Learning design and the learner experience

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IET has fifteen years’ experience in the field of Learning Design, identifying challenges to distance learning and providing innovative approaches and solutions to improve experience.

Younger students

Transitions from pre-university-level education to university has been characterised as a particularly stressful situation for most individuals. However, the experience of young students starting distance learning courses remains unresearched. The aim of the IET-led Younger Students project was to help colleagues, including the Office of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Students (PVC-S), to understand more about the transition of younger OU students, aged 18-19, from school/college to university. A large survey and series of follow-up interviews were conducted, with data collected covering: younger students’ background, motivation, transition experience and challenges, as well as learning and assessment experience and recommendations for the OU (Aristeidou et al., 2022). Findings have been shared with university Working Groups and will be used to inform OU strategies in supporting the recruitment, retention and learning design for younger students in OU modules and qualifications.

Student Choice, Optionality and Differentiation

Distance teaching universities must develop ways of better supporting their increasingly diverse learner demographic by augmenting or adapting the conventionally single, linear model of course presentation (Cross, 2019). In response to an internal event (titled ‘QE Conversations’) organised by IET and PVC-S, we initiated a preliminary project to review current teaching use of optionality, differentiation, and learning activity choice. This is capturing current OU practice around pedagogic personalisation within modules and looking at research evidence for improved engagement, retention, and satisfaction.

Learning Gains

Learning Gains is a common term which is important for understanding how to design teaching that is relevant to the motivations of OU students. However, staff and students often differ in how they define and use the term ‘Learning Gains’. QEI’s Institutional Perceptions of Learning Gains project was initiated in response to the ongoing institutional and sector interest in the concept of learning and educational gains. The work aimed to unpack how staff and students understand the term, what gains will matter most to learners and how this could be measured. The project has contributed data to internal strategic work. Our investigation built on an earlier study of distance learners’ perceptions of NSS Questions (Gaved et al., 2019) and a student survey exploring the early impact of Covid on learners’ study habits, learning progress, and interaction with tutors (Aristeidou & Cross, 2021).

Module Maps

Visualisations of learning can be highly effective in communicating learning designs to teachers and students and helping teachers make changes to improve their designs. One of the QEI project investigated existing uses of visual Module Maps within OU modules, to communicate key elements of the course teaching to learners (Brasher, 2022). These findings were summarised for module teams to consider and apply in their practice.

QE Conversations 

Effective sharing of insight into the use of educational technology is pivotal to quality enhancement and strategic planning. However, it can be challenging to build and maintain an institutional picture of what technologies are being used and the nature and quality of those evaluations. The QEI team provided academic leadership in organising the QE Conversations Series and contributed to the review of scholarship and pan-scholarship projects.

Read more about QEI research below

Aristeidou, M., Cross, S., & Rossade, K. (2022). Online remote exams: Open University students’ views around the nuances and variants of online exams. The Open University.

Aristeidou, M., & Cross, S. (2021). The impact of Covid-19 disruption on the learning activities of OU students. Available on Scholarship Exchange.

Brasher, A. (2022). Understanding student needs and potential for moving towards standardisation in Module Maps. Available on Scholarship Exchange.

Cross, S., Wolfenden, F., Charania, A., Adinolfi, L., Sen, S., & Sarkar, D. (2022). Supporting practice-based teacher professional learning and assessment at scale in the Global South. In INTED2022 Proceedings of the 16th International Technology, Education and Development Conference, Online Conference, 7-8 March 2022. IATED.

Cross, S., Sharples, M., Healing, G., & Ellis, J. (2019). Distance learners’ use of Handheld Technologies: Mobile Learning Activity, changing study habits, and the ‘place’ of anywhere learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(2), 223–241.

Cross, S. (2019). Using VLEs to offer higher education students choice and differentiation in learning activities: Micro-pathway Learning Design implementation and opportunities. European Conference on e-Learning, ACPI.

Gaved, M., Brasher, A., & Edwards, C. (2019). Open University students’ perceptions of terms used in the National Student Survey 2019. Available on Scholarship Exchange.

Ismail, N., Aristeidou, M., & Cross, S. (2021). Interview insight into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on OU students: Results and analysis from thirty student interviews. Available soon on Scholarship Exchange.

Rogaten, J., Rienties, B., Sharpe, R., Cross, S., Whitelock, D. Lygo-Baker, S., & Littlejohn, A. (2019). Reviewing affective, behavioural, and cognitive learning gains in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(3), 321–337.

Whitelock, D., Twiner, A., Richardson, J.T.E., Field, D., & Pulman, S. (2018). What does a “good” essay look like? Rainbow diagrams representing essay quality. In E. Ras & A. Guerrero Roldán (Eds.), Technology Enhanced Assessment (TEA 2017). Communications in Computer and Information Science (pp. 1-12). Springer