Methods and approaches

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Because educational design is a complex process, it's important to consider the design methods and approaches we use. Various design models have been developed to guide the design process by describing the methods and approaches to be used. The choice of model will depend on several factors, including the teacher's experience and understanding of the design process, the context, and the scope and complexity of the project.

Teaching context

The context in which learning and teaching will take place has significant implications for designing learning activities and resources. For example, in a face to face setting, we may have a class of 15 or 150. We may teach in a 'traditional' lecture theatre, in a laboratory filled with science equipment, or in a computer lab. Or we may be working in a blended learning or fully online context.

These and many other factors will influence the types of activities and resources we use and the ways in which we use them.

There may also be resource constraints - for example, it might be desirable to incorporate a simulation activity but this might require many hours of development time to create.

As teachers, our personal beliefs about teaching and learning (ie an orientation as per Unit 2) affect they way we teach. For example, one teacher may ascribe to a behaviourist theory of learning and another to a social constructivist theory, and they are likely to design very different learning resources and activities:

  • A behaviourist orientation is likely to emphasise individual learning, structured in small chunks with regular activities such as multiple-choice testing to measure progress and provide feedback.
  • A social constructivist orientation is likely to emphasise group discussion and interaction, sharing of prior learning and inquiry-based projects.

Of course, these beliefs may or may not be made explicit - indeed, it has been said that 'by default, new teachers teach the way they were taught'. This can be especially so in tertiary setting where there is no significant pre-service profession development in 'how to teach'. And in a different context (including with a new generation of learners!) the way we were taught may be no longer appropriate.

Design models

A structured, 'top-down' model. Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. It focuses on a strong initial Analysis phase where needs are identified and the Design phase includes developing learning objective / outcomes - as such, a formal use of this model may be more suited to curriculum design. However, teachers may find a less formal approach very useful in designing learning activities and resources. In fact, most teachers who plan effectively use some aspect of the ADDIE model, perhaps unconsciously.

ADDIE Model.jpg

Analysis, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate for designing great learner-centred courses using blended learning tools requires several stages:

  • A - an analysis of your learners and their context, and other stakeholder requirements;
  • D - an overview of the design (or re-design) linking learning outcomes with content, interactions, activities and assessments (pedagogy), and selecting appropriate technologies (technology);
  • D - planning the development of learning resources (content), activities, interactions and assessments;
  • I - setting out an implementation plan, taking into account resources (including personnel), timelines and milestones.
  • E - An evaluation plan to ascertain the effectiveness of your design.


Extra resources

  • For a detailed explanation of the stages of the ADDIE model, check out Constructing Courses to Enhance Learning.

During the Design and Development phases, you may find OTARA: An elearning design learning design framework framework helpful. OTARA is an activity-centred design model and even though it was created specifically to scaffold design for eLearning, it is relevant for any type of course design.
Gagné's model
Designing Instruction: A process involving 9 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 identifies four key components: Activities, Resources, Interactions, and Assessment.
  • The Nga Kiwai Kete model identifies 6 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

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  • Reflect on your own prior experience with learning design - what methods and approaches have you used? Have you used any aspects of any of the design models described here?
  • Reflect on how you might use any of these models in future and how they might be effective.
  • Outline ways in which you worked collaboratively with or consulted others in relation to learning design.
  • Reflect and record brief notes on how effective the collaboration was and how you might go about it differently next time.