Learning Design – Not just another buzzword! – Part 2

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

We commenced this blog post (see Learning Design – Not just another buzzword! – Part 1) with a quote from Milne’s famous children’s book, Winnie-the-Pooh in an attempt to make overt Milne’s lesson in conceptual plurality and its relevance for us Learning Design researchers and practitioners. Moreover, it cannot be denied that Learning Design in its many shapes of forms, is greatly in vogue at present and can, therefore, be classified as a contemporary buzzword. As Milne (1926/1996) puts it: ‘That buzzing noise means something. You don’t get a buzzing noise like that, just buzzing and buzzing, without its meaning something.’  To exemplify, what we refer to as the ‘inevitability’ of the conceptual plurality of Learning Design, in part 1 of this blog post, we listed 10 definitions of Learning Design. In what follows, however, we ask, quite provocatively, if the status quo is serving the Learning Design community well, or if it is, indeed, advantageous and necessary to seek conceptual unity.

Dissimilar to Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, however, Learning Design researchers have made a number of attempts to explain the difference between Learning Design and Instructional Design see, for example, SmartSparrow 2017.

The perceived need to differentiate Learning Design from Instructional Design begs the question:

Is it important to accept this conceptual plurality and definitional potpourri or should the Australian and international Learning Design community attempt to pursue conceptual unity and definitional clarity?

Milne’s lesson in linguistic ambiguity is worth revisiting in search of an answer.

Milne illustrated powerfully that one conceptualisation of his main character (Edward Bear) is simply not sufficient and there is a need to open readers’ minds to the possibility or even inevitability of conceptual plurality. Similarly, the LD community may need to accept the inevitability of meaning fragmentation of LD and the multiplicity of definitional constructs to follow.  Hence, we tend to agree with Taylor & Vicker’s 2017 observation to some extent that “in practice, one just does find that more than one definition of a given term will be useful, depending on the context, the debate in which it appears, the interests, values, and goals of the enquirers, and so on “ (p. 30).

Nevertheless, as the Australian LD research and practice community expands and matures, it is drawing interested academics from disparate field and disciplinary backgrounds, such as educational psychology, philosophy, business, health sciences etc, which requires of experts who have a history working in this field to engage constructively with this reality of meaning fragmentation and conceptual plurality.

It is not surprising then that a meta-analysis of a decade of published work in the field of Learning Design found that scholars associated the meaning of Learning Design with more than 300 unique terms, including concepts related to particular learning theories, learning technologies, aspects of curriculum development and analytics (Lloyd & Bahr, 2016).

A serious attempt to capture succinctly the theory, history and purpose of the field of LD, based on discussions among experts over several years was the Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design, which was first published in 2013 and republished in 2016 (Dalziel et al., 2016).

In their recent publication, the Larnaca Declaration Group concluded that there is not only disagreement on the definition and meaning of concepts associated with LD, but also on the intersection between learning theories, pedagogical design patterns, and digital tools. They called for a unified LD notation system in an attempt to provide a clearer conceptual foundation (Dalziel et al., 2016) and advance ideas of how best to capture and represent different ideas and stages of the LD life cycle (Dobozy & Dalziel, 2016). Despite their commitment and work over the years, they have struggled individually and collectively to agree on a possible LD theory and to operationalise the LD Conceptual Map.

The need for Learning Design theory

There is a growing acceptance that designing for learning and teaching in higher education requires an understanding of and adherence to learning theory (see Bain & Zundans-Fraser, 2016, chapter 2).

Despite previous attempts by the Larnaca Declaration Group to argue for the possibility and need of pedagogical neutrality that would allow learning/instructional/educational designers to work out of different and even opposing educational paradigms, there is a growing acceptance of constructivism as the underpinning theory for learning and teaching in higher education. More specifically, Dobozy (2013) notes that although learning designs are “created in various contexts and for multiple purposes, … current understandings of constructivist pedagogy, through the use of a specific sequence of activities that foster active consideration of the topic and collaborative knowledge production by students” are the accepted norm. Hence, earlier attempts to argue for and adhere to paradigmatic plurality of learning design meta-models, may need to be reviewed. We even argue that the current meaning fragmentation and acceptance of pedagogical neutrality is a hindrance to the pursuit of a Learning Design Methodology.


Bain, A. & Zundans-Fraser, L. (2016). Rising to the challenge of transforming higher education. Springer Briefs in Education. Singapore: Springer. Available at: http://www.springer.com/gp/book/9789811002595

Dalziel, J., Conole, G., Wills, S., Walker, S., Bennett, S., Dobozy, E., Cameron, L., Badilescu-Buga, E., & Bower, M. (2016) The Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 1(7), pp. 1–24.

Dobozy, E. & Dalziel, J. (2016). Transdisciplinary Pedagogical Templates and their Potential for Adaptive Reuse. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 1 (8), pp. 1–11, DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/jime.402

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

Lloyd, M. & Bahr, N. (2016). What matters in higher education? A meta-analysis of a decade of learning design. Journal of Learning Design, 9(2), 1-13. Available at: https://www.jld.edu.au/article/download/280/280-698-1-PB.pdf

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

Taylor, H. & Vicker, P. (2017). Conceptual fragmentation and the rise of eliminativism. European Journal for Philosophy of Science, 17(1), pp. 17-40. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13194-016-0136-2


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