Macquarie University
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Variations in learning design across higher education disciplines

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posted on 2022-03-28, 10:53 authored by Nazia Nabi
There has been a rapid change in the Higher Education (HE) sector and none has borne the brunt of the change more directly than those designing the learning environments for an increasingly diverse student body. HE educators are first and foremost subject content experts and many have no formal pedagogical, technological or learning design knowledge, yet most are required to design for learning on a regular basis. This is where the expertise of others with a thorough understanding of the field of Learning Design can play an important role by providing the support needed. Sharing learning designs and teaching approaches that have already been demonstrated to successfully engage students would seem to be a desirable way forward. However, this thesis describes how creating effective learning environments is a process much more complex than simply duplicating a lesson that was successful elsewhere. The aim of this work was to discover if generic templates could be used to share high quality learning designs across a range of disciplines by answering the question: Can generic learning design templates be used to introduce new learning designs, teaching methods and/or teaching activities across disciplines in higher education? A generic template is "a learning design pattern that is commonly derived by removing the subject content from a successful learning activity and distilling the activity down to its integral pedagogical parts" (Cameron & Campbell, 2010, p. 1915). Learning designs were identified as high quality when students reported them as highly engaging, productive learning experiences and which demonstrated high student retention in Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) data (Australian Graduate Survey, 2011). To successfully answer the question above, an initial targetted review of the literature was undertaken to consider the conceptual issues related to the field of Learning Design. An additional review was conducted to establish the importance of the discipline context in HE learning design. Data were then collected and verified the findings of the literature and existing CEQ data sets to identify the learning designs commonly utilised in the disciplines across the HE sector in Australia1. It was determined that the most efficient way to collect this data was to do surveys and then conduct additional interviews. Due to the dynamic nature of the field, the literature was constantly reviewed to inform the overall findings. The surveys undertaken as part of this research found there were differences in the learning designs, teaching methods and/or teaching activities used across the disciplines in the universities in the study, but not as distinct as reported by the earlier literature, and previously published data. While the survey samples were very small, it emerged that there is a bias toward the traditional discipline stereotypical learning design, especially in assessment tasks. While it was found that innovative, creative and engaging teaching and learning is occurring in many tutorial classrooms researched, it is not routinely undertaken as a result of a systematic approach to improve quality throughout the universities in this study. Nor was engaging in widespread, informed discussion about well-researched teaching approaches a common feature of current university practice. While there was general awareness amongst educators surveyed about the importance of responding to student evaluations, changes in learning design were most commonly made without reference to current research or professional advice. The designing for learning process emerged as only a semi-professional activity and that educators most commonly sourced their pedagogical knowledge from colleagues within their own discipline, who, like them, rarely have formal teaching qualifications. This research confirms that generic learning design templates might provide a means for educators to access a broad range of learning designs but there are barriers to sharing these in the universities in the study. At a time when providing students with a quality learning environment is considered highly desirable, none of the barriers identified seem insurmountable. This thesis concludes by offering practical recommendations for a range of HE stakeholders about how the learning design process might be employed to improve their learning environment, and how existing teaching approaches affect their students' learning. This thesis was produced using the "thesis by publication" format.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. What support can Learning Design offer the HE educator? -- Chapter 3. How LD can illuminate teaching practice -- Chapter 4. How LD can illuminate teaching practice -- Chapter 5. Methodological considerations -- Chapter 6. The learning designs in Australian universities -- Chapter 7. Using generic templates -- Chapter 8. The Learning Design Conceptual Map -- Chapter 9. Conclusion -- References -- Appendices.


Bibliography: pages 229-248 Thesis by publication.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Educational Studies

Department, Centre or School

Department of Educational Studies

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Panos Vlachopoulos

Additional Supervisor 1

Vida Siahtiri


Copyright Leanne Cameron 2018. Copyright disclaimer:




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