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Mark Childs, Rachelle O’Brien & Candace Nolan-Grant


The FIBRES Learning Design Framework aims to produce learning provision within Durham that adheres to the following principles:

Image of Fibres
  • Fun – that an element of playfulness in the process of learning can improve mental health, reduce anxiety and increase intrinsic motivation, maintaining Durham’s “cultures of affection” in an online environment.
  • Inclusive – that the modules meet the highest standards for accessibility and cultural competency, and foster a culture of care and respect.
  • Balanced – that there are a variety of activity types and assessments, both offline and online, without one single mode dominating; that there is a mix of synchronous and asynchronous modes, independent and collaborative; a balance of structure and opportunities for flexibility; and a spread of workload.
  • Rigorous – that not only is the discipline-specific content research-informed and evidence-based, but the pedagogic principles underpinning the course content and assessment are too.
  • Engaging – that teachers and learners are not just cognitively engaged, but collaboratively, socially, behaviourally and emotionally engaged too.
  • Structured – that graduate attributes, outcomes, assessments and activities are aligned, and that that skills and topics build on each other in an optimal sequence.

To unpack one of these aspects further, the focus on balanced aims to ensure that learning provision for students is not predominantly assimilative in nature, relying on attending lectures and reading, but requires active participation in the learning process through collaboration, discussion and production.

Therefore, although the design process includes digital learning, it is not primarily aiming to create solely digital learning; it is rather aimed at rethinking learning design from the ground-up, to incorporate the most appropriate activities and structures to support students’ learning.


To ensure that Durham provision meets these criteria and also addresses the needs of institutional strategies and stakeholders, such as programme teams, the University Academic Office, and professional bodies, the workshop offering has been created as a menu of options that can be chosen from and blended into a bespoke solution according to need. 

The options have been adapted from evidence-based practices developed at other institutions; each variation has been incorporated into the design, with additional elements that draw on Durham’s specific development interests. To the best of our knowledge it is the most comprehensive offer of its kind.  

The core of this offer is similar to the ABC workshops that originated at University of Central London (and which draws on the learning activity types from the Conversational Framework Model created by Diana Laurillard [Young and Perovića, 2016]), as well as the LDI workshops offered by the Open University (Reedy, 2020) (which draw on the LADIE framework developed by Falconer et al, [2006]). These are processes that have been implemented effectively at many institutions for years to create curricula that are constructively aligned, are activity-led, and synthesise online and offline modes of learning.

Coupled with this is an initial focus on critical digital pedagogy (Morris and Stommel, 2018); a re-emphasis on empowering learners and identifying the value and purpose of education (Rossi, 2023), and incorporating an additional review of added engagement (Redmond et al, 2018) through the role of playfulness and motivation in learning (Whitton and Moseley, 2019). We end with a wrap-up to ensure that all of the above elements cohere.

The workshop offering

The following model can be adapted to design overall programmes, separate modules, individual sessions, or to revisit and revise existing provision. It has specific points at which to involve discussions with experts such as librarians, employers and professional bodies, digital education consultants (DECs), and students.

This is a flexible menu of options that can be mixed and matched for any workshop, based on consultation with a learning designer prior to the workshop. Elements of one option can also be combined with one another as required. 

Which stage are you at?Workshop contentWorkshop outputs
Are you creating a new programme or revisiting an existing one? Do you need to identify the learning outcomes for the programme as a whole?EXPLORING PROGRAMME ELEMENTS: Identifies skills, knowledge, values that graduates will be expected to display at end of degree. Draws in additional requirements (transferable skills, professional accreditation if applicable). Looks at different student personas at start. Translates the overall student transformation into series of learning outcomes. (1 hour)Learning outcomes for degree programme. Agenda for follow-up development of individual modules. Student personas.
 AND / OR 
Are you right at the start of the process of creating a module? Need to lock down the learning outcomes? Need to decide who your learners are? PRELIMINARIES. Briefing of whole process. Clarify the purpose of the module and how it fits into the overall programme. What is the prerequisite knowledge? What are the prerequisites for later in the course? What are the range of learners who will be attending the course? (1 hour) Learning outcomes. Student personas.
Do you have your learning outcomes already sorted but nothing else? Or do you have assessments and learning outcomes but haven’t thought about how they fit together? Or perhaps you’ve started with the content and now need to go back a stage?INTEGRATING. Explanation of constructive alignment and authentic assessment. This workshop takes what you’ve got and sorts it into 1) outcomes, 2) what is assessed and at what point and how and 3) what the topics and skills are and what order they are presented in. Points of formative assessment also identified. (1 hour) (Platforms: Zoom/Teams, Trello)An overview of the course, with the outcomes, assessment and topics aligned.
Do you have an overall structure but no more? Is it time to look at the detail in terms of what the students will actually do?REIFICATION. This step looks at the module and converts each theme or content area into a specific learning task. These may be online, offline, synchronous, or asynchronous, whatever the team decides is the most effective means for the students to learn each specific element of the course. And also whether the skills required to do the assessments will be addressed in the right order. Preliminary suggestions about tech to be used. (3 hours) A storyboard of the course broken down into activity types.List of tech to be used with task to find out about issues, challenges, potential. 
Have you got a course written but need to make sure it meets the standards for accessibility and cultural competency? Are there additional criteria (employability, respect, inclusivity, professional criteria, digital literacy, university strategies)?ACCOUNTABILITY. This step brings in people with specific expertise to work through the learning activities that have been created and check them for whether they meet a range of criteria. The activities can then be rewritten with the help of the team. The original student personas can be brought in here, and actual students. (1.5 hours) Revised storyboard. Design now meets additional criteria that may be required.
Is your course sorted from a pedagogical perspective, but you need to identify how this will actually run with the technology available?TECHNOLOGY.  Briefing on digital technologies. The course activities are given more detail according to the available technologies. This can go two ways: either the tech isn’t available, and the task is revised. Or when the technology is considered there may be more inventive pedagogical elements that can be introduced. The DECs may join on this step.  (1.5 hours) Revised storyboard with more details of technologies required for tasks. List of tech resources required.
Have you got a course completed, but want learning design input to look for places where the engagement can be enhanced? Which sorts of engagement?ENGAGEMENT. A review of a completely written course where opportunities for improvement of activities, assessments, or move to online are identified. If this looks like a bigger job, then the design team may suggest putting the course design through the entire process, starting from the top. (1 hour)Sequence of solutions for changing individual parts of a course. 
Have you got a course that is completed, but want to ensure that it holds together from a sequencing and constructive alignment perspective? SCAFFOLDING, SIGNPOSTING, SENSE-CHECKING. A review of a completed course, looking for throughlines, sequence of elements, linking of outcomes with graduate attributes, identifying whether assessments are appropriate. General “mopping up”. Identifying whether activities prepare students for assessments and points where extra scaffolding or support may be needed. (1 hour) (Platforms: Zoom/Teams, Trello)Overview of the course. Course restructured, re-ordered, assessments revised.
 End with “next steps”.Plan of Action

If you’d like to book on or organise a workshop, please talk to our Digital Learning Designers directly.


Through testing and feedback from colleagues, it appears that this overall sequence of interventions, in some order, is effective at achieving a coherent learning design and a useful outcome for participants. We have learnt that the implementation of this requires certain steps.

  1. A pre-meeting or proforma between at least the chair or lead of the programme and a learning designer to identify:
    1. Contextual information and sharing of any briefing documents,
    2. What outputs are required,
    3. Who else needs to attend,
    4. Which workshops from the offer are required, in what order and for how long?

On this last point, although these separate stages can be held consecutively, having many shorter workshops is more effective than having half-day workshops (though scheduling longer interventions may be easier). Having a 30 to 40 minute break in the middle helps to maintain focus. These steps can be revisited if required.

  • Throughout, reminding participants of the purpose of each stage and what outputs will be expected, and to negotiate these with participants at each stage.
  • Clarifying terminology throughout. Participants may not conceptualise benchmarking as a form of assessment, for example.
  • Emphasising the purpose of student personas, and that these are intended to be atypical students who may experience the most challenges in engaging in the programme/module. Designing for them helps all students.
  • Clarifying written instructions throughout, both in terms of what is required for each activity, and how to access the specific technology the activity involves.
  • Being prepared to move on to another stage if participants are getting stuck at a point. 
  • Creating a shared accessible bank of outputs for reference throughout the process.
  • Switching between an overview across the entire course and detail of a specific section as required to help create a clear picture.
  • Creating a shared space for recording emergent ideas throughout the process.

The complexity of moving between the different platforms, setting up shared spaces throughout, and keeping track of emerging ideas, requires that two learning designers support each session. This may not be necessary once (if?) we move back into conducting in-person workshops. 


Falconer, I., Conole, G., Jeffrey, A. & Douglas, P. (2006). Pedagogical Learning Activity Reference Guide. Retrieved February 5, 2009, from

Morris, S.M. and Stommel, J. (2018) An Urgency of Teachers: the Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy. [s.l.] Hybrid Pedagogy.

Redmond, P., Heffernan, A., Abawi, L., Brown, A., & Henderson, R. (2018). An online engagement framework for higher education. Online Learning, 22(1), 183-204. doi:10.24059/olj.v22i1.1175

Reedy, K. (2020) Student Journeys: Embedding Skills into the Curriculum, Open University Learning Design Blog, 2nd December, 2020, online at, accessed 8th December, 2020

Rossi V. (2023) Inclusive learning design in higher education: a practical guide to creating equitable learning experiences. First edition. New York: Routledge.

Whitton, N. and Moseley, A. (2019) Playful Learning: Events and Activities to Engage Adults. Abingdon: Taylor and Francis. 

Young, C. and Perovića, N. (2016)  Rapid and creative course design: as easy as ABC? Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences   228,  390 – 395