited time.

Our learning is practical, relevant and immediately useful. There are many reasons why professionals undertake learning, such as filling knowledge gaps, preparing for a promotion, or even a career change or pivot. We understand this, which is why our learning features in-depth content, practical examples and tools that participants can explore and then immediately put into practice.

Options are important. Some learning may require more intensive educator engagement. We design for this with options for live events and facilitated workshops to foster collaboration and rich discussion. We can also design for educator feedback in the form of weekly feedback videos to be produced during the delivery of the course.

Professionals often need to show proof of their learning, such as a digital credential that can be displayed on their LinkedIn profile or on their CV, or even an artefact of learning that demonstrates their newfound skill in a way that’s meaningful to them. Our learning is intentionally designed to do all this.

Do you use feedback, assessment outcomes, analytics and evaluations in your practice?

We use feedback, assessment outcomes, analytics and evaluations in number of ways in our professional practice: participant-focused, where the participant receives feedback in response to the direct engagement with the learning experience and submission of assessments, but also in response to what participants tell us how they feel about the learning experience we’ve designed – participants are not backwards about coming forwards with their opinion.

This qualitative data (including comments/responses to discussion posts, post-course/evaluation surveys) is often interpreted with complementary quantitative data (views/clicks/completion, enrolments, etc), as well as insights from the lead educator/academic on what they thought went well, and sometimes feedback from industry partners (when available, they provide unique insights prior to the first launch of a new learning experience which allows us to triple-check the relevance and applicability).

We also use feedback as a teaching tool during the delivery of an experience in the format of weekly feedback videos. This is where the educator(s) record and release a freshly-minted video that responds to hot topics/themes/discussion that have arisen (throughout the specific week of the experience). We find this approach to feedback works at scale – the videos enable us to convey detailed and elaborate feedback as well as encouragement and praise to participants more so than written commentary (which we also do in discussion posts). The feedback videos not only address any potential knowledge deficit experienced by participants, and ‘make the massive feel intimate’, but also deeply personalise the experience in a meaningful and practical way – participants have told us they felt they had a closer connection with the educators and feel like they’re in a community of learners, which is fantastic.

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