Designing learning environments

Creating a supportive environment is part and parcel of ensuring quality learning, and the rich learning contexts are characterized by supplying a milieu with metacognitive control and reflective learning, relevant learner activity, formative feedback, appropriate motivation, base of interconnected knowledge, social learning, and teaching quality (Biggs and Tang, 2011). The main aim is to facilitate the learning process through providing a flexible learning environment that promotes the learner’s development (Anderson, 2008). Motivation to learning is deemed a key factor in the journey of the learner towards success. There are numerous theories of learning motivation related to open and distance learning (Simpson, 2008), among which the expectancy-value motivational theory is a commonsense theory, based on the premises that the learning task is valued by the learner with a reasonable expectation of success (Biggs and Tang, 2011).

Course design has been defined as ‘the creation of a connected series of structured experiences intended to achieve learning’ (D’Andrea and Gosling, 2005). Designing a course is a complicated task that is influenced by many factors at three levels: macro, meso, and micro. At the macro level are the political, social, and economic factors as well as other emerging trends in higher education like massification, globalization, and marketization. Whereas departmental influences and institutional policies constitute the meso level, influences on individual academics lie at the micro level (D’Andrea and Gosling, 2005). There are three perspectives on design for learning: a management perspective, a constructivist/socio cultural perspective, and a multi-modal perspective. The management perspective seems to map into the macro perspective while both the socio-constructive and multi-modal approaches seem to oscillate between meso and micro levels of understanding. For successful improvement in course design, motivated individuals as well as institutional and departmental supports are required. In addition, expertise in course design, technical support, and flexible quality assurance regime are of great importance as well. Moreover, to ensure a great deal of achieved improvement, teachers need to be actively and collaboratively engaged in the process of the course design and the role of educational development staff is considered invaluable (D’Andrea and Gosling, 2005). Indeed, course planning has been considered as one of the 12 roles played by the teacher (Harden and Crosby, 2000).

There is nothing as good as a sound theory to lean upon for a reflective practice. To make an informed and a shareable design decision, the 7Cs of Learning Design framework has been devised (Conole, 2015). The first C, Conceptualise, is concerned with a vision of the course being designed. The activities of the course are considered with four Cs, Create, Communicate, Collaborate, and Consider. The last two Cs, Combine and Consolidate, deal with careful synthesis and effective implementation of the course.

From the previous ONL topics, a series of interconnected important concepts has come to my notice, and reflection on them would, with no doubt, positively feed my prospective course design activities. However, attention must be paid to the context in which the designing of a learning activity has taken place particularly for e-learning where the barriers and facilitators should be carefully tackled (Omer et al., 2015).

BIGGS, J. B. & TANG, C. S.-K. 2011. Teaching for quality learning at university: what the student does, Maidenhead, Open University Press.

ANDERSON, T. (Ed.). (2008). The theory and practice of online learning (pp 419-439). Athabasca University Press.

SIMPSON, O. (2008). Motivating learners in open and distance learning: do we need a new theory of learner support?. Open Learning, 23(3), 159-170.

D’ANDREA, V.-M. & GOSLING, D. 2005. Improving teaching and learning in higher education : a whole institution approach, Maidenhead, UK, Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.

HARDEN, R. M. & CROSBY, J. 2000. AMEE Guide No 20: The good teacher is more than a lecturer – the twelve roles of the teacher. Medical Teacher, 22, 334-347.

CONOLE, G. (2015). The 7Cs of Learning Design.

OMER, M., Klomsri, T., TEDRE, M., POPOVA, I., KLINGBERG-ALLVIN, M., OSMAN, F. 2015. E-learning Opens Door to the Global Community: Novice Users’ Experiences of E-learning in a Somali University. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, Vol. 11, No. 2.


2 thoughts on “Designing learning environments

  1. Thanks Mohammed, you have really made a nice overview of the literature on “Designing learning environments”. I agree that motivation is key to learning, as you mention in our first paragraph. One of the main challenges in designing online learning environments as compared to face-to-face learning is probably that of keeping students motivated. I like your reference to the 7C’s of learning design. I think that the design of the online courses needs to pay special attention on how to improve “communication” and “collaboration” in the online environment in order to keep the motivation high. Fortunately, there are now many tools that we have been practicing in our course such as tricider, blogs, slideshare and others that facilitate giving and receiving feedback to improve online communication and collaboration.


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