3 lessons in creating sustainable learning design

The recent move to online and remote teaching due to COVID-19 has increased our reliance on effective online tools. But which ones should we choose? How many? And how sustainable are they?

As digital learning designers we want to help create an engaging experience for students. We work with education developers, media specialists and content experts to build an interactive online learning environment (Whitton, 2018). We create tools and artefacts to help enhance content such as polls, hotspots, multiple choice questions, collaboration activities and interactive infographics.

Click through the image tiles above to explore some examples of learnings tools.
1. interactive hotspot world map. 2. True or false questions. 3. Drag and drop activity. 4. Polling activity. 5. Collaboration board.

A previous CRDG blog post talked about the ways we can transform the online learning experience. Building on these ideas, we focus on sustainable approaches that are easy to update, duplicate and reuse from semester to semester.

Here are a few tips that we have learned about building sustainable learning design.

Lesson #1: Selecting the right learning design tool

Sustainable design includes aligning tool selection with the teaching context. Below are some points to consider when making intentional decisions about which learning tools to implement:

  • Aim to use the in-built LMS tools before opting for a third-party tool. This will make it easier to manage, administer and reuse from semester to semester.
  • Keep in mind durability, adaptability and ease of modification when selecting tools (Hays & Rainders, 2020). Select 1 to 2 design tools, like a poll or a collaboration activity, to focus your time on and develop for long-term use.
  • Think about how future teaching teams will manage this online learning environment. How will this knowledge be passed on? One approach could be to embed this information into the LMS as a type of handover page that can always remain attached to the unit.

Lesson #2: Creating evergreen content

Evergreen content is content that always remains relevant and ‘in-season’ – like evergreen trees! This can include foundational concepts, formulas and theories that will remain standard across each semester. Dynamic content, on the other hand, is content that needs refreshing regularly, such as class activities.

A few ideas to consider when developing content

When developing evergreen tools and artefacts consider what you are referencing and how this could impact its longevity. For example, if you add a specific due date you might then need to remake it next semester. It is also worth weighing up the longevity of the learning material with the time it takes to develop the learning tool.

Below is an example from a statistics unit that used evergreen content alongside dynamic content to explain how to effectively communicate data.

Example of an evergreen video explaining core concepts alongside a dynamic data set to allow students to apply what they learnt to real data.

To explain the foundational concepts the teaching team spent time producing an explainer video that can be reused each semester. This was complemented with a data set for the students to apply this foundational knowledge. By uploading the data set directly on the LMS page, rather than using an interactive tool, the data can be more easily updated and kept current by the teaching team. Using the most current data or case studies available will help to keep students engaged.

Lesson #3: Consider your personal interests and capacity of your teaching team

As the content experts, you have a stream of competing priorities to manage. Our aim as learning designers is to co-design a digitally engaging learning platform with you that caters to both the needs of the students and the resource capacity of the teaching team. We have developed some questions to consider before moving forward with your design development.

  • What kind of support do you need? If a learning designer is available to you, reach out to them and ask for their assistance early on in the design process. Think about whether you need help creating tools, chunking your content or training on how to use a particular tool.
  • What are your technological capabilities and curiosities as the content expert? Think about how much time you can dedicate to innovation and whether you can sustain that across the semester.
  • How often do your learning tools need to be replicated? Consider whether you need to update your learning tools weekly, for every tutorial group or just once each semester. Think about how long it will take you each time to edit, replicate, or clear an artefact or tool for its next iteration.

It can take time and planning but designing with the future in mind can set up learning content to be both impactful and sustainable for weeks, semesters and years beyond. Consider these sustainable learning design tips and pick one that you could implement next semester. Share your plan with us in the comments section below!

Rachael is a Digital Learning Designer in the Business Co-Design team at The University of Sydney Business School. With a background in marketing and educational publishing Rachael enjoys working alongside teachers and educational developers to explore digital technologies and improve the student learning experience. She is passionate about creating and developing sustainable, accessible, and innovative online units of study.

Stacey Petersen works as an Assistant Digital Learning Designer in the Business Co-Design team, building sustainable Connected Learning at Scale (CLaS) units that bring engaging digital learning experiences to students. With a background in communications, distilling information and transforming it into something meaningful to the receiver is something that informs all aspects of both her life and learning design practice.

Leave a Reply