Learning Design – Not Just Another Buzzword! – Part 1

By Associate Professor Eva Dobozy, Curtin University & Associate Professor Panos Vlachopoulos, Macquarie University

Edward Bear, known to his friends as Winnie-the-Pooh, or Pooh for short, was walking through the Forest one day, humming proudly to himself. …Winnie-the-Pooh sat down at the foot of the tree, put his head between his paws, and began to think. First of all he said to himself: ‘That buzzing noise means something. You don’t get a buzzing noise like that, just buzzing and buzzing, without its meaning something.’ – Milne, 1926/1996

Why quote Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh?

Learning Design, as an immensely popular concept, returning over 136 million hits on Google can be classified as a contemporary buzzword in the field of technology enhanced learning. The buzzword status of Learning Design (LD) can further be exemplified by the increasing number of events and research outputs dedicated to this concept. There are LD books, journals, conferences and much more:

The opening quote contains an important message for the Learning Design community. Not only is Learning Design a concept that is in vogue at present, but it also shares other qualities with Winnie-the-Pooh that are worth highlighting. Some of these qualities are: conceptual plurality, linguistic ambiguity, plasticity of terminology, and meaning fragmentation. Milne makes a case for the importance and plasticity of terms, referring to the main character Edward the Bear or Winnie-the Pooh or Pooh, signalling the ability of the character (or concept) to be moulded and altered depending on their context and application. Milne uses the book successfully to engage in language games, instilling in readers the idea of concept plurality and meaning fragmentation, surpasses cultural and generational boundaries.

However, it is noteworthy that despite the multiplicity of terms used by Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh is clearly privileged. This is yet another attribute that the concept of Learning Design shares with Winnie-the-Pooh. Although Instructional Design and/or Educational Design are terms used internationally and sometimes interchangeably with Learning Design, the term Learning Design is clearly privileged in Australia.

Underscoring the inevitability of the conceptual plurality of this buzzword is the use of a plethora of definitions by LD researchers.  The below list has been complied by Ifenthaler, Gibson and Dobozy (in press) and is an extension of Dobozy’s (2013) list of Learning Design definitions. It may provide an important historical snapshot of the development and changing nature of this concept.

Table 1. Selected definitions of Learning Design in chronological order

Author Definition
Agostinho (2006) A learning design is a representation of teaching and learning practice documented in some notational form so that it can serve as a model or template adaptable by a teacher to suit his/her context.
Koper (2006) The description of the teaching-learning process that takes place in a unit of learning. The key principle in learning design is that it represents the learning activities and the support activities that are performed by different persons (learners, teachers) in the context of a unit of learning. These activities can refer to different learning objects that are used during the performance of the activities (e.g. books, articles, software programmes, pictures), and it can refer to services (e.g. forums, chats, wiki’s) that are used to collaborate and to communicate in the teaching-learning process.
Conole (2008) The range of activities associated with creating a learning activity and crucially provides a means of describing learning activities.
Dalziel (2008) A framework to describe a sequence of educational activities in an online environment.
Ioannis and Papadakis (2011) The creation of sequences of learning activities, which involve groups or learners interacting within a structured set of collaborative environments.
LarnacaDeclaration.org, (2012) The concept of a framework for describing teaching and learning activities (based on many different pedagogical approaches) is 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).
Conole (2013) A methodology for enabling teachers/designers to make more informed decisions in how they go about designing learning activities and interventions, which is pedagogically informed and makes effective use of appropriate resources and technologies. This includes the design of resources and individual learning activities right up to curriculum-level design. A key principle is to help make the design process more explicit and shareable. Learning design as an area of research and development includes both gathering empirical evidence to understand the design process, as well as the development of a range of learning design resource, tools and activities.
Dobozy (2013) A way of making explicit epistemological and technological integration attempts by the designer of a particular learning sequence or series of learning sequences.
Mor and Craft (2015) Learning Design is the creative and deliberate act of devising new practices, plans and activities, resources and tools aimed at achieving particular educational aims in a given context.
Hale (2016) Learning design is the process of designing learning experiences (planning, structuring, sequencing) through facilitated activities that are pedagogically informed, explicit, and make better use of technologies in teaching.


Agostinho, S. (2006). The use of visual learning design representation to document and communicate teaching ideas. In Proceedings of ASCILTE 2006, Sydney, NSW.   Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/sydney06/proceeding/pdf_papers/p173.pdf

Conole, G. (2008). The role of mediating artefacts in learning design. In L. Lockyer, S. Bennett, S. Agostinho, & B. Harper (Eds.), Handbook of research on learning design and learning objects: Issues, applications and technologies (pp. 188–208). New York, NY: Hershey.

Conole, G. (2013). Designing for learning in an open world. New York, NY: Springer.

Dalziel, J. (2008). Learning design: Sharing pedagogical know-how. In T. Iiyoshi & M. Kumar (Eds.), Opening up education: The collective advancement of education through open technology, open content and open knowledge (pp. 375–388). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Dobozy, E. (2013). Learning design research: advancing pedagogies in the digital age. Educational Media International, 50(1), pp. 63-76.  Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09523987.2013.777181

Hale, F. (2016). Learning design: Details of the developing Edinburgh Learning Design roadmap (ELDeR) at the University of Edinburgh.   Retrieved from http://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/learning-technology/supporting-learning-and-teaching/learning-design

Ifenthaler, D., Gibson D., Dobozy, E. (in press). Informing learning design through analytics: Applying network graph analysis. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. Special Issue – Learning Design Research: Mapping the terrain, Vol. X, No. Y. pp. xxx

Ioannis, K. & Papadakis, S. (2011). Using LAMS to teach geography and biology to K-12 students: A rural Greek high school case study. In: J. Dalziel (ed.). Proceedings of the 2011 Asia Pacific LAMS & Learning Design Conference.

Koper, R. (2006). Current research in learning design. Educational Technology & Society, 9, 13–22.

LarnacaDeclaration.org. (2012). The Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design.   Retrieved from http://www.larnacadeclaration.org/

Milne, A. (1926/1996). The complete tales of Winnie-the-Pooh. New York, N.Y. Dutton.

Mor, Y., Craft, B., & Maina, M. (2015). Learning design: Definitions, current issues and grand challenges. In M. Maina, B. Craft, & Y. Mor (Eds.). The art & science of learning design (pp. ix-xxvi). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers

One Comment

  1. In its broader definitions, ‘learning design’ just means designing learning – which is similar to instructional design. The more useful definitions (at least to me) focus on the design process – referring to sharing and adapting resources based on documentation or perhaps specific patterns or templates, making practice explicit.

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