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A new tool to help teachers as digital learning designers

Diana Laurillard Eileen Kennedy 

We began with a sense of mission: to support teachers in making effective use of learning technologies. Educational research has done little so far to help teachers into the digital age; policy hardly anything at all.

Teacher professional development (TPD) has shifted from directing what we can do for teachers to a more constructivist approach of what teachers can do for themselves (Van Driel & Berry, 2012). Every day, every teacher has the opportunity to test and discover new techniques, and learn from their students what works and what does not. However, their discoveries go unrecorded, and remain local to their immediate context.

Suppose we could turn those isolated experiments into a collaborative knowledge-building community for pedagogy? Suppose we could make teaching a kind of ‘design science’ (Laurillard, 2012) in which teachers keep improving their practice, building on research and the work of others?

‘The Learning Designer helps teachers plan a sequence of learning and teaching activities to engage their students both in and beyond the classroom.’

Collaborative sharing in teacher networks is important for TPD, and needs support from design tools, especially technological ones (Avalos, 2011; Ghislandi & Raffaghelli, 2015). Our project was to develop a new type of digital technology to support such a network.

Our new paper, published open-access in the British Journal of Educational Technology, shows how we created the Learning Designer – an online tool to support collaborative knowledge-building for teachers in all sectors (Laurillard, Kennedy, Charlton, Wild & Dimakopoulos, 2018).

What is the Learning Designer?

The Learning Designer helps teachers plan a sequence of learning and teaching activities (a learning design) to engage their students both in and beyond the classroom.

Figure 1 shows the designer screen. It provides a structure for the teacher to represent their design as a digital object. The structure invites them to specify the essential features of a design for a session: the aims and objectives, intended learning time, number of learners, overall sequence of teaching-learning activities (TLAs), different types of learning that each of these elicits, text to guide what learners do, group size, presence or not of the teacher, and linked resources (digital or other).

Figure 1: Features of the Learning Designer: red boxes are design decisions by the user; green boxes are feedback on the design from the tool; black boxes are other actions by the user.

The tool guides design decisions by inviting teachers to specify which of six learning types each activity elicits: learning through Acquisition, Collaboration, Discussion, Investigation, Practice and Production, based on Laurillard’s Conversational Framework. As the design develops, a responsive pie-chart calculates, and diplays as feedback, the relative proportions of these activities across the session.

Does it work?

We have tested the tool with thousands of teachers by embedding the tool in massive open online courses (MOOCs). Our evaluation focussed on usability, robustness, value to users and the viability of peer review.

  • The tool was perceived by users to have value in supporting teachers to express and reflect on their pedagogy:
    ’This is a very good tool for … getting feedback to help us … improve or modify our plans.’
  • The tool is robust enough to cope with large-scale usage:
    >’4000 simultaneous page views and >700 simultaneous visitors’.
  • A large-scale online community of teacher designers willing to develop and exchange structured learning designs is viable:
    ’I can see using this Learning Designer consistently… I plan to use it this summer and share this site with colleagues.’
  • There is widespread enthusiasm among teachers for taking part in such a community of teacher designers:
    ‘I continue to be astonished by all of the wonderful talent in this group… I will certainly print and save many of these reviews to use as a resource.’
  • Users rated the process of providing a peer review as highly as creating their own:
    ‘[I] really like doing review with predefined categories… I memorize those rules just by the way and I work with them more deeply.’
  • Users who received a review valued this kind of collaborative experience highly:
    ‘The feedback reminded me of what I had forgot [sic] to include in the design and got me to think of another possible learning activity.’


We have taken an important first step towards building a digitally supported teacher community around learning design. For our next move, perhaps we can truly reconceptualise teaching as a design science. Could a learning design have the same recognition as an outcome of scholarship and research as does a journal article? We would greatly welcome your comments and involvement.

Diana Laurillard,, and Eileen Kennedy,

This blog post is based in part on the article ‘Using technology to develop teachers as designers of TEL: Evaluating the learning designer’ by Diana Laurillard, Eileen Kennedy, Patricia Charlton, Joanna Wild and Dionisis Dimakopoulos, which is published in the British Journal of Educational Technology, published by Wiley, and is available to read online on an open-access basis


Avalos, B. (2011). Teacher professional development in Teaching and Teacher Education over ten years. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27, pp.10–20.

Ghislandi, P. and Raffaghelli, J. E. (2015). Forward-oriented designing for learning as a means to achieve educational quality. British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(2), pp.280–299.

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

Laurillard, D., Kennedy, E., et al (forthcoming). Using technology to develop teachers as designers of TEL: evaluating the Learning Designer. British Journal of Educational Technology.

Van Driel, J. H., & Berry, A. (2012). Teacher Professional Development Focusing on Pedagogical Content Knowledge. Educational Researcher, 41(1), 26-28.