Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 15 January 2009   Friday, January 30, 2009

ISSN 1748-3603

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Building a better future – planning and designing innovative, intelligent educational buildings
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Perspectives on learning design – a report on the 3rd International LAMS and Learning Design Conference
FOTE – Future of Technology in Education 2008
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Perspectives on learning design – a report on the 3rd International LAMS and Learning Design Conference
December 2008, Macquarie University, Sydney
by Diana Laurillard

The conference was opened with a welcome from Professor Janet Greely, Executive Dean, Faculty of Human Sciences, Macquarie University, who acknowledged the Dharug and Guringai nations as the traditional custodians of the land, and paid respects to their elders past and present. It was the first time I had experienced this custom in Australia, which seems to mark a coming of age of the nation as a whole.

Professor Greely’s recognition of LAMS as a valued contribution to education was further endorsed by Senator Ursula Stephens, Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and the Voluntary Sector, who put it into the context of the government’s ambitions for education. James Dalziel has worked hard to put LAMS on the map. For many educators across the world, it has put Macquarie on the map. However, the focus of this conference was not just LAMS, but Learning Design in general, as an emerging force in learning technologies, in which LAMS plays a key role.

Participants at the LAMS conference
Participants at the LAMS conference
(© MELCOE, Macquarie University)

This was a theme I took up in the keynote, to consider how we might conceptualise learning design as both an analytical and a creative process. The analytical part has to support teachers in aligning elements such as teaching methods and learning outcomes, with resources such as teacher and learner time. The creative part has to work within these constraints to support teachers in building on each others’ ideas, relating learner needs to pedagogic design, exploring and sharing their discoveries - and this is where LAMS acts as such a great experimental tool for ‘teaching-as-design’.

The second keynote, from Leanne Cameron and Matthew Kearney, deployed the innovative approach of inviting their pre-service teacher education students to join them to recount their own experiences of using LAMS. The key issues to emerge were:

  • the importance of colour in the visualisation of an activity sequence - you can readily see the type of pedagogy it represents;
  • the importance of ‘preview’ which enables the designer to run through their sequence as a learner, and quickly see how it can be improved - it becomes a way of thinking about learning;
  • the value of the tangible outcome of each student teacher’s contribution to the LAMS community as a clearer representation of what they had learned than an essay, and also as an item for their CV;
  • the importance of a workshop introduction to using LAMS.

There were 24 presentations throughout the day in parallel sessions, all available on the conference website. I could only sample a few, and they were all impressive. Bronwen Dalziel showed how medical teachers were using LAMS sequences, and gradually being encouraged to include more student collaboration activities to leaven the focus on presentation of information through the ‘Noticeboard’ activity. There was a fascinating confirmation of Leanne’s finding of the importance of colour: when Bronwen put up one sequence that was almost all ‘Noticeboard’ activity, a gasp went up from the audience as they instantly recognised this as a non-interactive pedagogical design!

One of the critical problems of learning design as a research programme is its ontology - what are the elements and their interrelationships that define the field? Grainne Conole offered one route into this in the form of ‘Cloudworks’, an online community repository of learning and teaching ideas, enabling teachers and learning designers to share, discuss, and showcase their ideas. With folksonomy tagging for these ‘clouds’ we could see how the community might ultimately evolve its own ontological account of the field of learning design, as an emergent phenomenon from this kind of sharing, critiquing and negotiating.

LAMS offers a simple interface to designing a learning activity sequence, and yet for many lecturers and teachers it still presents a barrier as they try to understand how to use it. So the LAMS team is developing an ‘activity planner’, which Leanne Cameron explained in her own session. As a design wizard approach, it enables the user to choose the kind of sequence they want - e.g. problem-based learning, role-play etc - and then takes them through a typical sequence, to edit in their own questions, instructions, and resources. The audience response was very positive because the approach balances ease of use with ‘making it your own’. Each decision point is an opportunity to link through to existing ideas or designs, or to advice and guidance in an online repository such as Phoebe (

We saw several examples of other elements of learning design, supported by the LAMS environment. Eva Dobozy showed how the monitoring feature could be used to assess the level and quality of student engagement with a problem - clustered into three types in her example of an educational policy course: a simple statement, an inquiry-based argument, or evidence-based position-taking. Adam Stechyk and Marcin Choynowski showed how the University of Szczecin is using LAMS in an economics course to build in a wide range of activities, including graphics, simulations, quizzes, a virtual mentor, and multimedia. Particularly interesting was their analysis of teacher design time needed for blended learning vs wholly e-learning sequences. This is an important area for the learning design community to address, as it is critical to the choice and comparison of different learning designs, and yet remains seriously under-researched.

The day ended with James Dalziel outlining the new features of LAMS release 2.2, followed by some good audience participation, as he offered us some new ways of visualising learning designs - the most popular ones were the ‘content view’, the annotation view, and a time-based view, for both duration of activity and elapsed time on a calendar.

Screenshot of LAMS v2.2
Screenshot of LAMS v2.2

This combination of conceptualisations of aspects of learning design as a process, and tales from the practitioners’ experiences of using a powerful learning design tool, made a rich mix of enormous value for all of us who attended. You can attend it too: the slides and audio for most presentations are on the website at, and Grainne Conole’s cloudscape of the conference is at

Diana Laurillard
London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education

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