Learning design, work integrated learning and microcredentials: Making it all fit.

Keith Heggart, University of Technology, Sydney.

The challenges of learning about learning design

Learning design, as a field, is somewhat confused; there is much discussion about the purpose of learning design training, and how best to deliver such training (e.g Lowell & Moore, 2020). More research is required into programs on offer and how they translate into job opportunities and professional practice. This blog post explores the research and practice involved in implementing one possible model: the Graduate Certificate of Learning Design (GCLD) at UTS. Developed via a participatory, design-based methodology (Zydney et al, 2020), this innovative professional qualification makes use of technology to offer work-integrated learning, industry practice workshops and microcredentials to develop profession-ready learning designers in an online modality.

This research focused on the affordances of technology (Laurillard, 2013) to enhance the learning opportunities. As a result, the GLCD offered the following advantages:

  • greater access for all students by offering multiple means of engagement, as well as incorporating accessibility and usability. Such modalities require careful use of technologies such as live conferencing, asynchronous design and more.
  • engagement with the professional community through expression sessions where learning design professionals undertake studio experiences with students online,
  • foregrounding whole-of-course work-integrated learning through online, practical internship-like experiences.
  • the opportunity to undertake individual subjects as microcredentials that offer possible articulation into award courses.

Key design features

The learners in this course require high quality synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences, with a focus on ensuring that they graduate ‘job-ready’. To do this, the following design elements have been carefully deployed.

  • Microcredentials: Five of the eight subjects run alongside the award course as stand-alone microcredentials. This means that learners can sign up for these at any point during the year, and transfer into the award course via recognition of this learning when and if they choose. It’s a mechanism that allows learners to ‘try before they buy’.
  • Expression Sessions: These are live online classes taught in a workshop by a currently practicing learning designer or someone in a learning designer adjacent role. The focus is on ‘how would a learning designer approach this problem?’.
  • Careful and creative use of audio-visual and interactive elements: Throughout all eight subjects, each module is introduced by a short, closed-captioned video. This creates a sense of continuity. Then, short video snippets, as well as interactives such as Genial.ly, H5P and Padlet are integrated into the course materials, as well as more traditional discussion boards, to encourage interaction.
  • Contextually relevant assessment tasks: each assessment task has been tailored so it relates to the learner’s context. It also is designed to provide a ready-made element that can be placed in a learner’s portfolio and shown to potential employers.
  • Work-integrated learning: the final subject provides students with an opportunity to join one of UTS’s learning design teams to work on an internship like experience. This prepares students effectively to join learning design teams immediately upon graduation.
  • The course elicits current knowledge and past experiences across each module. This is done by students sharing experiences at the beginning, activating schemas and linking upcoming material with existing knowledge and experiences.
  • Pre-and-post learning experience engagement: All learners are invited to join the Australian Association of Learning Designers, a LinkedIn group of more than 250 learning designers. This provides an opportunity for learning, and networking to continue beyond the GCLD.

A successful implementation

Modern learners are seeking more flexible opportunities to engage in professional learning. The GCLD is designed with this in mind, to allow learners to upskill and reskill, and to seek new directions in their careers – or new careers entirely. This is achieved through the course design, which allows for multiple entry and exit points, offers an accessible path into future study, and allows students to study in multiple modalities.

The success of this is apparent in the figures related to the uptake of microcredentials. Some examples are below:

  1. Increased numbers enrolling in microcredentials. The first microcredential had five students. The most recent offering had 35. Microcredentials are regularly sold out now.
  2. Students have also been so satisfied with their experience in one microcredential that they have enrolled in further microcredentials. More than 10 students have undertaken two or more microcredentials at this point.
  3. Increased enrolments from microcredentials into the GCLD. At this stage, 11 students who have completed microcredentials have enrolled in the GCLD.
  4. Interest from third parties, such as the Australian Army and the Health Education Training Institute in bespoke offerings of microcredentials.

A site of research, as well as learning

The course (and each subject within it) is grounded in scholarly and professional literature. In addition, it is now promoting research that is further developing our knowledge in these fields. The guiding principle of the course was the requirement to develop learning designers who were ready to start work. This has been identified as a missing aspect of many similar courses (Gray et al, 2015). Central to the development of the course was the emphasis on providing a seamless student learning experience through a uniform, whole-of-course design (Graves & Xu, 2000). This was especially important considering the number of subjects, and the need to prevent the course from becoming too fragmented. The subjects within the course carefully made use of both micro learning (Corbeil et al, 2021) and multimedia cognitive load theory (Sweller, 2005) as well as emphasising the value of context and work integrated learning approaches (Oliver, 2015). In addition, the instantiation of the Australian Association of Learning Designers sought to build professional networking and community development as an integral part of the subject (DuFour, 2004). This information has now contributed to further research (Heggart & Dickson-Deane, 2022; Heggart, 2022; Dickson-Deane et al., 2022).



Akther, J. (2020). Influence of UNESCO in the Development of Lifelong Learning. Open Journal of Social Sciences8(03), 103.

Corbeil, J. R., Khan, B. H., & Corbeil, M. E. (Eds.). (2021). Microlearning in the digital age: The design and delivery of learning in snippets. Routledge.

Dickson-Deane, C., Heggart, K., & Vanderburg, R. (in press). Designing Learning Design: The Transformative Potential of Work-Integrated Learning. In Lehtonen, M. (Ed). Design(ing) across disciplines.

DuFour, R. (2004). What is a” professional learning community”?. Educational leadership, 61(8), 6-11.

Gray, C. M., Dagli, C., Demiral‐Uzan, M., Ergulec, F., Tan, V., Altuwaijri, A. A., … & Boling, E. (2015). Judgment and instructional design: How ID practitioners work in practice. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 28(3), 25-49.

Graves, K., & Xu, S. (2000). Designing language courses: A guide for teachers. Heinlen & Heinlen.

Heggart, K. & Dickson-Deane, C. (2021). Microcredentials: Designing innovative pathways to and beyond degree offerings. Pacific Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, 3(1), 13-14.

Heggart, K. (2022). Responsive Online Course Design: Microcredentials and non-linear pathways in Higher Education. Iftenthaler, D (Ed). Global Persectives on Educational Innovations for Emergency Situations. Routledge.

Heggart, K. & Dickson-Deane, C. (2021) What should learning designers learn? Journal of Computing in Higher Education

Laurillard, D. (2013). Teaching as a design science: Building pedagogical patterns for learning and technology. Routledgehttps://doi.org/10.4324/9780203125083

Lowell, V. L., & Moore, R. L. (2020). Developing practical knowledge and skills of online instructional design students through authentic learning and real-world activities. TechTrends,64(4), 581–590. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-020-00518-z

Oliver, B. (2015). Redefining graduate employability and work-integrated learning: Proposals for effective higher education in disrupted economies. Journal of Teaching and Learning for Graduate Employability6(1), 56-65.

Selvaratnam, R. M., & Sankey, M. D. (2021). An integrative literature review of the implementation of micro-credentials in higher education: Implications for practice in Australasia. Journal of Teaching and Learning for Graduate Employability12(1), 1-17.

Sweller, J. (2005). Implications of cognitive load theory for multimedia learning. The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning, 3(2), 19-30.

Zydney, J. M., Warner, Z., & Angelone, L. (2020). Learning through experience: Using design based research to redesign protocols for blended synchronous learning environments. Computers & Education143, 103678.


About the researcher

Keith is an early career researcher from the University of Technology, Sydney. Coming from a background as a learning designer and teacher educator, Keith has developed, in the last two years, a dynamic research program into course design, examining the affordances provided by technology to increase student experience, accessibility and job-readiness of graduates. This design-based research has informed the development of an innovative new course in Learning Design (the Graduate Certificate in Learning Design [GCLD]), where the exemplary use of technology for learning has been trialled and implemented.


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