Changing the design of learning

3 October 2012

"There's a growing awareness that the environment in which learning takes place is becoming more complicated", said Peter Goodyear, co-director the Centre for Research on Computer Supported Learning and Cognition.

"Students are bringing their own personal technologies and also expect the spaces in which they are working to be equipped for digital work. We're beginning to see a blurring and blending of the physical and the digital worlds.

"This is making the creation and management of learning environments a more challenging and important task for many people involved in education. As well as traditional teaching skills, teachers now need to think like designers."

That is the crux of Goodyear's five-year ARC Laureate project'Learning, technology and design: architectures for productive networked learning'. "For example, the traditional way of dealing with very large classes is to lecture. Many university teachers feel they can't use small group teaching techniques with very large classes.

"But the secret is to have some effective designs that are easy to implement and easy for students to understand what they are expected to do."

One goal of the Laureate research project is to find ways of capturing and sharing re-usable designs for learning. Each design focuses on the core elements of a task - what students are asked to do - as well as the tools and resources needed to complete the task.

"Some of the new demands on teachers are just an expansion of the range of things that teachers normally do. But some of it gets a bit complicated and that's where design comes in."

Goodyear's Laureate team members are also looking at the design of learning spaces - for example, at the ways in which libraries are being redesigned to suit unsupervised group study.

"How you think about that integration between pedagogy and space is, again, a design decision."

"We try to understand learning situations in a kind of ecological way: if you change any one thing (students, teachers, resources, and space) in that system it has implications for the other pieces.

"So it's not so much a question of how you create the best textbook, or the best computer program or how you plan the best lecture, but how all the pieces fit together."

Goodyear's Laureate team includes six PhDs and three postdoctoral fellows who are given the freedom to bring their own experiences, interests and knowledge to the research.

"It's not a top down managed project where everybody follows a strict plan", says Goodyear. "That would produce much less interesting results."

"So we've hired people with backgrounds in computer science, design, education, psychology and ecology."

"The insights and conceptual frameworks we're creating are different from what they would be if everybody had come in with purely an education background."

"Also, I think the team members gain a lot from being part of a larger research community - the CoCo research centre and our collaborators in the Sciences and Technologies of Learning network."

"They're able to focus on their own parts of the project, and are also learning what's involved in becoming a creator of new knowledge - acquiring skills that are essential in academia and in the knowledge economy."