Friday, April 20, 2007

Learning Design Paradigms

The design of online materials can be, broadly, divided into three design paradigms: Content Based, Content Based with Activities, and Activities Based. All three have their uses, all three still have to be 'taught' or 'facilitated', and the teaching process needs to be kept open enough to allow for the inherently creative and interactive nature of all good teaching.

Content Based
Content based resources are designed and developed thematically, as a series of sequential texts, with or without graphics, possibly including power-point slides, notes, lectures, and so on. This follows the traditional mode of teaching, which is based on a series of lectures. It is more of a 'teaching' design than a 'learning' design.

Content Based with Activities
Resources are designed and developed thematically, i.e. primarily as content, but with activities added in, in the second phase of the design, or even later on, e.g. only within the delivery process. They may be ‘embedded’ within the delivery process, (techniques such as ‘pausing-to-compare-notes-with-a-partner’, etc) or they may be added on quite separately from the delivery process.

Particularly when the activities are embedded within the teaching and learning, this could usefully be called a 'teaching-and-learning' design.

Activity Based
This is a 'learning based' design, in which the design paradigm has been inverted completely form the Content Based design. At the centre of the design are activities, not content. Each of the activities, as well as the ways they may be accessed (sequentially, or within an open, flexible, navigation system), is designed first.

Only once the set of activities, and probable learning pathways through the activities has been designed, do we ask how each activity can be resourced: What does the learner need to be able to access, to carry out that activity?

This design paradigm differs from the Content, or Content + Activities paradigms in that:

1. We design the activities first, not the content.

2. Critical to the design (whether online or blended with face-2-face learning) is the design of a dynamic learning space: the possible and probable learning pathways that different learners may construct as they proceed through the learning.

The design of the learning space should be critical to other paradigms of learning design too, but in Content based paradigms they are generally fixed, rather than dynamic learning spaces, and normally don’t vary from one course or module to another.

3. Although the provision of content, and links to further content, is designed by the lecturer, the use of the content is determined by the learner.

4. Within activity based learning spaces, the learner decides whisch parts of the content (if any) they need to use for each activity, and which parts of their own prior learning and experience they can use. This means not only that the learner decides which content to use, but that the learner is able, and actively encouraged, to enlarge the ‘content’ domain beyond that which is provided by the institution, to include their own resources and experience.

5. If we add a further element of collaborative/active learning, the learners are also encouraged to share their wider experience and resources, and to actively contribute to building the knowledge and the resource base of the course.

This is different from Content based, or even Content + Activity based learning, and is sufficiently different to constitute a different design paradigm. Whether the learners make full use of the affordances of this learning paradigm is perhaps a moot point. They need to be encouraged and tempted to do so, so that they dont default to their own learning comfort zones, which may be little more than a Content/Memorising paradigm, despite the best efforts of the learning designers.

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