Learning designs, representation and reuse (1)

As part of the Phoebe project we have been doing a lot of thinking about how to represent learning designs, and certainly the outputs of the Mod4L project in the D4L programme, did a lot to unpack how complicated this can be. There is no question to that we are a lot clearer about the challenges in this area than we were before the D4L work started, and some interesting ways of thinking about the problem have emerged. In particular the distinction between designs for inspiration versus designs for implementation, or anything else, which seems obvious now, certainly helped me think about this all a lot more clearly. Also I think we are better able to articulate the levels of granularity at which design operates and are starting to explore what is the same and what is different when thinking about design at the level of a course, module, unit, or activity.

Taking a step back from considering this in theory I am also interested in this on a more practical note for the Mosaic project. The main requirement for this project is to reuse as much as possible to create a course. As a committed D4L alumni I really want to see if we can reuse learning designs as well as content, but what does this really mean in practice?

Ignoring for now the possibility of reusing external designs I want to try and work out how we can reuse what we have internally. We now have about 50 online courses and 8 in English literature alone – clearly in all of this there are some learning designs that we could reuse, but how to get at them? All our courses have specifications which act as one sort of learning design at the course level – and there is no question that our authors look at existing specs and get inspiration for their course, I don’t think this is perfect but at this level I think reuse at an inspirational level is working quite well. However there are also other levels where this sort of design inspiration would be valuable, where the way forward is a lot less straight forward. In our case I think design has a part to play most importantly at unit level (1 weeks online study) and activity level.

In the case of unit level design along the way we have actually developed a very clear model across all our English literature courses – much more so here than in any of the other disciplines. However this is not encapsulated anywhere in an easy digestible format – essentially each new author has looked at previous courses and thought, hmm I think I’ll do my course a bit like that. This works up to a point but is actually becoming less scalable the more courses we have.

To take a step sideways I have tried to put the structure with the content stripped out in a word document – perhaps with the idea of using it as a unit template for authors, but I am not sure that it makes sense anymore – partly because it is too abstract but also perhaps because as soon as you start to think of it as a template for a unit you want to start thinking about the next level of design mentioned above, the activities – and that is a whole additional level of multiplying possibilities.

And of course if we have done our job right with Phoebe, anything I am trying here should be possible to model in Phoebe. I have done this with the course spec level already, and there is a sharable template for anyone who is interested (note you will need a login to Phoebe for this link to work). I think I am going to have to think harder before coming up with a unit level template, but it should be do-able. At an activity level I am not sure we if we are entering the place where Phoebe stops being the right tool for the job – although in theory it could work?

Well that is where I have got to today. Clearly I need to explore this more but I am going to put this out there anyway as if I don’t do this now it will remain in my drafts folder for ever more.

So more thinking to be done – better representation for unit level design – how to capture activity level design and how to do any of this in tools like Phoebe.

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