Everything, everywhere, all the time: some thoughts on time, space and learning design

It’s been hard to get back into writing for the blog this year. I’m not sure if it has been what seems to be the increasingly  common feeling of not quite knowing what to say,  everyone else saying it better. or to busy doing other things. It’s probably a combination of all three and of course, the addition of all the noise about ChatGPT. What’s the point of writing anything now . . . well of course there still is,  but that’s a whole other post.

What has been occupying a large part of my time is developing the recommendations from the review of approaches to curriculum and learning design that Helen Beetham and I conducted for Jisc last year.  As part of this we have been thinking a lot about the spaces and  places and modes of participation for learning and teaching. 

As part of our thinking and research Helen found what you might now call a “historical document” from the early 2000’s about learning design systems. Coppercore anyone?  It really took my back to those heady days of learning design and Learning Design (IMS spec). We were all a bit obsessed with finding ways to automate and move learners through systems and activities.  James Dalziel used the analogy of orchestration when he talked about being able to (re)use designs in different systems. This was highlighted in the Larnaca Learning Design Declaration. 20 odd years later, it did strike me that maybe that obsession with directing learners through systems was partly down to the quite difficult navigation in ye olde VLEs (and yes, before you say anything that has got a lot better!), and the holy grail of moving seamlessly between systems.  To a large extent that’s pretty much been sorted now – though we have all the fun of data and surveillance capitalism to deal with now. 

We can all access and move around different systems and devices in “relative” ease. The needs of learning design/ student orchestration have evolved. Whilst system access and navigation isn’t perfect, it’s a lot better than it was The review of approaches to curriculum and learning design Helen and I did for Jisc last year highlighted how much learning design frameworks/approaches (including ABC and Carpe Diem) have been embedded and adapted across the sector. There has been a shift of focus from system orchestration to activity design, and now equity, inclusion and accessibility. This was heightened by the experiences of lock down. 

In the analysis of our survey last year, equitable and accessible learning opportunities were highlighted as being key to providing “good learning” over the next 3 years. Also highlighted was the need to develop more shared understandings of the different modes of learning now in place across the sector.

This is what Helen and I have been exploring and developing resources and guidance on. The recent Advance HE Beyond Flexible Learning: Modes of Learning Practice Guide provides a useful overview of the main modes of learning currently in use, and is well worth reviewing. Our thinking very much aligns with these modes. We have also been considering changing notions of time. Perhaps this is where a re-focus of notions of orchestration is needed.

Students now expect some flexibility around their mode of participation. They potentially can access everything, be everywhere all the time. But providing lots of flexible pathways is a challenge. Particularly when you have a finite teaching resource to support multiple pathways. We are all orchestrating our work/lives/study through a variety of digital devices and systems. Even pre pandemic we knew that students weren’t just taking notes in class/lectures. The trick (aka teaching) has always been to design sessions that engage students. But if we have mixed modes of participation how do you do that effectively? And how do we support students to make the most of these potential different modes of participation and still provide and build the communities/social interactions that we know students (and all of us) really missed when all learning was fully online during lock-down?

How we think about how design and use the spaces, places and times for learning and teaching have to evolve. How can we provide the anchoring spaces for our learners in both in real life (on campus) and in online spaces? Access and use of digital resources is increasing and not just because of the rise of the recorded lecture.

We don’t have all the answers but we are working through these issues. As part of that process we have been trying to develop some visuals of students interactions of space, place and time. Students can actually access everything, be everywhere all the time. How can we design meaningful leaning for that?

As part of our thinking I’ve been developing some (relatively simple) visual representations of this. A couple shared below.

Where “are” students in a live lecture on campus?
Where “are” students during their own study time on campus? What are they doing?

If you have any thought/feedback on these, please do let me know in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Everything, everywhere, all the time: some thoughts on time, space and learning design

  1. This is spot on the money, Sheila. The images depicting where the students are, mentally, whilst in each of the different ‘spaces’ we provide for them is a brilliant way to demonstrate the pull on their attention. It doesn’t matter how much we engineer the spaces for them or put things in place to encourage engagement or interaction, there will always be something else, some other ‘distraction’ of which we have no control or influence.

    We can, of course, look to simplify our spaces, to simplify how many different systems and logons we enforce. I have always been surprised and slightly shocked at the sheer volume of different systems (even if we do try and get single-sign on to work) students have to use and interact with. We should be doing it better, by now, to enable the learning to take place, rather than the learning on how to access the learning. If that makes sense?

    1. Thanks David, yes agree totally. This is all work in progress so your feedback really useful – thank you

  2. Thanks for the post! We have a lot of international students, so “Translation apps” would be an additional type of application that they also use during classes, also taking photos of the slides with phones (but the latter happens a bit less than it used to, I think). Also I was thinking (but it makes the diagram even more complicated) how they are interacting with the physical environment and other people, which is all part of the learning environment for them (I know you know this…). It’s prompted by recent comments from students and observations – learners being annoyed/distracted by other students talking, by the room being too cold or unhealthily stuffy, juggling different devices and screens (I teach a lot in computer labs) etc.

    1. Thanks for this Sheila, and yes there are so many more layers to add to this. We are developing some other resources that included some of these issues too.

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