Talk Conole: Harnessing learning design as a new approach to rethinking the curriculum

Grainne Conole, Presidential address, AECT conference, 30th October 2009

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Gráinne Conole
29 October 2009


Technologies appear to offer seductive educational possibilities: in terms of new forms of innovation, cost effectiveness, personalisation. The policy and research literature around ICT use in education is littered with discourses that exemplify this: ‘ICT as a catalyst for change’, ‘new pedagogical innovation through ICT’, ‘the affordances of new technologies’.  But to what extent is this rhetoric matched by reality? To what extent have technologies in the last decade or so truly transformed learning and teaching? Evidence from the ground is mixed; whilst clearly technologies have increasingly become central in institutional strategic thinking; how much things have radically shifted ‘on the ground’ is another matter.

The paper considers the issues raised by this conundrum, focusing in particular on the approach being adopted by the Open University in the UK to develop a new methodology for thinking about learning design. It will describe our approach; the tools we have developed to date and some of the issues evaluation findings have raised.

The vision for our work is to enable practitioners to make better use of technologies and pedagogical approaches to provide an enhanced learning experience.[1] Our approach ( is predicated on three inter-related facets: gathering of empirical evidence on the design process (including case studies of tool use, interviews with practitioners, and workshops/focus groups), representing/visualising designs (including use of the CompendiumLD tool (Conole et al., 2008a)) and supporting practice through community engagement and sharing (via a social networking site for design – Cloudworks (Conole et al., 2008b)).

It will also discuss how we are extending the learning design methodology to application in the design and evaluation of Open Educational Resources, through a new initiative ( funded by the Hewlett Foundation, started in January 2009 which integrates ourLearning Design approach with the Openlearn initiative ( (a repository of OERs developed from OU course materials). OLnet provides a basis for gathering evidence, developing methodologies, supporting involvement and gain value by aggregating and sharing information through appropriate infrastructure. Its aim is to be a global network for researchers, users and producers of OERs.

We contend that the approach we are adopting offers an innovative and holistic approach to instigating learning design. Rather than focusing on specific staff development activities or the development of a ‘learning design tool’ we are adopting a multifaceted approach matching evolving user needs with an appropriate set of tools and resources. We see this as important as design is a complex process:

Design is a core part of any teaching or training role; i.e. how concepts can be presented to students to enable them to achieve a set of required learning outcomes. Educational text books might give the impression that there is a simple linear basis to the design process; starting with a set of learning outcomes, based on a particular pedagogical approach, appropriate resources, tools and activities are identified and linked together, assessment acting as the ultimate arbitrator in terms of success or failure. However in reality the design process is rarely so simple. [Conole, 2008]

Some of the key questions the research is addressing include:

  • What are the different forms of representation for articulating learning and teaching practice? How can each representation be used and by whom?
  • What forms of scaffolding and support can be provided to support the design process, in what ways might technologies be used to enable this?
  • What are the barriers and enablers to sharing learning and teaching practice?
  • Why do some social networking services work and others fail? Can we apply the best of Web 2.0 principles to an educational context? More specifically can we use this as a means of shifting teaching practice to a culture of sharing learning ideas and designs?
  • Can we harness the potential of technologies to create more engaging learning experiences for students?


Learning design, social objects, social networking, Cloudworks, CompendiumLD, Learning activities , Open Educational Resources


Conole, G., Brasher, A., Cross, S., Weller, M., Clark, P. and White, J. (2008a), Visualising learning design to foster and support good practice and creativity, Educational Media International

Conole, G., Culver, J., Well, M., Williams, P., Cross, S., Clark, P. and Brasher, A. (2008b), Cloudworks: social networking for learning design, Ascilite Conference, Melbourne.

Conole, G. (2008), ‘Capturing practice: the role of mediating artefacts in learning design’, in L. Lockyer, S. Bennett, S. Agostinho, and B. Harper (Eds),  Handbook of Research on Learning Design and Learning Objects: Issues, Applications and Technologies

Lockyer, L., Bennett, S., Agostinho, S. and Harper, B. (2008), Handbook of Research on Learning Design and Learning Objects: Issues, Applications and Technologies, Hersey PA: IGI Global.



[1] Lockyer et al. (2008) provide a summary of current learning design research (including examples of new ways of thinking about and representing designs, better mechanisms for finding and sharing resources and ideas, and tools for planning and designing).


Extra content


We would like to thank the Open University for strategic funding for this work, JISC as part of their Curriculum Design programme and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for funding OLnet.

People involved include: Andrew Brasher (CompendiumLD developer), Simon Cross (project manager) Paul Clark (Research fellow), Juliette Culver (Cloudworks developer), Rebecca Galley (JISC Curriculum Design officer). We would also like to thank Patrick McAndrew and the rest of the olnet team.

Gráinne Conole
20:39 on 29 October 2009

Some questions which might be worth exploring in relation to the talk.

  • We are used to the concept ot technology-enhanced learning but what about technology-enhanced teaching? …. Or beyond?
  • We need to rethink education in a modern context (to capitlise on the potential of new technologies, to realise new pedagogies), what will education of tomorrow look like?
  • Potential the impact of technology raises profound questions about the nature of education. In a world where context and expertise are increasingly free - what is education for? 
  • We are seeing an increasing blurring of the boundaries between ‘learner’, ‘teacher’ and ‘other’ and a shft instead towards ‘actors’, interacting with each other in a technology-enhanced environment, where actors and their practice co-evolve with the tools, How should we manage the transition? 
  • What characterise the educational context of tomorrow: Openness, Changing roles, User-centric and personalised, Evolving? Co-operative and collaborative – users helping each other, peer critiquing, regulating, fostering communities and clusters of engagement?, “Cummulatively intellligent” – harnessing the affordances of the technologies to meet specific needs, but to build and aggregate knowledge, and to distribute this in multiple ways for multiple purposes

Gráinne Conole
21:36 on 29 October 2009 (Edited 21:39 on 29 October 2009)

Embedded Content

Presentation on slideshare

Presentation on slideshare

added by Gráinne Conole


Gráinne Conole
3:57pm 29 October 2009

I've set up this cloud in preparation for the presidential address I am giving at the AECT conference on 30th October. I will add relevant links and references and also the slideshare presentations. We can also use this space for discussion around soem of the issues I raise in the presentation.

Gráinne Conole
12:30pm 30 October 2009

You don't get the animated version of the slides, so if you want them you will need to download the presentation from slideshare.

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