Abstracting technology-enhanced learning design principles

By A/Prof Matt Bower, Department of Educational Studies, Macquarie University

The Learning Design field has expended considerable effort to create educational design models and tools that help teachers to effectively integrate technology into their teaching. Notable educational design models include the Conversational Framework (Laurillard, 2002), the Seven Cs Model (Conole, 2015) and the Learning Development Cycle (Siemens, 2005). On the learning design tools front we have Compendium LD (Brasher & Cross, 2015; Conole, 2013; Conole & Jones, 2010) and the Learning Designer (Laurillard, Masterman, Magoulas, Boyle, & Manton, 2017), amongst others. Each of these initiatives is based to some extent on the underlying idea of ‘pedagogical patterns’ (Goodyear, 2005) – that if we can capture and share abstractions of designs and design processes then we can help to improve teacher practice.

The problem is that, while learning design models and tools have made highly valuable conceptual contributions to the Education field, they have had limited impact on practice.  Rational approaches to design are rarely used in practice because they do not account for the social and political context, the degree of artistry that design involves, and the wide range of flexible ways that technologies can be applied (Sharpe & Oliver, 2013). Learning design tools may help teachers to think through their designs, but some educators question whether the benefits are commensurate with the extra time commitment required (Conole, 2013).

Another important issue to consider is how much assistance pre-packed design abstractions really offer. It is an open question whether general designs or patterns exist that make sense across a wide range of different learning contexts (Beetham & Sharpe, 2013). Evidence suggests that educators prefer working with specific designs – even if they are from an unrelated context – rather than abstract designs (Agostinho, Bennett, Lockyer, Jones, & Harper, 2013; Masterman, 2013). There is little evidence that any learning design models or tools result in better quality designs, let alone better student learning outcomes. Rather than providing educators with abstract designs and planning tools, what may be more fruitful is for educators themselves to abstract contextually relevant design principles based on sustained reflection and engagement with the research literature.

In my new book “Design of Technology-Enhanced Learning – Integrating Research and Practice” I include comprehensive reviews of research literature relating to education using Web 2.0, social networking, mobile learning and virtual worlds. As well as each of those individual chapters providing a synthesis of design benefits, limitations and recommendations for the technology in question, analysis across the several hundred research articles for each of those environments enabled evidence-based technology-enhanced learning design principles to be abstracted. The principles that emerged from the research literature were:

  • Establish clear pedagogical motivations for using technology
  • Understand and cater to students
  • Uphold student safety and privacy
  • Scope the technological context
  • Select technologies according to pedagogical, technological, content and contextual considerations
  • Design for authentic and meaningful learning
  • Integrate supportive scaffolding
  • Construct the environment according to intended activity and pedagogy
  • Consider cognitive load and multimedia learning effects
  • Provide students with a clear rationale for using technology
  • Explicitly develop students’ digital learning capabilities
  • Utilize general pedagogical strategies and principles
  • Support effective communication
  • Apply strategies to encourage successful collaboration
  • Enable opportunities for reflective and vicarious learning
  • Proactively engage in the learning process
  • Adopt high quality assessment and feedback practices
  • Monitor and manage plagiarism
  • Foster positive learning communities
  • Leverage professional learning opportunities and support.

The benefits, issues and design principles present in the technology-enhanced learning research literature could be organized into thirteen clusters of concerns, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Clusters of concerns for technology-enhanced learning design that emerged from the research literature (Bower, 2017)

However, in the book I argue that there is limited benefit in handing these lists and diagrams to educators. What is really required is for educators to engage with the underlying literature, and in reflective practice, so that they can form nuanced and contextually relevant abstractions for themselves.

For people who may be interested in finding out more about the book, Emerald Publishing have made the TOC, Preface and a sample chapter available from http://bit.ly/DesignOfTEL .


Agostinho, S., Bennett, S., Lockyer, L., Jones, J., & Harper, B. (2013). Learning designs as a stimulus and support for teachers’ design practices. In H. Beetham & R. Sharpe (Eds.), Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age – Designing for 21st Century learning (pp. 119-132). NY: Routledge.

Beetham, H., & Sharpe, R. (2013). An introduction to rethinking pedagogy. In H. Beetham & R. Sharpe (Eds.), Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age – Designing for 21st century learning (pp. 1-15). NY: Routledge.

Bower, M. (2017). Design of technology-enhanced learning – Integrating research and practice. Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing Group.

Brasher, A., & Cross, S. (2015). Reflections on developing a tool for creating visual representations of learning designs – Towards a visual language for learning designs. In M. Maina, B. Craft, & Y. Mor (Eds.), The art & science of learning design (pp. 169-179). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Conole, G. (2013). Tools and resources to guide practice. In H. Beetham & R. Sharpe (Eds.), Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age – Designing for 21st century learning (pp. 78-101). NY: Routledge.

Conole, G. (2015). The 7Cs of Learning Design In J. Dalziel (Ed.), Learning Design: Conceptualizing a Framework for Teaching and Learning Online (pp. 117-145). NY: Routledge.

Conole, G., & Jones, C. (2010). Sharing practice, problems and solutions for institutional change. In P. Goodyear & S. Retalis (Eds.), Technology-enhanced learning: design patterns and pattern languages (pp. 277-296). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Goodyear, P. (2005). Educational design and networked learning: Patterns, pattern languages and design practice. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 21(1), 82-101.

Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking university teaching – A framework for the effective use of learning technologies. Oxford, UK: RoutledgeFalmer.

Laurillard, D., Masterman, L., Magoulas, G., Boyle, T., & Manton, M. (2017). Learning Design Support Environment.   Retrieved 10 January, 2017, from https://sites.google.com/a/lkl.ac.uk/ldse/

Masterman, L. (2013). The challenge of teachers’ design practice. In H. Beetham & R. Sharpe (Eds.), Rethinking pedagogy for the digital age – Designing for 21st Century learning (pp. 64-77). NY: Routledge.

Sharpe, R., & Oliver, M. (2013). Designing for Learning in Course teams. Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: Designing for 21st century learning, 163-176.

Siemens, G. (2005). Learning development cycle – Bridging learning design and modern knowledge needs. Elearnspace everything elearning. Retrieved from: http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/ldc.htm