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Conclusion: Revisiting Learning Design Definitions

Many educators already use the phase “Learning Design” in a much more general sense than an abstract framework for describing teaching and learning activities or a Conceptual Map. Educators often use “Learning Design” to talk about their everyday decisions about how they teach, in the sense of “how do I design activities to help my students to learn?” This is Learning Design as a practice – a verb – rather than as a static concept – a noun to describe a field of study. It is Learning Design as “designing for learning”.

At this point we are conscious of Peter Goodyear’s caution that learning takes place inside the learner, and so there is nothing an educator can do to ensure that learning takes place (Goodyear & Retalis, 2010). However, an educator can carefully design teaching and learning activities that encourage learning to take place – this is what we mean by “designing for learning”.

Given the conceptual foundations we have laid in this paper and our discussion of effective teaching and learning approaches, we now offer a new synthesis for the field of Learning Design. The concept of a framework for describing teaching and learning activities (based on many different pedagogical approaches) that we have earlier defined as “Learning Design” can now be given a more precise phrasing as a “Learning Design Framework” (LD-F). The Learning Design Conceptual Map (LD-CM) provides the link between the core concept of the LD-F (together with guidance and sharing) and the wider educational landscape. The day-to-day practices of teachers as they design for learning, and increasingly use the evolving Learning Design Frameworks and the Learning Design Conceptual Map to guide them, can be called Learning Design Practice (LD-P). Taken together, these three ideas provide a foundation for the future of the field of Learning Design – see Figure 11.

LD field components

Figure 11: Components of the field of Learning Design




The development of music notation was crucial to the widespread propagation of beautiful music. While education is yet to develop a comparable system of notation, research on Learning Design Frameworks gives us hints of what this might look like in the future, informed by the wider Learning Design Conceptual Map. If a notation system (or systems) for describing teaching and learning activities is developed and widely adopted, its success will be due to a complex mixture of its accuracy, expressiveness and historical contingencies. Its ultimate goal, though, is not just representation for representation’s sake, it is to help educators to describe, share and adapt effective teaching and learning activities – that is, designing for learning, or Learning Design Practice.

It may be that the analogy of music notation will take us a considerable distance, but later be found to be missing some elements of education. The need for educators to adapt or “improvise” in the act of teaching in response to their interactions with learners seems one significant issue for deeper consideration. Perhaps Jazz music will provides an enriched music analogy – it is an example of music that can be retrospectively notated like other music, and yet the act of performance is often based on a combination of professional skill together with just the essence of some musical idea (as opposed to performance of a complete, static musical score).

In this paper we have used the success of Western music notation to help us imagine a similar system of educational notation. In practice, we already have a range of proto-notational examples, and it may be that several different education notation systems will arise in the future, each with different descriptive strengths and weaknesses. Within any given system, there may be multiple diagrams needed to convey the richness of teaching and learning activities (like the multiple diagrams of UML in software development). So while the analogy of music notation can take us far, we believe a unique solution for education will be needed that is unlike anything else. The challenge, now, is to create it.

If education fails to develop a general system of notation, it is hoped that even the attempt to do so will teach us deep truths about the fundamental nature of education, and that these truths themselves will contribute to more effective teaching and learning approaches in the future.


Support for this publication has been provided by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.

This paper was prepared by James Dalziel based on ideas arising from a meeting of Learning Design experts in Larnaca, Cyprus on Tuesday 25th September 2012 and subsequent discussions (hence the name “Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design”). The core contributors to these ideas were: James Dalziel, Grainne Conole, Sandra Wills, Simon Walker, Sue Bennett, Eva Dobozy, Leanne Cameron, Emil Badilescu-Buga and Matt Bower.

Before and after the Larnaca meeting, a number of other meetings have discussed similar issues, and these discussions have contributed to the current ideas. Participants in these other meetings have included: Diana Laurillard, Spyros Papadakis, Chris Alexander, Liz Masterman, Sheila MacNeill, Scott Wilson, Yannis Dimitriadis, Peter Goodyear, John Hedberg, Gregor Kennedy, Paul Gagnon, Debbie Evans, Kumiko Aoki, Carlos Alario, Chris Campbell, Matthew Kearney, Ron Oliver, Shirley Agostinho, Lori Lockyer and others. We are grateful to all our colleagues for their insights.


Learning Design (capitalised): The field of Learning Design

a learning design (uncapitalised): An individual example of a sequence of teaching and learning activities, also called a “design” or “sequence”. A learning design is a plan for potential activities with learners, which is to be distinguished from a particular implementation of this plan with a particular group of learners (see “a running learning design”)

a running learning design: The implementation of a learning design with a particular group of learners, also called “a running sequence”.

IMS Learning Design: An example of a technical language for implementing the concepts of Learning Design in software

Learning Design Conceptual Map (LD-CM): A map of the wider educational landscape as it relates to core Learning Design concepts – see Figure 4

Learning Design Framework (LD-F): A descriptive language/notational format/visualisation for describing teaching and learning activities based on many different pedagogical approaches

Learning Design Practice (LD-P): The action of applying Learning Design concepts to the creation and implementation of effective teaching and learning activities, also called “designing for learning”

teaching strategy: An approach to teaching that proposes a particular sequence of teaching and learning activities based on certain pedagogical assumptions. Examples of teaching strategies are capitalised in this paper, for example, Problem Based Learning, Predict – Observe – Explain, Role Plays and WebQuests. A teaching strategy can provide a pedagogical rationale as well as a suggested structure of activities for a learning design.


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