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Using Learning Design: It’s all in the tools

Christina Smart
Last modified 22 May, 2008
Published 22 May, 2008
It is five years since IMS released its Learning Design Specification and this week JISC CETIS held a meeting in Manchester this week to reflect on the last five years and to look at the tools currently under development which could bring the concept of learning design to a wider audience.

It is widely acknowledged that good tools are crucial for widespread uptake of new technologies. For example, creating web pages didn’t really become main stream until people had good html editors and site management tools to simplify the process. For learning design the LAMS tool has played a significant role in introducing the concept to many practitioners. At the CETIS Learning Design meeting this week a number of more sophisticated tools that develop, export, run and share units of learning based on the IMS Learning Design specification were showcased to participants [1]. These powerful tools offer great potential to teachers creating learning designs.

Oleg Liber, director of the Institute of Educational Cybernetics at the University of Bolton opened the event by reflecting on the origins of the IMS Learning Design specification [2]. He reminded the audience of the need for standards by giving the example of A4 paper. A4 paper does limit what you can do but it allows other emergent actions to become possible, like filing, he said. The IMS Learning Design specification was developed in order to provide a standard for online learning which would allow formalisation, flexibility, personalisation and interoperability to happen. The specification uses the metaphor of a theatrical play in which teachers and learners take on "roles" to enact a "play" with a series of "acts". Oleg stressed that the aim of the specification was to make explicit the teaching and learning process and he charted the learning design tools and activities developed over the last five years. He concluded that the meeting was an opportunity to reflect on the relevance of the specification and to consider what the next steps should be.

The JISC Design for Learning Programme has recently funded a number of projects to explore the concept with practitioners [3]. Helen Beetham, consultant to the programme, explained that Design for Learning had taken a complementary approach to IMS Learning Design by focussing on practitioner demands [4]. The premise was that "teaching is a human skill that can be enhanced by technology" she said. Three main lessons that emerged from the first phase of the programme were:

  • That design practice is very varied
  • That tools are needed that support collaborative design
  • That design processes need to be integrated into other curriculum design processes.

Phase 2 of the programme had looked at the whole design process as well as delivery, focussing on use of existing tools, functionality of tools like LAMS and Reload, shareable designs and pedagogy planning tools. She concluded that "IMS Learning Design might be the glue that brings all the parts of the process together" but questions still remain about how we make sure tools are teacher centred and how these tools will interface with learner centred tools.

The impact and opportunities of Web 2.0 on the learning design process was discussed by Martin Weller from the Open University [5]. Martin introduced Compendium LD, a learning design mind mapping tool. When piloted with course teams Compendium LD allows them to surface complexity in order to provide a scaffold of concepts for learners. The web 2.0 inspired Cloudworks tool aims to be a "Flickr for learning designs", by allowing users to tag, rate and share their designs. Martin finished by discussing the impact of social software on institutions and speculated that smaller institutions would increasingly look to exploit niche markets for courses.

In the last presentation before lunch Mark Barrett Baxendale talked about several projects at Liverpool Hope that had introduced IMS Learning Design to practitioners [6]. The SLiDe, LD4P, D4LD and DesignShare projects funded by JISC had allowed the team at Liverpool Hope to explore the opportunities that learning design provides, he said [7]. Tutors had been introduced to the specification using the IMS best practice and implementation guide, and had authored learning designs using RELOAD [8]. Units of learning were then run in SLeD [9]. Tutors were very positive about the process, liked the structure that learning design provided and felt that the process was pedagogically sound. The focus of current work is on introducing the mainstream user to learning design with the LAMS tool, before introducing ReCourse.

After lunch Dai Griffiths, from the University of Bolton introduced the work of the TenCompetence project [10]. TenCompetence is a large EC funded pan-European project which is developing open source infrastructure and software [11]. Discussing the "C" word Dai explained that competence in this context was "someone saying something about someone else’s learning". At one level a demonstration of competence could be as simple as a certificate, he said. Dai introduced a number of tools that were being developed in the project particularly ReCourse and the Widget server. These two powerful tools were then demonstrated by Phil Beauvoir and Paul Sharples from the University of Bolton. At the core of the ReCourse editor is an organiser that enables the user to assign people to activities quickly, said Phil [12]. Once completed designs can then be packaged and uploaded to the Coppercore server in one step. Paul Sharples demonstrated how widgets could be used at run-time to provide chat, discussion, voting and assessment services [13]. Scott Wilson added it was very simple to run these widgets through widely used systems like WordPress and Moodle.

ReCourse Learning Design Editor

The Latest version of the ReCourse Learning Design Editor

The meeting was brought to a close with a panel discussion session. The discussion focussed mainly on how to engage practitioners with learning design. It was generally acknowledged that IMS Learning Design offered the best chance for interoperability but teachers would need to be engaged in a process to move them towards the concept and the tools.

No doubt participants left Manchester, as I did, wanting to get to grips with the new tools and to consider the best way of introducing them to practitioners.


[1] CETIS Learning Design event

[2] Presentation by Oleg Liber

[3] JISC Design for Learning Programme

[4] Presentation by Helen Beetham

[5] Presentation by Martin Weller

[6] Presentation by Mark Barrett Baxendale

[7] Learning Design for Practitioners project

[8] RELOAD Learning Design Editor

[9] SLeD run-time engine

[10] Presentation by Dai Griffiths

[11] TenCompetence project

[12] Presentation by Phil Beauvoir

[13] Presentation by Paul Sharples


Supported by JISC Supported by CETIS
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