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Education Fellowships

Education Fellowship Programmes: using learning design effectively to support student learning

23 June 2023
Hand placing jigsaw pieces together

Dr Nathan Roberts, Education Fellowships Programmes Manager in the Learning and Teaching Academy explains the importance of learning design to support student learning.

The ability to develop a well-designed module or programme is a crucial component of teaching. How do we design in a way that gives our students the best chance to succeed? We tend to think of effective teaching in terms of ‘in-class’ characteristics (creating an encouraging environment, responding to diverse student learning needs, giving good feedback and so on) but without an overarching framework that sets appropriate goals, activities and assessments, their impact will be hugely restricted. At all stages of your teaching or learning support career, developing your learning design expertise will have enormous benefits for your students and your wider professional practice. 

This is a major area of focus across the University’s Education Fellowship Programmes. For those starting out and working towards their Associate Fellowship, learning design is often about making good decisions about how to structure individual seminars or lab sessions and making meaningful connections with the wider module and assessments.  

Those working towards Fellowship are often (re)designing modules and working out how to slot all the pieces together in a way that makes sense in pedagogical terms.  

Our Senior Fellowship cohorts are typically bringing in programme changes at scale and supporting others in their own learning design endeavours. Our aim across the piece is to help participants develop their own expertise by introducing models and techniques that can be practically used in different contexts and which are based on the rapidly evolving evidence-base for effective practice.  

The scholarship in this area is vast but has established a set of widely agreed principles for design:  

  • Start at the end! Think about what students need to be able to do on completion of a session/module/programme. A ‘backwards design’ approach involves starting with your aims (which, familiarly, can be expressed as learning outcomes) and working backwards from there. 
  • Build an assessment and feedback strategy which allows students to demonstrate the goals that you have set. In other words: assess the right things in the right way. If creative collaboration will be key for your graduates, it might be time to think beyond the individual written essay. 
  • Use a variety of inclusive learning activities that build towards the assessment and give students multiple means to engage. 

Many will be familiar with the idea of ‘constructive alignment’ that emphasises the importance of the relationship between these three elements. Building in opportunities to do this design work in partnership with students has also been shown to be an effective strategy. What’s key is that having these fundamentals in place will give plenty of scope to expand, explore and experiment while providing a clear, understandable structure for all involved. 

Undertaking professional learning in this area can really help all those involved in teaching and supporting learning and those who have recently completed one of our AdvanceHE-accredited programmes often highlight the positive impact their CPD has had on their module and programme design projects (see the range of participant stories on Twitter). 

Get involved or find out more

If you would like to develop your learning design practice and gain professional recognition along the way, consider enrolling on one of our Fellowship Programmes. 

There are several intake points across the year and our team are always available to talk through the options. You can email us or come along to one of our open Zoom drop-ins every Wednesday between 12:30 – 13:30. 

Support for learning design is also available through the Learning and Teaching Academy’s open programme of workshops and teams of specialist staff.