Learning Design with ABC

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This post provides a summary of why and how the ABC Learning Design method has been adapted and used by other institutions that presented during a sharing event organised at UCL in June, and attended by members of the Educational Technology Team. 

University College London’s ABC is a ‘light touch’ learning design method which is based around a hands-on workshop during which programme or module teams work together to create a visual storyboard outlining the type and sequence of learning resources and activities required to meet the module’s learning outcomes. The key question ABC tries to address is: How can we engage and enable our time-pressured academics to design rich blended and online courses? 

ABC stands for Arena Blended Connected Curriculum and it was developed by Clive Young and Nataša Perović from UCL’s Digital Education team. It revolves around the concept of learning types defined by Laurillard (2012). 

The rationale behind this approach is that learning outcomes and assessments are already defined at that stage, so the focus in on developing the teaching activities that will support them. 

The main aims behind this project are to engage with the academic community, trigger a pedagogical conversation and initiate a collaborative course design process that can involve all the stakeholders of module (re)design and development  (e.g. academic developers, educational technologists, content producers, instructional designers, students, study skills team, etc.) 

Since its launch in 2015, it has involved more than thousand people from UCL and is being used in numerous HEIs across the UK and in many other countries.

Advantages: 

  • Gets academics to think in terms of learning design (align activity types to learning needs) 
  • Practical and short, to fit around a busy lecturer’s schedule 
  • Customisable. It can be separated into discreet activities and/or resources 

Challenges: 

  • The roles and responsibilities of stakeholders varied greatly between and within institutions that presented. If academics are expected to do most of the work generated by ABC, then this will raise considerations around resources, support and time. 
  • Staff resources: if used more widely then it requires more time and staff to facilitate the sessions. In the Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences at Imperial, the target is to transform 25% of modules. Funding to recruit more staff was attached to this target in order to meet it. 
  • There may be some attitudes and preconceived ideas about module/programme (re)design that will need to be addressed beforehand. 
  • Facilitating: time management, actions arising, issues.  
  • Getting everyone together, even just the academics. Levels of engagement can vary within the same team. 

How can the workshop be used and adapted? 

  • Queen Mary University of London and Goldsmiths embedded it into their Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice. Both highlighted the benefit of using ABC to consider technology as part of learning design rather than as an afterthought. Goldsmiths decided to only introduce the technology aspect of the workshop at the end of the mapping process so that academics would first focus on the activities matching the learning objectives, and only then mapping technology against them when relevant. 
  • As it stands, with some adjustments:  
    • The University of London International Programme’s learning technology team uses it to kick off curriculum (re)design and (re)development. This generates discussions aimed at mapping out existing activities and developing new ones. Everything is then transferred to a spreadsheet that is used as the basis for development 
    • Imperial’s Schools of Engineering and Natural Sciences use it with a similar objective, with online provision in mind 
    • As a one-off workshop forming part of learning and teaching continuing professional development. 
    • With blended activities. Queen Mary offers some activities via their VLE, Blackboard, and Goldsmiths uses the project management application Trello to carry out the mapping exercice.

Tips and lessons learnt from other institutions: 

  • Allocate time and resources and get support from the top (sign off, strategy, funding, promotion, etc) 
  • Be transparent: outline the workload, responsibilities, benefits and challenges of using this approach from the start 
  • Following up: actions arising, development plan, responsibility allocation, timeframes
     

References 

Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a design science: Building pedagogical patterns for learning and technology. Routledge. 

Learning Designer (2017). Learning Designer Tool. Last accessed 2 July 2019 from https://www.ucl.ac.uk/learning-designer/ 

UCL (2018). Arena, Blended, Connected Learning Design (ABC LD). Last accessed 2 July 2019 from http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/abc-ld/ 

Ulster (2013). Viewpoints Resources. University of Ulster Curriculum Design Workshop Resources. Last accessed 2 July 2019 from http://wiki.ulster.ac.uk/display/VPR/Home 

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