Design overview

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The context and the factors that influence the design process are explored in this module, along with some design models and underpinning educational theories. The context in which learning will take place has significant implications for designing learning. For example, in a face to face setting, we may have a class of 15 or 150.

How do we engage and communicate with a large number of students? How do we motivate all learners to take part in the class? No matter where we teach, similar challenges arise when it comes to learning design. Whether it is in a 'traditional' lecture theatre, or in a laboratory filled with science equipment, or in a computer lab or in a blended learning or fully online context, effective learning design will lead to better learning experiences for students.

Many factors influence the types of activities and resources we use and the ways in which we use them. You have already started thinking about the needs of the learners, their characteristics and preferences and how these might be accommodated. In the design phase, as in the analysis phase, other stakeholders need to be considered. For example, the strategic priorities for the organisation and the needs of the industry for which graduates are being trained. Curriculum design is generally constrained by quality standards dictated by NZQA the New Zealand Qualifications Framework - Te Taura Here Tohu Mātauranga o Aotearoa.

Resource constraints in the organisation can also influence how curricula and learning is designed. For example, it might be desirable to incorporate a simulation activity but this might require many hours of development time to create or expensive equipment needing to be purchased. Funding for this might not be a priority for the school, faculty or department or justification to obtain it may need to be made. Teachers who understand the arguments for effective learning design will have a better chance of convincing those who hold the 'resourcing strings' that their design and development project will potentially lead to better outcomes for students. Therefore, teachers need to be aware of a number of factors when planning the design and development of learning experiences and environments. Before you begin on the design of learning, it is a good idea to do a thorough analysis of the learning environment. However, first things first is the time to take a look at some design models and refresh your memory about learning theories.

What is educational design?

Educational design is a general term used for curriculum design and learning design. It is useful to know the difference as this can save you a lot of angst when it comes to obtaining permission to change things. When a programme or course is designed this is known as curriculum design and involves a 'big picture' plan or scope rather than the details of what learners will be doing or study on any given day. Learning design involves smaller units of learning. Substantial changes to a course or programme, that is to curriculum design, is usually a big deal. This generally needs consultation with colleagues in the team, other stakeholders and the Quality assurance unit at your organisation. Innovation with learning design is easier to do and it is always a good idea to talk to others about your ideas, colleagues and students.

Curriculum design

Functional analysis
Most vocational programmes are designed using a form of this - where the design focuses on what successful graduates would be able to do at the end of the programme (graduate profile) or course (learning outcomes). The curriculum design requires a programme document and course outlines to be written. Course outlines include the content and assessments needed to allow the learning outcomes to be achieved. Not all teachers need to be concerned with designing at a curriculum level as (in many situations) the courses they teach have already been designed and approved by NZQA.
Unit standards
Unit standards are discrete packages of learning registered at one of the approved levels of the New Zealand Qualifications Framework. The title of the unit standard usually reflects the main outcome, and elements are the detailed outcomes against which learners’ knowledge and skills are assessed. Performance criteria for each element (outcome) specify the evidence that needs to be demonstrated to meet the elements or outcomes. Re-designing components of unit standards is more complex as this requires "full industry and stakeholder consultation" (NZQA, 2011). Even so, formative assessments and learning packages can be designed within the constraints of unit standards.

Learning design

Often this starts by developing more specific learning objectives (what students will do to learn) for each topic. These generally fit within the 'big-picture' course learning outcomes. However, some learning designers focus on the experience they want students to have (as reflected in the activities). This approach to design involves planning and preparing learning resources (content), interactions and communication methods, activities and assessments to meet the needs of the learners and the course curriculum. For the purposes of this course, you are going to be taking part in a learning design process. To do this effectively, you need to have some knowledge about some of the more common design models and frameworks...yes more than just ADDIE.

Design models and frameworks

It is a good idea to familiarise yourself with a range of different design models as each one has different strengths and one may be more useful than others depending on the design context. ADDIE is a 'big picture' model of design and good for broad planning. You are introduced to some additional models and frameworks as these are more useful for designing discrete packages of learning. The Design MatrixPDF down.png by Bronwyn Hegarty (2006) incorporates not only the design phase of the ADDIE model but also components of several other learning design models as you will find out as you read on.

You have already been introduced to ADDIE in the Getting Started module. You may wish to return to this information to refresh your memory. If you haven't already done so, make sure you read Using the ADDIE model for effective pedagogical interventions. Later on you will take part in an activity and use this model and a design matrix to design learning experiences.
  • Check out the five phases of ADDIE on YouTube.
  • Refer to the ADDIE Analysis and Design phase table developed by Bronwyn Hegarty (2009). This has prompts to stimulate your ideas around design.
  • The Design MatrixPDF down.png by Bronwyn Hegarty (2006), guides you to integrate components of the ADDIE design phase, as do the Otara, Aria and Nga Kiwai Kete models of design (described further on). The matrix is useful as a guide to start the design process.
an activity-centred design model. Even though it was created specifically to scaffold design for eLearning, it is relevant for any type of course design. Check out the presentation about the OTARA: An elearning design learning design framework created by Kate Hunt and Maurice Moore. (Reference as: Hunt, K. and Moore, M. (2005). OTARA: An e-learning design framework. Presented at e-Fest conference, Wellington. 19-20 September. Retrieved from
Gagné's model
Designing Instruction: A process involving nine stages - like ADDIE, a top-down model.
Rapid prototyping
This model has been used as an approach to software development but can also be used for some aspects of learning design. Focuses on an iterative process of planning, implementing, testing and review. Linked to Kolb's cycle as well as similar models such as PDSA.
Rapid prototyping models are not normally appropriate suitable for 'big-picture' course design in most contexts but can be very useful as an approach to developing effective teaching and learning.
Descriptive models
Rather than spelling out the stages of the learning design process, some models specify the sorts of things that must be considered and included in a learning design document.
Some examples:
  • The ARIA Model of Teaching and Learning (scroll down to Figure 1) identifies four key components: Activities, Resources, Interactions, and Assessment.
  • The Nga Kiwai Kete model identifies six components: Outcomes, Assessment, Learners, Activities, Resources, Guidance.


Extra resources

For further information on design models, you might like to check out:

  • Instructional Design Models
  • Introduction to Universal Design for Learning

Educational paradigms and theories

When designing, it is important to have a good understanding of your philosophical approach or paradigm and the learning theory that underpins your design.

Choose your philosophical approach

Firstly, decide on your overarching philosophy or paradigm in which you teach. Remember, that in reality you probably teach across more than one. For example, you may teach using Behaviourist methods when specific facts need to be conveyed, and learners are given positive reinforcement, for example, if they carry out tasks safely. When information needs to be processed and memorised, for example, the names of muscles in the body, then a Cognitivist approach might be appropriate. In situations where previous knowledge is acknowledged and built on through discovery learning, Constructivism is in. And if you want to develop autonomous and confident learners try a Humanistic values-based approach.

Choose a learning theory

Once you have decided on the most appropriate paradigm, choose a relevant theory within that to underpin your design. For example, since experiential learning is regarded as a strategic priority at Otago Polytechnic, Kolb's experiential learning theory is appropriate for underpinning the design of practical learning activities. This could sit within any of the paradigms.

Where the teacher wishes to encourage students to learn by interacting with each other, then constructivism is the overarching philosophy. Social learning theory (Bandura, 1977), Social Development Theory (Vygotsky, 1978) and Situated Learning theory (Lave, 1988), or Communities of Practice (Lave, 1991; Lave & Wenger, 1998) are relevant theories.



  • A quick overview of Learning Theories produced by Te Kete Ipurangi - The online knowledge basket - a NZ MOE initiative that provides a great selection of resources and information for educators.
  • A quick tour of educational theoriesPDF down.png has a brief of several that you can choose from and is based on the very useful Learning Theories website.
  • And for the readaholics - an excellent analysis of Activity-based constructivist theory by David Jonassen and Lucia Rohrer-Murphy (1999) - it has some great summaries linking learning outcomes with activities.

Learning outcomes and learning objectives

When designing a new programme or course (curriculum design), broad learning outcomes need to be written. For this course, you need to understand why they are written in a specific way at each level of a curriculum, taking into account the requirements of all stakeholders - potential employers, industry, professional bodies, and the learners themselves. The Level descriptors table on the NZQA website, indicates the expected knowledge, skills and application at each of 10 levels.

So what is the difference between learning outcomes and learning objectives? Generally, learning outcomes are what the student will end up knowing or achieving once they have engaged with the learning process and passed the assessments. Whereas, learning objectives (sometimes called learning goals) are what the student will be learning to engage with the topic. You will find that most writers tend to use the terms interchangeably and that is why it gets a tad confusing. Students are assessed against the learning outcomes of a course whereas the objectives influence more specifically how the learning strategies are designed. Some examples follow next so, hopefully, you can see the difference.

Examples of learning outcomes and learning objectives

In the Flexible Learning course, learning outcomes were written for the course outline, and learning objectives were prepared for each module. Can you see the difference?

Learning outcomes - these tend to include multiple aspects, and should not be too broad or too narrow.

At the successful completion of this course, participants will be able to:

  1. Explore and discuss principles and processes of flexible learning and teaching to facilitate culture sensitive adult learning and learner-centred pedagogy.
  2. Critique the design and application of existing flexible learning and teaching options in relation to the literature and work-based examples.

Learning objectives - these focus the learning more specifically on the steps needed to learn a topic, and can be aligned with various learning and teaching strategies.

When learning this topic you will:

  • Define flexible learning in your context.
  • Explore principles and processes of flexible learning and teaching.
  • Investigate multiple dimensions of flexible learning.
  • Critique a variety of examples of existing flexible learning and teaching options.
  • Reflect on how the dimensions of flexible learning could be applied in your context.

Carpentry students might have this learning outcome. At the successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Work effectively within a team on a building project.

Learning objectives will describe the steps that the students need to undertake to learn to work effectively within a project team. What would you write?

Writing learning outcomes and learning objectives

The teacher usually knows what he or she wants the students to learn, and whether writing learning outcomes for a course or learning objectives for a specific topic he or she has to consider the level of the qualification being taught, and the level of previous knowledge or experience of the learners. The UCE Birmingham Guide to Learning Outcomes is a good example of how to do this. Also refer to Writing learning outcomes (located on Moodle). The diagram is helpful to see how it all fits together. Bloom's taxonomy is helpful for finding descriptors that can be used when writing learning outcomes or objectives at the seven different levels of thinking - from low to high order.

To design the learning for a particular topic or module, it can be helpful to write the learning objectives first, then decide on the strategies (interactions or communication methods, activities and formative assessments) that you want to use to get students to engage with the content. Generally, the content is decided by the overarching learning outcomes for the course. Hopefully, you can see how all this fits together as learning design. So now you need to put all these concepts together for the assessment of this topic. Giving each other feedback on your design ideas is an important part of the process. Read on to find out how you might do this.

Designing together for the assessment

Collaboration is something we all know is a good thing - but how often do we get a chance to collaborate outside our usual circle of colleagues? Well, here is your opportunity!

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In Tamil Nadu


Assessment Activities

  • Please refer again to the list of prompts in the Analysis and Design phase table.
  • If you need to explore some ideas, refer to the Gallery of Strategies on the Australian Flexible framework site. Although designed for eLearning, the suggestions are relevant for many learning situations.
  • Collate your responses using the Design MatrixPDF down.png by Bronwyn Hegarty (2006). Please note that this matrix guides you to integrate components of the Otara, Aria and Nga Kiwai Kete models of design within the design phase of the ADDIE model.
  • Share your Design Overview in Moodle in the appropriate section.
    For the Design overview assessment, you can use a blog, a Moodle Wiki 2013 or a Moodle book.
  • Use the Moodle Discussion forum 2013 - Design Overview thread to alert the class and give each other feedback.


  • Day, S. (2011). Course Design Thing 7: Step 4 – Create a detailed course design (OTARA). Technology in Teaching and Learning (TILT), Educational Development Centre, Eastern Institute of Technology, Napier, New Zealand.