Learning Designs – making them explicit

While reading through a paper on Cloudworks as presented at ASCILITE 2008 in Melbourne, I came across the following quote:  “Traditionally [learning] design has been an implicit process, how do we shift to a process of design that is more explicit and hence shareable?”  This is a very interesting observation and a good question.  Lets take a look at the first part of this quote, the statement:  “Traditionally design has been an implicit process…”  This to me says that developing a learning design is something that is logically planned and generated in one’s mind, but rarely formalised.  Formalisation in terms of documented in a way that shows the process of arriving at the learning design based on the learning problem.  In being a new comer to curriculum design, something of frustration to me is trying to identify processes and approaches to developing learning designs.  There is no pro-forma, procedure, or outline that I can follow that will help me develop learning designs.  Learning is very contextual, and a learning design for a particular learning outcome can be completely inappropriate for another.  One of my boss’ many rantings includes the concept of wicked problems.  The little that I understand of wicked problems, I think learning design would qualify.  I wonder if he (the boss) made this comment before? If so, sorry David. 🙂  Of course this is how I see things from a beginners perspective.  If this is not the case, please point it out to me.

Looking at the second part of this statement; “…how do we shift to a process of design that is more explicit and hence shareable?” this is where I see the major benefit of the research around Cloudworks.  The ability to identify a learning problem, and be able to search through designs of others that will help to solve this problem.  I can see this approach is synonymous to the open source movement in computer science – sharing in a community where everyone benefits from the work of the collective.

In addition to the service provided by Cloudworks, I have also discovered some other potentially useful tools to assist in the development of appropriate learning designs:  CompendiumLD and LAMS.


What is CompendiumLD?  The website describes it as:

… a software tool for designing learning activities using a flexible visual interface. It is being developed as a tool to support lecturers, teachers and others invovled in education to help them articulate their ideas and map out the design or learning sequence. Feedback from users suggests the process of visualising design makes their design ideas more explicit and highlights issues that they may not have noticed otherwise. It also provides a useful means of representing their designs so that they can be shared with others. CompendiumLD provides a set of icons to represent the components of learning activities; these icons may be dragged and dropped, then connected to form a map representing a learning activity.

CompendiumLD is still a prototype system, but the authors invite anyone to make use of it and provide feedback so it can mature in to a useful product for educators.  I hope to have time in the coming months to sit down with this tool and see what it can do.  I’ll be sure to share my experiences with it on my blog in the future if this eventuates.


LAMS stands for Learning Activity management System and is described on its website as:

… a revolutionary new tool for designing, managing and delivering online collaborative learning activities. It provides teachers with a highly intuitive visual authoring environment for creating sequences of learning activities. These activities can include a range of individual tasks, small group work and whole class activities based on both content and collaboration.

LAMS is managed by Macquarie University in Sydney Australia.  Macquarie University has formed the LAMS Foundation to research into the impact and development of LAMS.


While there are technology solutions available to help develop and share learning designs, I think the process of developing learning designs is too complex to abstract into a canned procedure.  At best, you could develop a checklist of common errors or problems that should be kept in mind while developing or reviewing curriculum.  I did at one point attempt to create such a checklist, however I seem to have misplaced it.  If I can find it, I’ll post it to my blog.

Really, the only way to learn how to create learning is to be active, roll-up the sleeves and get into it.


3 thoughts on “Learning Designs – making them explicit

  1. In addition to Cloudworks, there is the LAMS Community (www.lamscommunity.org), which is a website for sharing LAMS Learning Designs. There are 300+ currently shared through this site.

    The key difference between CompendiumLD and LAMS is that LAMS can “run” a Learning Design once it is created, whereas CompendiumLD lets you visualise a Learning Design, but can’t run it. For this reason, Compendium is more flexible in terms of a wider range of possible Learning Design representations; but LAMS allows educators to “see” how their design would work with their students by running it (in a special “Preview” mode), and then the educator can revise their design in an iterative process of designing and previewing.

    As it happens, we just had a Summit on Pedagogic Planners which touched on many of these ideas, and Grainne Conole from OU (who leads their Learning Design work on CompendiumLD and Cloudworks) and I both presented, as well as others working on Learning Design such as Sue Bennett and colleagues at the University of Wollongong, and Diana Laurillard from the University of London. Slides from this meeting should go up in the next week or two at http://lams2008sydney.lamsfoundation.org/summit.htm

    Hope this helps!


  2. G’day James,

    Thanks for your feedback. I have taken a closer look at LAMS and it appears to be not only a learning design tool, but also a delivery system that integrates with existing learning management systems such as Moodle, Sakai and Blackboard. Our University is in the process of selecting a new LMS and all that were shortlisted are supported by LAMS. This is something I’d like to explore further.

    I’ll be sure to check back on the summit website for your slides over the coming weeks. Looks to be very interesting work indeed.

    Actually, before I sign-off on this comment, your name sounds familiar. Would you happen to be J. Dalziel who published in the area of Computer Aided Assessment circa 2000? If so, its a pleasure to make your acquaintance as I have followed your work when conducting my own research in this area (see my publications page). 🙂


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