Learning design

Teaching-learning processes require forethought and planning. This is particularly important when developing online learning environments, where conscious decisions need to be made about how different technology tools are used towards effective learning. The rapid growth of online learning in recent years has therefore led to an increased emphasis on the concept of learning design.

What is Learning Design?

Learning design refers to the sequence and types of activities and interactions that are selected to shape the student learning experience. Learning design may be at the level of a subject/unit or components within a subject (Agostinho, 2002). Koper and Oliver (2004) have defined it as: “an application of a pedagogical model for a specific learning objective, target group and a specific context or knowledge domain”.

Britain (2004) has outlined 3 key ideas behind the concept of learning design:

  • People learn better when actively involved in doing something (i.e. are engaged in a learning activity)
  • Learning activities may be sequenced or otherwise structured carefully and deliberately in a learning workflow to promote more effective learning.

It is useful to be able to record ‘learning designs’ for sharing and re-use in the future. Learning design can be viewed as having two dimensions: process and product (Conole & Wills, 2013). As a process it involves ‘pedagogy-grounded conceptualisation and planning’ of effective learning experiences in particular contexts and content areas. The design process is grounded on pedagogy when it draws from learning theories and informs teaching practice. As a product it is a plan or design, represented in some form of documentation. This documentation is a “blue print” that guides development, implementation and evaluation of the learning experiences.


The Learning Design Process

The learning design process is about “determining what it takes to learn and how the learning process needs to be supported if we are to be sure the learner can learn” (Laurillard, 2006). The ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) model offers a systematic way of designing learning experiences that are flexible, dynamic and can be used and adapted to suit various contexts.

Analysis Design Development Implementation Evaluation
Identifying the learning needs/problem and determining how to meet them Using Analysis information to document specifications of how the learning needs would be met Iteratively create  learning environments as per the design with room for review Delivering the learning environment to the target Evaluating the learners and the effectiveness of the learning environment

Beetham and Sharpe (2007, p. 6) provide some useful prompt questions to guide the design process:

  • Investigation: who are my users and what do they need? What principles and theories are relevant?
  • Application: How should these principles be applied in this case?
  • Representation or modelling: What solution will best meet users’ needs? How can this be communicated to developers and/or directly to users?
  • Iteration: How does the design stand up to the demands of development? How useful is it in practice? What changes are needed?


Biggs, J. (2004). Aligning teaching for constructing learning, UK HE Academy (.pdf 83KB)

Oliver, R. and Herrington, J. (2002). Online learning design for dummies: Professional development strategies for beginning online designers

Oxford Brookes University. (2001). Writing Learning outcomes: some suggestions

The Learning Design Product

At CDU the process of learning design is embedded within the formal accreditation and quality assurance process. Therefore at the broad level of course and unit, some documentation is part of the official requirement. However, at a unit level and below, a further representation of the learning experiences is recommended.

Learning design products may include:

  • Learning tasks: The activities, problems, interactions used to engage the learners and on which learning is based
  • Learning resources: The content, information and resources with the underpinning knowledge and with which the learners interact
  • Learning supports: The schedules, scaffolds, structures, encouragements, motivations, assistances and connections used to support learning.


Agostinho, S. (2006), ‘The use of visual learning design representation to document and communicate teaching ideas’ Proceedings of ASCILTE 2006, Sydney, available online.

Agostinho, S., Oliver, R., Harper, B., Hedberg, J. & Wills, S. (2002). A tool to evaluate the potential for an ICT-based learning design to foster "high-quality learning". In A. Williamson, A. Young, C. Gunn & S. Clear (Eds.), Winds of change in the sea of learning.Proceedings of the 19th Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education, 8-11 December 2002 (pp. 29-38). Auckland, NZ: UNITEC Institute of Technology.

Beetham, H. and R. Sharpe (2007). Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital age: Designing and Delivering E-Learning, Routledge, London, UK.

Britain, S. (2004). A Review of Learning Design: Concept, Specifications and Tools A report for the JISC E-learning Pedagogy Programme

Conole, Grainne (2010). Learning design – Making practice explicit. In: ConnectEd 2010: 2nd International conference on Design Education, 28 June - 1 July 2010, Sydney, Australia.

Conole, Grainne, Dyke, Martin, Oliver, Martin and Seale, Jane (2004) Mapping pedagogy and tools for effective learning design. Computers and Education, 43, (1-2), 17-33.

Conole, G. & Fill, K. (2005). A learning design toolkit to create pedagogically effective learning activities. Journal of Interactive Media in Education. 2005(08), 1-15.

Conole, Gráinne and Wills, Sandra: Representing learning designs – making design explicit and shareable, Educational Media International: 2013 forthcoming 2013.

Hung, D. (2001). Theories of learning and computer-mediated instructional technologies. Educational Media International, 38(4), 281-287

Koper, R. & Tattersall, C. (2005). Learning Design: A Handbook on Modelling and DeliveringNetworked Education and Training. Berlin: Springer.

Laurillard, D. (2006). Learning design futures – what are our ambitions? Presentation at Innovating e-Learning 2006: Transforming Learning Experiences, Online Conference, 27-31 March, 2006.

Oliver, R. and Herrington, J. (2002). Online learning design for dummies: Professional development strategies for beginning online designers. In: World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunication (EDMEDIA) 2002, 24 - 29 June 2002, Denver, Colorado.