Course Design

It’s now perhaps a bit cliched, but these are unprecedented times. Maintaining anything resembling business as usual is challenging indeed, as boundaries between all types of competing spaces and roles – home, family, work, school etc. – have been conflated. I’d like to give a special mention here to friends and colleagues @RCollEMand@RCEMLearningwho are (characteristically) working incredibly hard and innovatively at the moment.

In member experience and education @TheLawSociety we’re managing to pretty much keep a significant change programme on course due to the agile methodologies we adhere to. But one thing that was pleasing this week was seeing some good old course design principles being tested and challenged. We’re in the process of re-designing our Immigration and Asylum Accreditation (further details can be found here), which will be a major course release on our new LMS, which will be launching in the coming weeks. We had a really encouraging response to our call for contributors, and this week’s workshop was really enjoyable for two main reasons:

  • There’s been a lot of discussion recently following the #online pivotto digital education caused by Covid 19. Many institutions have had to rapidly move to online learning without having the right technical or pedagogical infrastructures in place.
  • Digital education is my bread and butter, but these kind of kick-off faculty workshops always do tend to be more effective when conducted face-to-face. However, it ultimately worked really well on Skype. The chat function was frequently used, which made for some productive side-channel exchanges, without adding too much to the cognitive load.

Design Checklist  

Aside from the legal content, a healthy proportion of the workshop was devoted to the overall design and structure of the course. The design principles were adapted from a checklist in Beetham and Sharpe’s Rethinking Pedagogy for the Digital Age(2019), and the full checklist can be foundhereI won’t go into the full checklist here, but on reflection there were a number of points that warrant further engagement:

  • Pedagogy was front and centre: I’m far from the first one to either bemoan or champion this (it’s always worth turning to Audrey Watters here) but any kind of technical innovation will fall on its face if your pedagogical framework isn’t sorted. Early indicators are that’s not the case here, as facilitators and faculty repeatedly stressed the need to align with constructivist principles which acknowledges our learners as highly accomplished individuals who operate in pressurised environments. Moreover, there was an awareness that we need to structure learner engagement around context-specific and authentic scenarios. The narrative of professional life needs to be encoded in the pedagogical framework as the course will be around 9 hours in total, which is a challenge for authors to fluently construct, and for learners to engage with given the contexts in which they operate.
  • Assessment and feedback: One thing we’re working through is how to ensure assessment mechanisms align with the content. The spectre of bolted-on MCQs looms large here, as they so often feel like they just don’t match-up to the robustness of the content that precedes them. Some kind of meta-cognitive or reflective exercise could work here, without adding to learners’ cognitive load or tasks.
  • Adapting for learner differences: There can perhaps be too much of a focus on making sure the content works on all the devices that your end user will be consuming the resources on. But the adaptations can’t stop here, as there might be variances in learner needs we’re not even aware of. Finding ways to bring these into our frameworks is an important task.
  • Broaden the stories: The importance of stories to help and improve learning is a major interest, and there’s some fantastic resources out there on this themeAnother juggling act here will be complementing the technical knowledge with some good stories, which can also help with embedding the content into ongoing development.

The workshop overcame some environmental challenges, and the discussions were really encouraging. But we’re really aware this is the first step; the design principles have to be properly embedded into this course, and into our standard practices (whenever they return to some kind of normal).

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