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Cloud created by:

Hugues Chicoine
22 February 2013


keywords: educational design, learner activities, academic workplan, post-pedagogical design, learning paradigm, skills, knowledge, learner representation

Educational Design—General (or context)

Educational design may be envisaged from at least four viewpoints:

  1. Although the process involves no measuring activity and is subject to no measurement standard, educational design is an acclivity of instructional engineering and many adhere to the concept as it relates to e-learning theory, empirical data and “the substrate of explicit and implicit rules and assumptions which bind the discourse of a scientific community.” (Mor 2010:5,8) 
  2. In the sense of traditional pedagogy. Where the teacher or instructor (performing their assigned tasks) are implicitly considered as the mainspring of both (i) the education system and (ii) the teaching-learning process.
  3. In the didactic framework, that is, until recently, the framework of traditional classroom teaching within controlling organisational and administrative boundaries (prescribed resources, subject matter, values). 
  4. From the viewpoint of a learner workplan as characterised in open and distant higher education where learners may to some extent, in certain courses, determine the content or references in the proposed academic workplan. This feature stands out as a trait in the design of this type of course if the professor so intends. Where this reasoning is somewhat agreed to, the notion of open contents leads to two aspects of educational design:
    • course contents are open and may be minimalist (especially where crowdsourced), and 
    • the themes, standpoints, formats as well as the type and style of platform or presentations submitted are just as well—more or less—open (online papers and even dissertations and theses, online courses, massive open online courses and many other creative productions and diversified experiments).

There are now two paradigms from which educational design can borrow:

(i) teaching or traditional pedagogy, and

(ii) learning or cognitive activity.

Basically, pedagogy and teaching methods are deployed and applied in the classroom (institutional environment), while learning and the activation of metacognitive processes are among the characteristics of distance education. Whether traditional or distant, the basic institutional mission of universities (traditional and open) is the same, i.e., to admit and enroll a regular university clientele and introduce learners to formal academic training. But open and distance education also provides access to returning persons or persons who travel a different post-adolescence path. When dealing with open learning design, the main difficulties are

(i) to remain within the paradigm of learning,

(ii) to discern metacognitive activity from “the learning experiences encapsulated in the learning and instructional designs” (Anderson), and

(iii) to integrate intervention as little as possible or avoid intervention in the tradition of pedagogy.

A model of representation-based (not location- or technology- based) educational design

Ideation (structured approach): general, basic requirements

It takes an effort to conceive higher education in a radically different perspective. Fortunately, distance education lends itself to observation on the WWW while traditional teaching is performed behind closed doors. I have searched and examined design models and course samples [1] to isolate available course exemplars, and the findings are as follows: 

(i) professors are capable of preparing and achieving (tutoring) their courses entirely

(ii) professors are able to establish the conceptual and communicational markers with respect to their academic discipline, and

(iii) professors—as faculty—are authorised to exercise their intellectual property rights [2] on their teaching productions. Normally, course projects are faculty-driven. It remains to be seen whether opening the professors’ collective agreements on that question would make them more receptive to distance education and if this incentive would further enhance openness in education and sharing educational material (David Wiley, In other words, should the traditional copyright convention be reversed and read: “materials generated for courses is owned by the author, with institutions given some rights of user” (Couture, Dubé & Malissard 2009).

Generally, establishments elect to impart course design responsibility to an administrative unit or to a project manager and copyright remains with the institution, but in such case the learning design process is faculty-supervised.

Specialists are no doubt essential for mediating courses and they are usually grouped in administrative operational units concerned mostly with media technologies. These specialists are entrusted with embedding the institutional didactic procedures in programs and courses, that is, “pedagogical activities intended to have a direct effect on the student, as opposed to diagnostic activities” (Wenger 1987:395). Distance (open) educational design is on the far side of institutional didactics but is generally thought to be intimately dependent on any number of prescribed communicational procedures. There is another substantial, leading process at work: academic steerage. The post-pedagogical approach to learner workplan

All tasks assigned to technical (operational) units materialize in the form of media or media template, i.e., a website or cloud in which content is inserted and conveyed. This (multi) media method is not always a challenge unless the outcome reflects all of the following:

(i) the outcome reflects the relevant teaching components of the professor’s workplan (often includes research components)

(ii) at the forefront, the outcome reflects the academic features of professor’s discipline, and

(iii) the outcome reflects the learner workplan (much too often the learner workplan will more or less subtly disappear from view behind all the indispensable navigation buttons—course calendar, rules, deadlines, etc., none of which are relevant to the learner’s workplan but are institutional and communicational in their purpose: navigation, look and feel, intelligibility, etc.).

For the purpose of academic open learning design, a course website is generally composed of all the following:

(i) academic ideation (a formal, structured design)

(ii) institutional inputs (that sometimes draw on significant production resources for highly visible disciplines)

(iii) substantial academic contents

(iv) designing faculty

(v) enrolled, registered learners in their private sphere. Students roaming the campus and passing entrances under video surveillance need not be the object of representation: they are local census, head count.

Traditionally, educational course websites were accessed exclusively by enrolled learners under exclusive institutional control. OLDS MOOC 2013 and other previous experiments such as CCK8 (Athabaska University, 2008) provide first generation and root examples of a definite breakthrough after the open universities movement in the early 1970s, subversive open skies in the 1990s with Stevan Harnad (research), then learning objects (teaching-learning) and now open learning design (learning). Clearly, this time, the discussion is on learning and not on the historic culture of pedagogy, i.e., the prescriptive and interventionist transmission of knowledge within the institution’s own and exclusive time-space continuum whether on premises or mediated.

Educational institution, corporation

Universities are institutionalised structures and academic families intertwined into complex administrative strata in which faculty members nurture multiple intra and extra-organizational affiliations.

Academic content, learning activities (qualifying and leading to diplomas and graduation)

All academic disciplines afford their own preferred resources and a variety of educational options on which programs, courses and lessons need to be constructed regardless of educational theory or delivery mode. In particular, course design or plan for learning—as we designers see teaching-learning procedures—and media technologies must accommodate academic representations (contents); media technologies, when used, must be suitable for content conveyance. Ten (10) curriculum components need to be addressed in the planning of students’ hybrid learning according to Van den Akker (2010). Media technologies are dwarfed and found under “materials and resources”. Van den Akker introduces two modifications to his long-standing theory of distance education: (i) “vision” is added to “rationale” as the central mission in the planning of student learning, and (ii) “measure” of learning progress is substituted to “assessment” of learning. One may compare this approach with Nyquist’s (2013:17) “5Ws and an H” designed for medical instructor workshops.

To the average learner, it makes little difference whether (i) the course is designed on the basis of an educational rationale, intention or vision where the design questions refer to (i) learning motivations, (ii) why learners are learning, (iii) which goals they are pursuing—all of which are usually uncommunicated by the learners, if not uncommunicable—or (iv) how they are learning—if different from previous generations of learners. It makes little difference because learning progress is “measured” or “assessed” and is hardly designed to exclude fail marks. Therefore, the learners’ capital motive and goal—especially with beginners—is to succeed. In my experience, learners pay little attention to design and pedagogy unless there is something awry in the system (and even at that, very few will dare come out openly and take exception). Consequently, what is capital in the teaching-learning process is student production, assessed and marked as the outcome of the learners’ involvement or engagement with the workplan—in the form of activities—embedded in the course (Conole’s 7Cs of learning design—

Designing faculty

The research professor’s workplan and employment conditions are determined in a collective agreement. Very often the outcome or product of her academic research can be lodged into the curriculum, at least in part. In that case, course preparation complies with and closes the loop between both components of the establishment’s institutional mission (research and teaching). True, a research professor is never free of administrative and organisational procedures, yet she can exercise exclusive prerogatives under her purview in her discipline although she is not particularly conversant with media technologies that are not the tools of her academic trade or specialty. Her course can be thoroughly designed before it is tipped toward a VLE, LMS, CMS or other system. Such systems often require alterations to the course as originally conceived and introduce their own brand of “insidious pegagogy” by replacing “the instructor’s main strength—their expertise in their discipline and their teaching with their main weakness—technological literacy” (Lane 2009). For this reason, educational design must still be reflected upon from within for all disciplines.

Learners (stakeholders)

The lead-in element of an educational design model is student representation and the fabrication of personas is an attempt at capturing he or she who is not sitting among a group attending a live lecture. For coherence, one must specifically include any learner representations conveyed in the course material, especially where no such representation is included in the corporate or institutional messages directed at the learning clientele (explicit metacognitive guidance may serve that purpose).

Where learners enrolled in distance and online university programs or courses, we need to assume:

(i) that learners engage in a learning process from their private (and sometimes professional) sphere

(ii) that the characteristics which define these learners include autonomy and social distance; consequently, designers need to acknowledge that the establishment

  • abandons the requirements for mandatory physical presence of persons on campus
  • foregoes the parental posture so typical of pedagogy
  • gives up the idea that distant learners are isolated

(iii) we also need to assume that this post-pedagogical approach inherent to open learning design requires more intensive metacognitive efforts on the part of learners and that

(iv) in this educational framework the efficiency and performance requirements are generally more demanding in terms of informational and discursive skills.

Open and distance higher education offers learning workplans to be executed or performed in one’s personal (family, social, professional) environment. The sum of such learning activities is designed to meet not only their needs but their inclinations, potential, ambition and choices among the academic paths available. Learning workplans are achieved using technologies and devices identical to or compatible with that of the establishment.

Learner representation is a problem in open and distance higher education. When learner characteristics include the private sphere, an important element of pedagogy disappears: the collective character inherent to the classroom, the learning community, and even the peer-to-peer character of education. The ‘collective’ notion, branded since early schooling and inherent to institutional education, its concepts and discourse, is likely to be the most difficult to overcome although MOOCs are attempts at shedding the predominantly institutional character of education. Massive is beyond collective.

Specifically in open and distance education, the collective approach (including peer-to-peer) is taken for granted and posits that distant learners will regroup, aggregate or cluster in some coherent form. We are familiar with this concept but after 40+ years of open and distant education, the effectiveness and usefulness of the collective pedagogical model remains to be demonstrated (it does save course or lesson—learning unit preparation time and tutoring effort).

Educational designers and institutional agents need to reflect differently on the learner as an all round active and autonomous individual, complete with social status: hence the reference to the private (not the location-based, institutional) sphere as the all-embracing characteristic of distant learners. Likewise, technology-enhanced teaching is not as relevant for distant learners as it is in the literature or for institutional course designers since most learners pay little attention to educational technologies in themselves and to institutional arrangements and tools. Students are concerned with formal, academic, discipline-specific contents in workplans that afford the learning framework or the means conducive to knowledge construction or revision.

For distant learners, all the educational purposes and intentions need to be conveyed through the proposed course interface. Their design needs to be explicit, accessible for viewing and study in the private sphere away from the noise and distractions of campus (social) life.

The items within reach with respect to representation-based educational design are | Contents (formal, academic) | Context (establishment) | Co-design (documented iterative faculty-driven process) | Systems (available at the establishment or mastered by the professor and co-design team) | Procedures (institutional policies embedded in the design process).

For learners, however, the end result has an entirely different outlook, for example: Contextual (admission, enrollment) | Conditional (systems accessibility, faultless efficiency) | Substantial [3] (content-related Activities —academic, cultural, formal and informal) | Tangible (certification and qualification).

Explicit, detailed and formal Educational Design

Educational Design defines the visible and readable aspects of what is normally viewed as a design exercise, that is, an ideation process recorded in communicable form, rooted in discipline-specific knowledge representations which are derived or borrowed from new or less recent (updated, synthesised) academic research.

“ Educational Design: a design exercise rooted in discipline-specific knowledge representations derived from academic research.

Course design model means a matrix that is not necessarily a system, or is a system in which all the components are individually malleable or flexible (or even ephemeral in the sense of single-use). A Student Workplan is at the heart of explicit educational (course) designs, i.e., activities proposed to students by the designing professor.

In conformity with our vision and practice of open and distant education, course design (Ideation) includes the characteristics of institutional didactics (Van den Boom and Schlusmans 1989), where:

(i) ideation confers to the design process a set of cognitive and academic (discipline-specific) idiosyncrasies, including any discretionary approach or modalities determined by the designing professor

(ii) where implementation and delivery remain essentially under institutional responsibility (institutional services), and where

(iii) course performance by the student closes the loop (the workplan is achieved successfully). In this approach, the educational process must imperatively include course performance by the learner otherwise student evaluation is disowned.

The introduction of ‘ideation’ in the process of designing open (online, distant) courses and programs provides the teaching professor with sufficient control and power to advance the academic foundations, necessities and multiple representations of the discipline of her specialty that must govern the design process.

In the proposed model, Ideation is substituted to MediaTechnologies at the forefront of the designing  concern. But why? In the general ADDIE system the second term is actually the all-encompassing “Design” notion in which only media choices are made; this reduces the discipline-specific input to mere cargo. By introducing Ideation over MediaTechnologies, the pre-emption of educational technologies is removed and more flexibility is provided to all participants, including the designing faculty.

A simple concept will not be enough settlement in the current instructional media culture. The ADDIE theory or system and the pedagogical methods associated with today’s instructional media are now institutionalised and deeply embedded into the organization of work. In a post-pedagogical vision of education and training, all notions are not equal and designing professors must be recognized as the leaders in the hierarchy of work, and the copyright holders if so they wish (OERs are not on par with research papers in this respect).

Contexts (general and specific)

General context: educational (not utterly institutional or technological)

Of course the general context of higher education is institutional. This context is nonetheless contingent or adaptable and it can now accommodate extra muros experiment on exclusively technological substrates[11] as George Siemens and Stephen Downes have demonstrated since 2008.

 “ [11] Recent projects of radical design by Siemens and Downes were conducted in an institutional context. Extra muros participants were invited to contribute input in real time during the course along that of enrolled students. The process is not just participative or interactive but connectivist and it opens to action-research. Although not connectivist, OLDS MOOC is tuned to research.

Unique formal academic learning framework : teaching-research

Among all levels of education, only the university and college level can bring learning and research together and make them overlap. In order to appreciate distance learning, one must recognise the rather stable institutional aspect of education. Yet, with respect to the post-pedagogical nature of this approach (open, continuous enrollment—open content) every aspect and component of a course should be revisable by the professor, even in the design process, on the same basis as the cognitive representations derived from research. This context, typical of distance education (adjoining research and learning) is intended to enhance the learner workplan with multiple representations. To this end, however,  we need to escape the inhibiting ‘instructional media’ approach (and its implicit techno pedagogical theory) and invest explicitly in all the representations needed (institutional, educational, technological, discipline-specific and representations of the learners themselves—probably the most difficult).

Progressive design procedures

Progressive or iterative design often means a constructive cycle (information, revision, refinement) in which the designer tends to achieve by himself all the steps of the process with support from media specialists. This, however, assumes that professors will eventually become familiar with LMS or other complex systems and that they will design enough courses over their career to become familiar with one or several such systems. All this is very unlikely given the never ending innovative rush.

In the process, the designing faculty controls and manages all the aspects of the course (learning units, personal archiving of the production). After each quality control procedure, the course may be deployed online section by section as components become available. Generally, the designing faculty remains in control of his course—cross actions, while the establishment manages the technical operations—modular actions. (Henri et al. 2007)

In the process of preparing a progressive design—archived in the professor’s personal productions—the course is described in text form and the layout includes the essential components: (i) material aspects where necessary (by others), (ii) means or methods of learner-instructor interaction, (iii) sequencing of events or other routines or chains of events (often translated into a study guide with explanations, directions, a manual or body of literature, etc.). in addition to course contents, the description of the course and its design will also be discipline-specific.

In many cases, the progressive design may also take the form of a learner work-plan instead of a course outline or syllabus or a lesson plan. For example, in the case of some job readiness training or for admission to some standardised and regulated profession (internship/practicum), course programming will be discipline-specific regardless of the technologies that convey the material. Learning thus progresses from theory to field practice.

To ensure progressiveness, the design process needs to be expressed properly. At or near completion, all aspects of the project must be communicable and include no concealed or implicit intelligence. The design must demonstrate all the effective attributes of the course and expose all the representations therein conveyed. Representation-based educational design is based on an approach whereby the preparation process is itself the object of representation (a descriptive record); some would prefer ‘follow-up’, ‘modeling’ or ‘procedure’, ‘checklist’, ‘quality control’ or ‘management chart’ but we can agree on a more neutral expression: to visualise the process or its traces during project development.

The entire preparation requires that all participants and contributors show or verbalize and share their thoughts, ideas on the concepts deemed appropriate for the project. In other words, a challenge exists for all participants to represent their contribution—visually or in text form.

Thus, when the ultimate reader peruses what has been prepared for learners, he should be able to quickly access the unique characteristics and patterns of the course and not a standardised web site with a typical or pre-set menus, pages and navigation buttons. Instead, the web site should highlight the learner workplan—where this scenario is implemented—and urge the student to put in hand without delay the course in that productive perspective.

Is a scalable or progressive design preferable to a prescriptive approach? Where the course cannot come to terms with a rigid form, pre-set framework or preprogrammed layout, progressive design provides the designing faculty with two warmly welcomed handles: (i) more micro-control over the design process and (ii) opportunities to tap into the talents of collaborators to the full extent of their declared competencies. In other words, course project sequencing and its representation will not boil down to single leading notions the like of course or activity ‘calendar’ or representations of the participants’ ‘roles and responsibilities’.

Co-design entities

Institution, establishment

Institution means the teaching environment personified by the establishment’s agents specialised in media infrastructures, administrative and teaching staff involved in course preparation or delivery, and persons who come in contact with the learners.

Other stakeholders and issues

Participants in course preparation include (i) the designing faculty; course design may also include or call upon (ii) education or computer (IT) professionals and (iii) institutional agents and employees such as research assistants, tutors or instructors.

The professor may prepare his course exclusively in text and have it processed and included ‘as is’ in the course catalog. This ensures that the course is delivered exactly as designed and without the introduction of most foreign and para-disciplinary representations conveyed in your standard LMS, CMS, KMS, etc. In my understanding, experiments with homegrown environments such as Cloudworks fuel the ever growing movement toward faculty autonomy and accelerating institutional (college, university) replenishment.

Users: enrolled

Each entity participating to a teaching-learning project (course, program) needs to have the appropriate channels and means of expression, engages in the design process at their assigned level and with prodigality (some throughout the process or briefly, and even over the entire life cycle of the course or program). Ultimately, all the contributions to an intellectual project will generate a learning environment that is a course: 

(i) that constitutes a form of discipline-specific intervention in a student’s educational path and academic progress;

(ii) that provides a space for interaction and exchange and expressly request learner involvement;

(iii) a space divided into phases, steps or set points;

(iv) a space that nevertheless captures the general educational and institutional attributes;

(v) homogeneous interfaces (in the case of a website) ;

(vi) explicit communication mechanisms and policies;

(vii) activities;

(viii) and everything that is absolutely required to propose a beneficial or useful learning experience, preferably with feedback to the learners at the end of the initiative to wrap up the design process.

System (procedures)

Authentication (department, faculty)

The design—or the discipline-specific teaching-learning—is often subject to approval by a disciplinary collective (teaching-learning unit, department, faculty). This ensures not only coherence with existing or projected courses or programs but also cohesion and complementarity between and among institutional participants and faculty members. The approach to course design along the ‘student work plan’ issues is an inescapable yet tension abating argument beyond the ‘student-centered’, beyond the ‘technology-enhanced’ and other incidental discourses (in the stand and deliver process, everything is incidental to that delivery; in distance education, everything is incidental to the learning process conducted by the student).


A course project will normally undergo a validation phase. Educational design theories and procedures usually refer to modeling, simulation, prototyping, several forms of testing and independent oversight. This phase is particularly instructive in the case of representation-based design where the student workplan is implemented as the learning framework. This leads to a true prototyping or testing subject to academic criteria [13] and not just a silent media usability procedure.

“ [13] Among others, the course subject matter is problem-oriented within the discipline on hand; the course refers to academic research, authors and references; follows up on this research and on any potential or emerging breakthrough or innovative concepts, new grounds or practices, prospective research, etc.: the intellectual space or continuum.

Delivery, execution

Where media technologies are given front stage without challenge, that is, when educational design is all about media operationalization, it appears that usability testing may be required, especially where new software or software versions are used. Very little detail is available on course prototyping or testing. One may however assume that in this instance undisclosed technical supervision will extend into the delivery of courses and programs and exclude the designing faculty from the loop. True and comprehensive testing of a course should include every component: of course the student workplan, but also the supporting technologies and the communication infrastructures provided by the establishment.

Course/programme on offer: contents

Student workplan

In this paper, the expression Course/Programme On Offer means the educational design products that are, most often, fashioned by a collective of collaborators. But we must not forget that such offer is included in an academic teaching-learning programme. It necessarily includes a student workplan, that is, activities that learners are expected to perform with success. In the case of representation-based design, the construction of the course generates all kinds of different representations (mainly discipline-specific, and institutional) but this does not alter the fact that students will seek his or her workplan in the contents provided. The expressions design product, course, programme, offer, and contents all refer to the same object or body created from an assembly of multiple and diversified representations among which discipline-specific representations are the most significant for the learner. Learner work plans usually include explicit criteria for the evaluation and marking of student productions, course credits, continuing in the programme and ultimately granting a diploma.

Learning process

Learning Process is meant to designate the activities included in the learner workplan and performed by the student. The question concerning ‘how students learn?’ is at the forefront of pedagogy since the 1960s at the outset of the instructional media movement when educators wanted to improve both teaching and learning with the support of audiovisual technologies.

Research on educational design should consider that learning is a conscious and deliberate activity, especially in the light of metacognition. The word Activity is chosen to speak of metacognition because metacognitive processes are not a definite set of intellectual aptitudes or psychological states (Pollet 2001:148; Richer et Daudelin 2000:13-14; Deschênes 1992:37; Paquette et al. 2002:10). Indeed many teaching professors active in distance education over the past 30 years expressly request this type of activity from their students, especially:

 “ We now use the concept of metacognition to define the notion of autonomy frequently mentioned in books on education and psychology. In the realm of learning, autonomy may be defined as learner’s self-management of one or several aspects of his learning activity (Deschênes 1992:37, italics added).

In order to keep things simple, we posit that metacognitive activities are the expression of a desire (want) to learn. In college or university, (i) work on representations and metacognition make a pair, (ii) notions such as self-guidance, planning, focusing attention and regulation are fundamental skills to address complexity, (iii) metacognition is pivotal in independent learning and (iv) metacognitive processes revolve around planning-monitoring-objectivation cycles elicited in a workplan at the crossroad of educational design and learners’ sustained efforts. 


A Student Workplan approach to educational design

Teaching Situation — Learner Context
In distance education there is hardly any 'teaching situation' but there is much to think about ‘learner context’. Clearly for educational purposes, any teaching-learning project should uncover its institutional underpinnings, whether teaching takes place on a campus or in a ‘learning environment’, especially in open education establishments which are subject to endless media technology changes and innovations. As well, designers need to realize that nothing they do individually or collectively in the institutional environment will ever match the variety among users themselves in their personal or private sphere. New representations of ‘distant learners’ are required if we are to answer the question concerning “student characteristics” (Gustafson & Branch 2002:28) and develop post-pedagogical open learning design approaches that are usable in a host of academic disciplines.
Change — Challenge 
For learners, it makes no difference if designers (institutional agents) bring ‘change’ or meet a ‘challenge’ in any experimental or actual online course or program since most students and learners will never give a second thought to or probe or deconstruct the learning environments presented to them. Therefore, where institutional approaches are concerned, choices are organisationally made between (i) fully distant and open educational design (faculty-driven or faculty-led), (ii) traditional classroom management with stand & deliver performance, and (iii) hybrid (blended) delivery systems; at those levels, some form of generalisation is possible and typically rests on the ‘collective’ (pedagogical) approach in which learners and learning are ignored (are not the object of representation, are provided no representational structures) in spite of the learner-centered discourse. Likewise, if we are to genuinely re-orient educational research, it should be done on a premise whereby professors may claim the intellectual rights on their teaching productions.



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