September 18

Using ABC Learning Design to Create Effective Online Teaching Modules in 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has sent shockwaves around the world. For students & education practitioners, this has meant a seismic shift in the way in which university courses are undertaken and qualifications obtained.

Unfortunately, the success of e-Learning depends on much more than simply switching on a webcam, streaming live lectures to students on teams and uploading tasks to moodle.

EducationTechnology.co.uk notes that

While most universities have continued to teach via distance learning, it has proved difficult for some to make the transition without compromising the quality and integrity of their teaching.

The Challenge

This has left schools, colleges and universities with one mammoth challenge, and no clear, proven roadmap for future success.

To ensure the engagement and attainment of students, the traditional model of higher education has had to be completely redesigned, ensuring that learning, teaching and assessment practices are made available digitally and that they offer a high level of flexibility for both students and staff.

Opportunities for Informal Support

Aside from these obvious challenges, we must be aware of the need to provide opportunities for the types of informal support which occur organically in the traditional on-campus setting.

Support and the feeling of community given by peers and lecturers cannot be taken for granted.

These informal opportunities for communication and the more social aspect of learning go a long way towards helping ensure the satisfaction and motivation of students to achieve positive learning experiences and continue their programme.

Considering Diversity

It’s also crucial to consider, that with such a diverse range of needs from students and staff, a flexible approach must be at the forefront of the hybrid model.

Some staff and students may, for example, be in a position where they can no longer rely on schools or childminders to enable them to be on-campus or study within the scheduled timetable.

There may be some students who are not yet proficient in using the platforms which will now be essential to undertake their course, so digital literacy support for students must also be considered.

A time of crisis is not just a time of anxiety and worry. It gives a chance, an opportunity.

Desmond Tutu

The Solution

Simply put, the only solution is to ensure the provision of support for educators to design high-quality learning, teaching & assessment experiences which engage and motivate our students.

Supporting Staff to Design Effective eLearning Programmes with ABC Learning Design

ABC curriculum design: [is] a quick way to (re)design programmes and modules through a hands-on workshop where academic teams discuss and create storyboards of students’ activities.

Dr Clive Young and Nataša Perović, UCL Digital Education, ISD.

The Arena Blended Connected (ABC) method of learning design was devised by UCL Digital Education (University College London) aiming to address the need to provide richer learning designs for blended learning whilst incorporating elements of the UCL Connected Curriculum.

The ABC Learning Design workshop involves staff working together creatively in teams to plan subject-specific programs of learning in which pedagogy is carefully identified and matched with the technologies to be involved in learning & teaching experiences.

During the ‘classic’ high-energy 90 minute ABC workshop, academic teams work together to create a visual ‘storyboard’ showing the type and sequence learning activities required to meet the module’s learning outcomes, and how these will be assessed. 

ABC Curriculum Design, UCL

The hour-long learning design workshop begins with staff clearly identifying/revising the specific learning outcomes to be achieved during the module or session. Workshop delegates then capture the ‘essence’ of the module in a short caption, referred to as a ‘tweet’ due to its concise nature.

The next step in the process is to plot the use of learning types to be used over the course of the learning journey. These learning types (listed below) are plotted in a graph which helps educators to achieve a better overall understanding of how the course will look and the blend between online & face to face learning.

  • Acquisition
  • Collaboration
  • Discussion
  • Investigation
  • Practice
  • Production

Learning types cards which clearly identify and exemplify the 6 types of learning are freely available during the workshop to ensure that learning experiences can be strategically planned to best meet the unique needs, learning background and learning spaces in which the students will take part in their learning experiences.

It’s important to note at this point, that special consideration must be given to the use of digital technologies which promote real-time collaboration, engagement and interaction which occurs naturally between staff-student & student-student. We must remember that many students are not remote learners by choice, rather, by default due to the external factors facing us in the midst of Covid-19. With this in mind, students must be offered a taste of the more interactive, collaborative and ‘informal’ social elements of the university experience which are an intrinsic part of day-to-day university life, and a major factor upon each student’s potential to achieve academic success. Platforms like Microsoft Teams and Adobe Connect are certainly equipped to meet the demands of academic planning at this challenging time, and cost-effective should strategically engineered Learning Experience Platforms not be within the budget of your institution.

The structure of the module is then set out in ‘Storyboard’ format by each teaching team, who are able to sequence and stack the six learning types cards into a workable format which ensures a variety of . which is central to this method of planning. The outline of course content is organised week-by-week.

Finally, specific activities are defined which aim to satisfy and the requirements of the learning outcomes. Teams are encouraged to think creatively & collaboratively to ensure the creation of a refreshing and innovative course which offers inspiration to their students and an up-to-date and engaging spin on the classic ‘academic’ style of teaching.

Activities which lend themselves most to formative & summative assessments of the understanding of key concepts and application of critical skills are identified by gold and silver stars.

Could ABC Learning Design work for your university or school?

Owing to the current pressure to ensure all courses are ‘Online-Ready’ for the beginning of the academic year 2020-2021, there is a great need for an effective & innovative way to design and structure courses to ensure that they are conducive to high-quality learning, teaching and online assessment.

Although this method of learning design may be most effective when teaching teams take part in a face-to-face, group format, technologies like Microsoft Teams which offer a connected blend of video conferencing with screen and application sharing capabilities, make it all the more possible for staff to collaborate effectively from a distance.

I believe that this method of learning design is one of the most time-effective and systematic ways of bringing colleagues together to engage in meaningful professional dialogue whilst designing inspiring learning experiences which truly suit the needs of their students in such unprecedented times.

For more information, visit University College London.


abc learning design, how to teach online, learning design, teaching online

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