Learning design for open online courses – part 1

Further to my previous post, Learning design principles: educational pragmatists, which was an abstraction of our beliefs about teaching, this post is an attempt to set out some practical implications for designing open online courses, following from our key assertion:

Change is brought about through critical, experiential, social learning activity in connected communities where people collaborate to achieve outcomes.

What appears most relevant to us is a “transformation conception” of quality. That is, “enhancing the student in some way” (Gibbs 2010, 11). ”

Gibbs (2010, 5) asserts that as predictors of educational gain, the following are valid process indicators::

Class size, the level of student effort and engagement, who undertakes the teaching, and the quantity and quality of feedback to students on their work…

These process indicators are linked by Gibbs (2010, 18-22) to Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) seven principles. Good practice encourages:

  1. Student-tutor contact
  2. Student student contact
  3. Active learning
  4. Time on task
  5. Prompt feedback
  6. High expectations
  7. Respect for diverse learning approaches.

Teaching contact has to be understood as human to human interaction,  Contact, however contact is achieved, should be focused on:

  • Achieving clarity about what students should be studying,
  • Providing a conceptual framework within which subsequent study can be framed,
  • Engagement with the subject,
  • Giving oral feedback on  understanding (Gibbs 2010, 22).

According to Gibbs (2010, 32):

students tend to adopt a deep approach,for example, when they experience good feedback on assignments, and when they have a clear sense of the goals of the course and the standards that are intended to be achieved.

The Beyond Distance 7C model elaborates on much of this.

  1. Conceptualise
  2. Capture
  3. Communicate
  4. Collaborate
  5. Consider
  6. Combine
  7. Consolidate (Conole 2013)

And, Stephen Downes and George Siemens propose a similar approach in their connectivist pedagogy: aggregate, remix, repurpose and feed forward.

It starts to become clear what needs to be done (and not done) in a course, regardless of the mode of delivery: distance or face-to-face, online or off and — crucially — however “massive” it may be.

A uni-directional, didactic, content delivery approach, regardless of the “quality” of the content is of limited utility in securing transformational learning in the student or educational gain more widely. This is not to say there is no place for good content or didactic approaches appropriately deployed. But on their own, content and didactics are insufficient.


Beyond Distance Research Alliance. (undated). The 7Cs of Learning Design Toolkit. University of Leicester. OER Repository. Retrieved September 9, 2013, from http://www2.le.ac.uk/projects/oer/oers/beyond-distance-research-alliance/7Cs-toolkit

Chickering, A., & Gamson, Z. (1987). The Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. American Association for HE Bulletin, (March 1987 (and frequently reprinted)), 3–7.

Conole, G. (2013). The 7 Cs of Learning Dsign. SlideShare. Retrieved September 9, 2013, from http://www.slideshare.net/GrainneConole/7-cs-learningdesignmooc

Gibbs, G. (2010). Dimensions of quality. York: Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/evidence_informed_practice/Dimensions_of_Quality.pdf

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