The main aim of this website is to synthesise some of the key ideas and research findings from the fields of instructional design, learning design and cognitive psychology and to show how they can be applied to the design and development of blended and online learning in higher education.

More specifically I aim to:

  1. Share and discuss high-quality research evidence focussing on instructional design, learning design, learning with multimedia, blended learning and online learning in higher education.
  2. In their review and analysis of research literature focussing on Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) practices Kirkwood and Price (2013 ) found that most TEL interventions did not start with a review of the relevant literature, offered no pedagogic rationale and were technology led rather than responding to teaching and learning issues. Price, Kirkwood, and Richardson (2016) highlighted the issue of evidence: “At the heart of this problem is a lack of applied evidence on the effectiveness of technology-enabled approaches”. Walker, Jenkins, and Voce (2017 ) in a study based on UCISA data drew a similar conclusion: “we are a long way from mainstreaming innovative pedagogic practices through the use of technology, which demonstrably improves student learning.”

    One of the barriers to making greater use of educational research is that the amount being published each year is expanding exponentially. Professor Malcolm Tight’s (2018 ) analysis showed the scale of the challenge:

    The increase in the amount of educational research being published can be seen as a positive if it means that educational practice is informed by evidence from research. However, it also presents big challenges such as how to keep up with this publication rate and how to select and make use of the highest quality research. As this research is mainly published in academic journals sitting behind paywalls, access is also an issue, as is the use of technical language and statistics which can deter people from engaging with the research. I will try to make some of the key research evidence around the design of effective digital learning more accessible and will advocate for evidence-informed educational practice. I will also try to cover some of the key ideas from books written by seminal names in the higher education, learning design and instructional design fields such as John Biggs, Grainne Conole, Paul Kirschner, Diana Laurillard, Richard Mayer, David Merrill, John Sweller and Jeroen van Merriënboer.

  3. Explore the evidence-informed design and development of digital learning from individual resources and activities to blended and online modules to fully online programmes.
  4. Digital learning is often designed based primarily on the affordances of learning platforms and software applications. Given that very few of these platforms and applications are specifically designed for developing learning, how can we use them to create interactive, digital and online learning in a way which is pedagogically effective?

    Content-first design is prevalent rather than approaches which consider what the most effective pedagogic strategies are for the subject matter. I aim to design and develop examples which start with learning outcomes, are based on a pedagogic rationale and use technology appropriately.

  5. Consider the role of open education in learning design.
  6. There is potential for much greater use of open educational resources, open textbooks and open research within the higher education sector. As far as possible, I will link to openly accessible research. In cases where research is behind a paywall I will indicate this with a padlock icon:

    I will explore all things open and in terms of technology will try to be software agnostic, however, wherever possible I will use open source software such as H5P.

  7. Advocate for higher quality visual design, information design, User Interface (UI) design and User Experience (UX) design in the design and development of digital learning.
  8. Visual design, User Interface (UI) design and User Experience (UX) design are often neglected in the design of learning. Too often we are providing our learners with badly designed, hard-to-use learning resources, activities and platforms which are often pedagogically ineffective whilst also imposing extraneous cognitive load. We are not making enough use of pedagogically appropriate, rich, interactive multimedia. There is a lot that we can learn from media organisations such as the Guardian, the Economist , the New York Times and Bloomberg concerning communication, information design, using images (dual coding), typography, video, the visualisation of data and interactive storytelling.

    If you are a learning technologist, instructional designer, learning designer, lecturer or teacher then hopefully some of the research, ideas, and examples shared here will be of use to you.

    Why myBRAINisOPEN?

    A few years ago I read Paul Hoffman’s fascinating biography of Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős (1913 – 1996); “The Man Who Loved Only Numbers.” Paul Erdős was one of the most prolific mathematicians of the 20th century who was known for his social practice of mathematics.

    Paul Erdos

    You can get an idea of what an interesting character Erdős was from these quotes from Hoffman’s book:

    “Paul Erdős structured his life to maximise the amount of time he had for mathematics. He had no wife or children, no job, no hobbies, not even a home, to tie him down. He lived out of a shabby suitcase and a drab orange plastic bag from Centrum Aruhaz (“Central Warehouse”), a large department store in Budapest.”

    One of the things that really stuck in my head was Erdős’ single-minded obsessiveness and his commitment to a collaborative and open way of working to continually explore new ideas:

    “In a never-ending search for good mathematical problems and fresh mathematical talent, Erdős crisscrossed four continents at a frenzied pace, moving from one university or research centre to the next. His modus operandi was to show up on the doorstep of a fellow mathematician, declare “My brain is open,” work with his host for a day or two until he was bored or his host was run down, and then move on to another home.”

    I would like to see more collaborative openness between learning technologists, instructional designers, learning designers, lecturers, librarians and learning support professionals. Finally, the phrase “My brain is open” also has a double meaning for me as I see it as referring to open ways of working: open education, open science, and open source.

My background

I am a learning technologist at the University of London, interested in learning design, instructional design, educational research and open education.

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