The crucial didactical element of a course is the learning environment (Short & Weisberg-Benchell, 1989, Valcke 2007, Reigeluth and Carr-Chellman, 2009 and Seel and Dijkstra, 2004) in which the students are studying and the teachers are teaching. The course might be a course with traditional lectures, group work and a test, a MOOC, a blended learning course et cetera. The learning environment induces the students into the necessary learning processes, helps to maintain the momentum in the learning and supports the learning of students when necessary. From the various learning theories, it appears that the learning of students improves if they experience the learning environment as meaningful (literature see above).
The main elements of a learning environment are described in the various learning theories. When designing a course, it is the task of the teacher to decide how the various elements of the learning environment are elaborated. The elements of a learning environment are:
- The (meaningful) learning and teaching activities, this includes the choice for learning methods.
- The learning objectives (including indications for the difficulty and/or complexity of the contents and the learning objectives)
- The expected learning processes and the necessary learning experiences of how to master the learning objectives.
- The description of the educational vision of the teacher which is applied when making decisions.
- The content and the possibilities for a coherent sequence in which the content will be studied.
- The application of ICT
- The various kinds of other learning materials et cetera.
- The assessment of the students (formal and informal).
- How to adapt with the (different) entry level of the students.
- How to explain difficult concepts, topics or procedures
- How to cope with the constraints (contact hours, possibilities for ICT, skills of the students and the teachers, available equipment, …)
To decide on the elements of the learning environment, the teacher might be supported or inspired by research evidences from the different areas of research. For example, in the different learning theories various evidence based design principles are formulated that could be applied in the design of a course. An example are the design principles of Merrill: demonstration principle, application principle, Task-centered principle, activation principle and the integration principle (See Merrill 2007 or Merrill in Reigeluth and Carr-Chellman, 2009, chapter 3). A short description can be foud in the article Merills’ instruction principles.
In general, in the learning environment you can have three types of learning activities: cognitive, affective and metacognitive or regulative (e.g Short & Weisberg-Benchell, 1989). Below an overview of possible learning activities are presented (Vermunt, 1998 and Verloop and Lowyck, 2003).
These learning functions have to be fulfilled by the students, the teacher or by both.
Learning activities: types and categories (From Vermunt, 1998 and Verloop and Lowyck, 2010)
- Cognitive learning activities: Relating, structuring, analyzing, concretizing, applying, memorizing, critical processing, selecting.
- Affective learning activities: Attributing, motivating, concentrating, judging oneself, appraising, exerting effort, generating emotions, expecting.
- Regulative learning activities: Orienting, planning, monitoring, testing, diagnosing, adjusting, evaluating, reflecting.
An important consideration is the conclusion that the situational characteristics (context) of the course will have a considerably influence on the possibilities to apply certain design principle
- The different curriculum models which are followed. For example, a modular curriculum, a theme, problem, MOOC or project oriented curriculum, a traditional curriculum. These various models asked for special measures in the various courses.
- The discipline(s) studied in the course.
- The characteristics of the students (level, experience, motivation et cetera)
- The place in the curriculum.
There are no standard prescriptions which and how a design principle should be used in a specific course. In the article XX various sets of design principles are presented.
This means the teacher has to decide which design principles (or evidences) he or she will apply in their course. And secondly the teacher has to decide which learning and teaching activities are necessary to fulfil the design principles. (S)he has to follow the eclectic approach.
Sometimes these evidences are already prescribed in the educational vision of the educational Institute. But still the teacher should decide how he or she will implement the selected evidences.
In a separate article in de section ‘news’ more details of course development are presented.
- Merril, M.D. First principles of instruction ETR&D, Vol.50, No.3. 2002.pp 43-59
- Reigeluth, C.M. and Carr-Chellman A.A. (2009) A.A. Instructional-Design Theories and Modls Volume 111. New York: Routledge.
- Seel, N.M and Dijkstra, S. (2004). Curriculum, plans, and processes in instructional design. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers: London. Page 149.
- Valcke, M (2007) Onderwijskunde als ontwerpwetenschap : een inleiding voor ontwikkelaars van instructie en voor toekomstige leerkrachten. Gent : Academia Press.
- Verloop, N. en Lowyyck, J. (2003) Onderwijskunde Wolters Noordhoff.
- Vermunt, J.D. Metacognitive, cognitive and affective aspects of learning styles and strategies: A phenomenographic analysis. Higher Education 31: 25-50, 1996.
- Vermunt, J en Verschaffel (1998) Onderwijskundig Lexicon . Deel Centrale Onderwijsthema’s Editie 111