Skip to content

Category: Learning Design

Card tricks produce learning design magic for digital literacies and professional skills module #oldsmooc

The joy of working with “more capable others” (Vygotsky, 1978), well, specifically one “more capable other”, Jane Challinor. With the oldsmooc focus this week on design representations and their value in enabling design thinking, discourse and sharing, just look at what Jane produced so that we’re now able to do exactly that (see her blog post for the details).

Course features cards and digital literacy facilitation cards amalgamated by Jane Challinor.

The design project, that thus far we’d been working on in a fairly simultaneous fashion, really seemed to come together this week, and it was due to a combination of endeavour and serendipity. Having worked through the activities and looked at the course resources, I decided to use the Course Features Cards to help visualise what elements our course might consist of. I duly selected 12 elements, posted my choice in my learning journal and informed Jane that this was how I was thinking. I was curious to see to what extent Jane’s choice of course elements would match mine. At 6.47 pm on Friday, shortly after I’d finished the task, a tweet arrived from Rebecca Galley to say that “hot off the press “a set of Digital Literacy Facilitation Cards were available for use. Then, on Sunday, when I returned to look at the project again, as if by magic both sets of cards had been sorted and amalgamated to reveal what the Digital Literacies and Professional Skills module would actually look like. The only real clarification that was required between the two of us was in relation to a course element that I’d labelled as a wildcard, namely “specialist literacy support/coaching/mentoring”. Here, I explained that I thought there needed to be a supporting presence within the institutional VLE and amongst the social web applications that the module might utilise. Namely, someone who could model appropriate practice and guide learners as they venture out onto the open web professionally; someone who could nurture discussions about various aspects of digital literacies, professional identity and academic practice. This relates back to my point earlier in the course that technologies can no longer be considered as tools, rather they’re sites of practice where people go to converse and to learn. So to me it makes perfect sense to put a real person, a digital literacy coach/mentor, right in there where the practices that we’re interested in developing actually happen and thus providing really effective support.

In my mind, this point about support and guidance correlates to the pedagogical approaches that might be adopted within the module. In Grainne Conole‘s presentation, the 7Cs of Learning Design, the word vicarious jumped out at me. The concept of “vicarious learning” was originally defined by Bandura and equates to the notion of learning through other learners’ understandings. Here, Grainne kindly pointed to the work of Terry Mayes who had taken this concept to look at how watching videos might be used in this context. But, for me the word vicarious triggered connections to the work of Neil Mercer, which focuses on the role of dialogue within the “intermental zone of development” [IDZ]. Drawing on Vygotskian concepts of “scaffolding” and the “zone of proximal development” [ZPD], Mercer proposes that the IDZ is not a characteristic of individual ability but rather a dialogical phenomenon, created and maintained between people in interaction and through which “vicarious consciousness” (Bruner’s “vicarious learning”) is realized.

Therefore, in the context of our learning design, I think it would be extremely prudent to develop dialogues not just scaffolded by a seemingly “more capable other” i.e. the tutor, but also to design for communicative processes between the learners themselves and allow for vicarious learning to take place as well.

Image source: Jane Challinor


Mayes et al. (2001) Learning From Watching Others Learn. Available at:

Mercer, N. (2000) Developing Dialogues. Available at:

Context is key: unlocking the chains of semiotic meaning for HE digital literacy #oldsmooc

Week 2 of OLDS MOOC focuses on context and asks:

  • What is learner context?
  • How do learners’ contexts affect the ways they interpret and enact learning designs?
  • How can we use context in learning design?
  • How can we personalise designs to individual learner’s needs and contexts?

In order to understand the importance of context in learning design the use of personas (see Nielsen, 2007), force maps in scenarios (see Mor, 2012) and the ecology of resources design framework (see Luckin, 2010)  were offered as ways to understand and design for learners’ context. To start, we were asked to develop scenarios and personas for those involved in the learning design. 

So, whilst my “design partner”, Jane Challinor, developed the persona of a “traditional” undergrad student, I developed the persona of a mature student. It seemed to work really well and it helped kickstart our thoughts relating to context. At this point, Jane noted that we needed to add some new personas to the scenario as we have to recognise that without wider acceptance within HE of the need for digital information literacy, the module that we plan to develop isn’t going to achieve the transformation that we’d like. Here, I was able to provide a number of interviews that I’d conducted with HE lecturers that helped develop new, wider, personas and locate our design project in its situated context. 

Then, Friday’s task (already Sunday), directed me to “share and scan resources about contextual approaches to learning design”. Here, I chose to look at two resources, “learner-centered teaching” by Phyllis Blumbeg and “cognition, context, and learning: a social semiotic perspective” by Jay Lemke. Scan!! It took me all day Sunday. Admittedly, I didn’t just scan the article relating to situated cognition because it really did start to provide me with some valuable connections relative to our specific context. Literacy, you see, is not just a matter of skill or competency, it’s a social and situated practice, as I’m reminded by Doug Belshaw’s work, “context is key” (p. 222). Lemke explains context in terms of ecologies; “material environments endowed with cultural meanings; acting and being acted on directly or with the mediation of physical-cultural tools and cultural-material systems of words, signs, and other symbolic values” (p.2). He goes on to point out that how individuals act, or react, depends not just on what other parts in the ecology does to them, and what they in turn do to the other parts of the ecology, but on what these doings mean to the individual, and that these meanings of things vary from person to person and from context to context (p.2). 

Going on to describe context more accurately as an ecosocial system, Lemke says that in order to understand its behaviour you have to take account of economics, politics, and other sorts of cultural beliefs and values. He also notes that ecosocial systems have histories; histories, which in some cases matter to their present reactions, and sometimes matter to new systems of their kind “not yet born” (p. 6). Interesting stuff, seeing as the context of this design project is one of change (disruptive) set within higher education, or the academy. That is to say, an institution with a deep-rooted history and one which carries immense cultural meaning today. Even so, Lemke’s article also notes that although ecosocial systems have a relevant history, they’re also developmental systems that have a trajectory of development where each stage sets up conditions without which the next stage could not occur. 

Another interesting point that the article raises, relative to the design project’s goal of developing digital information literacy within an undergraduate Health and Social Care course, is the question of the mix of beliefs and values at play in our context; beliefs and values relative to academia and being a student, or lecturer, and the beliefs and values relative to being a health and social care practitioner. How conducive, I wonder, are either of these fields to adopting practices that align with the open web and the ideologies that the web embeds? 

digi grad
Digital Scholar

In addition, the students within our context are, to some degree or another, developing identities as academic scholars and/or health and social care practitioners, and what’s more, they come to our context with previous and other identities, with learnings gained from participation in other communities. So the question that arises is how in this case do we add digital literacy practices to the mix and how will these practices be received in relation to the identity, digital, or otherwise of those involved. 

Now, turning to a particular objective of the course, namely the development of specific digital literacy practices in order to support and/or improve the academic practice of sourcing information and referencing, Lemke’s article offers an interesting point that links practices to the development of identity within a Community of Practice (CoP). Giving the example of maths, he relates how the teaching of maths came to lose its chain of semiotic meaning; how very specific practices like naming, finger-reckoning, verbal counting and cardinal quantifying are linked together, and how through this linking of practices and their recapitulation that aspects of an individual’s identity may be developed. Such fragments of practices represent a small scale chain that links the social practice and activities with their historical formation. If, as in the case of maths, these practices become increasingly abstract, less context-specific, they run the risk of leaving behind what it was that was being counted in the first place (people, pebbles, sheep…); it leads to practices where the principle element is just a number. As such it also leaves behind the identity links for many students, thus creating a “discourse and repertory of practices to which they [the students] literally do not know how to relate; from which, to them, theirs and all human identities are excluded” (p.10). As Lemke’s article noted, some branches of learning do not help students construct identities in relation to their practices, they simply display the practices. I think this is highly pertinent to the practice of academic referencing and the production of academic texts. The historical links of this practice are no longer visible to many students, never mind the fact that currently within the context of higher education there’s no real recognition of the digital element already present in the construction of an academic essay. It’s still widely regarded as a traditional text. The essay-as-finished-text appears today very much as it would have done thirty or forty years ago, but through its production and the practices that students, or lecturers, engage in, the essay-as-social-practice has been utterly transformed by the digital. (Gourlay, 2011, p. 2). 

Therefore, to be truly effective, it would seem that our learning design must not just take this into account but actually seek to make visible again the links pertaining to academic practices and their historical formation, only now recast to show the digital elements that have evolved to form the latest part in the chain of semiotic meaning.

Returning to the course (and it’s “optimistic” schedule), the OLDSMOOC Daily 11 in summarizing Sunday’s learning activity noted that within the OLDS MOOC people are “still discussing context, exploring differences between ‘situated learning’ and the Ecology of Resources” (my emphasis). At this stage, I don’t know what the differences are; it took me so long just to consider the situated meanings pertinent to my design context. However, the synopsis in the OLDS MOOC brief stated that “the EoR Design Framework can be used to help understand learner context and support the design of learner centered interventions and/or technologies that fit contextual constraints and exploit available resources”. In which case, it seems that an EoR approach would be particularly beneficial here. I haven’t actually got down to the nitty gritty of applying the EoR design framework to this scenario yet, but in a way I’m glad because having caught up with the convergence session from yesterday, I can appreciate that the real effectiveness of the design framework is in its participatory aspect and that it envisages the learner as designer, or co-designer. For me, this again harks back to the work of Doug Belshaw when he argues for the co-construction of definitions of digital literacies, or in this case the development of a learning design for digital literacies. If the various forms of ambiguity and meaning surrounding the topic are not embraced and developed in conjunction with all those involved anything that gets designed “is likely to either be so vague as to be meaningless, or so specific that it is irrelevant” (p 222).

Image Source:


Belshaw, D. (2011) What is Digital Literacy. Available at:

Gourlay, L. (2011) Cyborg literacies and the posthuman text. Available at:

Lemke, J. (1997) Cognition, context, and learning: a social semiotic perspective. Available at:

Cloudbusting and camping: implications for learning design #oldsmooc

One of the MOOCs that I’ve signed up for is #OLDSMOOC. The focus of which is learning design. These are my thoughts on the  first week and some initial thoughts about learning design. Right off though, I have to say that I’ve no substantive idea of what learning design actually is; is it a fancy name for something that I do already when planning learning activities, is it something quite rigorous and scientific that I’ve hitherto not been exposed to, or is it something quite new altogether – a response to the way technology is impacting teaching and learning maybe.

Any how, my major observation from week 1 relates to the OLDSMOOC learning platform (of choice??), Cloudworks. Well, it doesn’t. The objective of the week was threefold: in an area called Dreambazaar outline your dream learning design proposal, review the assemblage of proposals and then through discussion and negotiation form small teams around the selected project, and beyond that form into study circles. All of which constitutes a big ask in any body’s book, but the process was severely hampered by the functionality of the Cloudworks platform. It was ill equipped for such a large scale, intense, nuanced and interpersonal activity. It was just impossible to figure out the platform and track down all the people that you wanted to talk to, so after considerable effort and not getting very far, I decided to park myself  under the cloud entitled “Digital Identity and Social Media” that had been started by Jane Challinor (@virtualleader) and likewise with the Digilit study circle cloud, again started by Jane Challinor (actual leader it would seem). I then pasted the links to these clouds into my Evernote account and proceeded to access Cloudworks  from there. The Daily digest, with its series of links, kept me on track with all the rest of the day’s happenings and, together with my home pasted links, was how I was able to penetrate Cloudworks, cloudbusting if you like. For me, this incident highlights a lot of the issues relating to closed platforms, begs the question as to why an open system, or one sympathetic to open applications wasn’t used (like Canvas), and what’s more, demonstrates the merits of a personal learning environment (PLE).

I suppose the reason I dislike Cloudworks so much is down to its lack of agility in supporting conversations, which in turn makes it feel sterile and inhospitable (a bit of a current theme with me). It’s just so hard to get a sense of people in there. For me, this experience confirms that eLearning technologies can no longer be considered as tools rather they’re sites of practice, places where people go to learn (Goodfellow & Lee, 2007). In my mind, the idea of  sites of practice somehow fits with the camping related conversation that sprang up on Twitter during the convergence session on Tuesday (“storified” here) and also links to not just personal learning environments (PLEs) but to many Web 2.0 pedagogies, none more so than rhizomatic learning, which partly triggered the camping conversation in the first place.

Learning intents
Learning intents

Returning to the the learning objectives of the week, I feel that I achieved those designed by the course team but I didn’t articulate any of my own. However, as the week unfolded, I decided that my goal was simply to hang on, because there’s no two ways about it, it was a difficult process to work your way through. Hopefully, things will be more straight forward from now on as I’ve emerged from week 1 with not just a fascinating project but a strong partner too. I’m looking forward to finding a learning design solution to Jane Challinor’s call of “let’s get digital”.

Image source:


Goodfellow, R. and Lea, M. R., (2007) Challenging e-learning in the university : a literacies perspective. Maidenhead: McGraw Hill Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.