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Digital education

Reflections on an ABC Learning Design Workshop (UCL)

12 March 2018
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by Christopher John (Social Sciences)

ABC (Arena Blended Connected) is a workshop-based approach to learning design from University College London (UCL).  The approach models the 6 pedagogical approaches by Laurillard (2012) against the UCL connected curriculum.  The approach is timely (90 minutes); methodical; group-led; highly-participative and particularly useful when transitioning to blended learning in both a pedagogical or mode of delivery context.

With HEFCE Catalyst funding the ABC team, led by Clive Young and Nataša Perović, are providing opportunities for non UCL-based adoption of the approach, and the approach is now being used more widely in the UK and internationally.

ABC Learning Design Workshop

Last Friday (9’th April 2018) I was fortunate enough to take part in an ABC workshop at UCL hosted by Clive and Nataša, with Professor Diana Laurillard.

I had been looking forward to the workshop for a while, by coincidence I had recently been reading Teaching as a Design Science by Diana Laurillard and I was disappointed to have missed the workshop at the 2017 ALT conference.  So I sprung out of bed with enthusiasm at 04:30 on the morning of the workshop and began a journey so epic as to not have been seen since middle earth to get from semi-rural South Wales to UCL by 09:30.

If I am honest, despite reading the book, I was a little nervous about taking part in a 90 minute workshop for something I have not done before and with people I had never met.  I mused on the train if perhaps there might be an opportunity to hide away at the back nodding sagely and taking notes.  But even if fate were to afford me these opportunities, which it rarely does, it is always undone by my inquisitiveness and I inevitably threw myself into the fray with my usual gusto.

The workshop was great and the 90 minutes flew by.  The structure of the workshop is illustrated in more detail on the ABC website but can be summarised as follows in the context of evaluating and re-developing an academic module:

  1. Agree a module title (Vision statement)
  2. Summarise existing pedagogical approach and proportion of face-to-face and online learning (Module shape)
  3. Storyboard pedagogical approach for the new student journey
  4. Select learning activity types (Foregrounded in the pedagogical approach) and online or face-to-face approach
  5. Identify formative and summative assessments
  6. Identify through line of research activity (Connected curriculum)
  7. Summarise new pedagogical approach and proportion of face-to-face and online learning (Module shape)
  8. Compare and discuss differences between existing and new module
  9. Create action plan for moving forward

There are a number of positive qualities of the ABC approach that resonated with me during the workshop:

  1. Inclusivity – The approach is group and discussion-led, in my group this led to a sharing of knowledge, the exploring of different pedagogical approaches and the emergence of ideas.
  2. Encourages blended learning – The approach doesn’t explicitly say that you need blended learning, in fact the approach could be used to plan didactic instructor-led training. But the catalogue of 6 pedagogical approaches, the depth therein and the discussion encourages consideration of a blended pedagogy.  The suggested learning activities also provide comparable online learning opportunities for traditional face-to-face activities, exposing technology-enhanced learning and encouraging a blending of face-to-face and online learning.
  3. Flexibility – The approach can be applied to any learning opportunity and subject matter including an academic module, programme, or MOOC. The approach can be used to evaluate existing learning and/or define new learning.
  4. Methodical – Quite simply the approach encourages the planning of learning and alignment to a model, in this case the UCL connected curriculum. Through cross-module implementation the approach encourages consistency and through lines across a programme.
  5. Tailoring – The approach could be tailored for different models and support existing approaches to learning design including constructive alignment and learning outcome mapping.

I think the overall positives of ABC, in a UK Higher Education context, are the proven underpinning pedagogy (Laurillard, 2012) and the support for different modes of teaching and learning.  The approach could augment existing teaching and learning practices and encourage, without explicitly demanding, a migration to online learning.  However, when supported by the research and beneficial drivers for blended learning the approach could form part of framework (Conole, 2010) for effective blended learning implementation.

My next steps are to share the ABC experience with my learning technologist colleagues and adapt and pilot the approach for use here at Cardiff University.  Hopefully in future I can report back on our success.

Many thanks to the ABC team and UCL for a great workshop.

Christopher John, eLearning Team Leader, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University


Laurillard, D. (2012) Teaching as a Design Science. Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology. London: Routledge.

Conole, G. (2010) ‘Bridging the gap between policy and practice: A reflective review and looking forward to the future’, Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society, 6(1), pp. 13-27.


1 comment
  1. Karl Luke

    Thanks for sharing this excellent post Chris. I look forward to hearing more about your experiences and hopefully piloting the ABC approach at Cardiff!

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