Design for learning in open education

Symbolic image of a learning pathway
Symbolic image of OER reuse

As technology enhanced learning (TEL) and teaching become more prevalent and normalised, we see design for learning as an increasingly important component of curriculum design in higher and open education. Recently, design for learning has been explored, theorised and progressed by several TEL leaders (for example, Conole, 2013[1]; Goodyear & Dimitriadis, 2013[2]; Laurillard, 2012[3]). A key point relevant to open education is that "[l]earning cannot be designed - it can be designed for" (Goodyear & Dimitriadis, 2013, para. 3). Describing the outputs, or 'things' created through design for learning, these authors broadly identify tasks, and physical, (digital), and social architecture. More specifically, this involves scaffolds and supports for different aspects of learning activity. Open courses are commonly structured to support multiple forms of engagement by learners with diverse motivations and backgrounds; we cannot direct or prescribe what learning will actually occur. In the context of this micro course, our design for learning has paid particular attention to sequence/sampling, support, tool and resource curation, learner pathways, demonstration of learning outcomes, credit options, and potential reuse of the course itself, as we elaborate below.

New course models

The emergence of open, online education has spurred a host of new course 'architecture', with massive open online courses (MOOCs) perhaps most publicised among them. Open micro and ‘taster’ courses, along with open versions of conventional units/subjects, are further new models which position design for learning as a critical factor in the adoption of open educational practices (OEP). Broadly speaking, open course models anticipate large numbers of learners, multiple learning pathways and activities (akin to Open Universities Australia's dynamic online study model diagram), and abundant content (both existing, and generated by learners in the course). As with mainstream online learning in higher education, major distinctions still exist between supported open courses staged at specific times, through which a cohort of learners progress (albeit at different paces and levels of engagement), and self-paced courses for independent learners to access as they choose, such as MIT OpenCourseware.

Symbolic image of commentary on course development

Design for learning in this course

In the development of this micro course, we have used the 'learning design' as a shared representation of our intentions for learners in the course, developed iteratively by the course team. As such, the learning design underpins the course overview matrix, but also encompasses those aspects of the course identified above (sequence/sampling, support, tool and resource curation, learner pathways, demonstration of learning outcomes, credit options, and potential reuse). This has resulted in a supported model with a specified start and finish, within which you can follow a suggested sequence of learning pathways or sample topics and activities as you choose. With future reuse and reworking in mind, our topics, learning pathways and tasks are largely stand-alone, so they can be used and recontextualised by others. Open learning designs will also reflect whether an open course is for-credit or not-for-credit, or partially credit-bearing as in the case of this course.


  1. Conole, G. (2013). Designing for learning in an open world. New York: Springer.
  2. Goodyear, P. & Dimitriadis, Y. (2013). In medias res: Reframing design for learning. Research in Learning Technology Supplement 2013, 21: 19909 - .
  3. Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a design science: Building pedagogical patterns for learning and technology. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.


During this learning pathway you will:
  • Consider and compare the design for learning approaches in a selection of relevant open courses
  • Observe and compare learning design models and approaches, including the concept of curation
  • Suggest design for learning strategies for integrating open educational resources (OER) and creating OER with learners.