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Learnability Diagnostic Tool for Improving Course Design

Mary English (Virginia Tech, USA)
Session Information
July 8, 2014 - 10:30am
Teaching & Learning Effectiveness
Areas of Special Interest: 
None of the above
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Best Practices
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Interactive Workshop
Plaza Ballroom F
Session Duration: 
90 Minutes
Workshop Session 2
Virtual Session

In this interactive session, participants apply the Learnability Diagnostic Tool for Improving Course Design (based on learning theory) to foster teacher reflection and student-centered design.

Extended Abstract

There is a growing interest among many teachers in K-12 and higher education in improving outcomes for their students by creating engaging learning environments that foster deep learning—whether online or in the classroom. However, without a background in learner-centered design or learning theory, many educators could benefit from tools that guide them to think about their course from the perspective of the student, and to consider learning theory. To address this need, I developed the Learnability Diagnostic Tool for Improving Course Design. This tool, which is based on current learning theory and research, is designed to facilitate a process of self-reflection and a student-centered approach to design, with the goal of assisting educators in creating lessons or courses that engage students and foster deep learning. "Learnability" is a term I am using to describe the potential of a lesson or course to engage students and lead to deep learning.

This diagnostic tool contains a series of items based on features and characteristics of learning events that have been shown in research to support student engagement and deep learning. The educator—either independently, or in consultation with a designer or technologist—rates their course or lesson, based on how they think the student might perceive it, on a scale from "not at all" (0) to "to a great extent" (10).

In this interactive session, participants will learn to apply the tool for continuous improvement of teaching and learning. The session will begin with a discussion of the current trends in education that emphasize engaging students and equipping them with 21st Century skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. The concepts of engagement, deep learning, learner-centered design, and self-reflection will be explained. This discussion will be followed by a brief presentation of some key theories in learning and motivation, including an opportunity for questions and discussion. Next, the conversation will transition to a focus on the changing role of educators from transmitter of content to designer and facilitator of learning environments that foster student engagement and deep learning.

In the final segment of the session, I will present the tool itself, briefly explaining the rationale. Participants will then practice using the tool. They will work in small groups to rate sample several courses or lessons. Afterwards, each group will share their findings and rationale. I will facilitate the discussion, comparing responses and facilitating critical reflection, and eliciting ideas on what could be done to improve the sample lessons and courses with low ratings, while relating the discussion back to theory and examples.

In conclusion, participants will be provided with guidance on how to use the tool for continuous improvement of their own practice, or the practice of someone with whom they consult.

The session is appropriate for teachers and faculty, faculty development professionals, instructional designers, instructional technologists, and others interested in how to better engage students and create opportunities for deep learning.

After completing this session, participants will be able to:
• Explain the importance of creating learning experiences that engage students and foster deep learning.
• Identify key theories of learning and motivation and how they inform course design.
• Discuss the role of instructor self-reflection and learner-centered design in course improvement.
• Recognize areas for improvement in sample courses and lessons.
• Propose ideas for improvement.

Expected Outcomes
As a result of this session, participants will:
• Have an increased awareness of the importance of self-reflection and student-centered design.
• Be able to utilize the Learnability Diagnostic Tool for Improving Course Design to make own lessons and courses more engaging and supportive of deep learning.

Learnability Tool Items

  1. It has student-perceived value/utility/applicability.
  2. It allows autonomy, choice, and flexibility.
  3. The level of challenge is appropriate (at a level that is above students' current abilities, but not so far above that the work is overwhelming; appropriate scaffolding is provided).
  4. It has personal meaning (the student cares about and/or has a vested interest).
  5. It is authentic (it is based on real world problems, and learning extends beyond the classroom to the real world, including field experiences, current events, and interaction with professionals in the field)
  6. It grabs the students' attention through surprises or unique representations.
  7. Learning happens primarily through the students' inquiry into their own questions.
  8. It makes thinking visible so that constructive, specific feedback can be provided throughout the learning process.
  9. It relies heavily on social learning and the exchange of multiple perspectives.
  10. It is student-responsive (flexible and dynamic, responds specifically to particular student input).
  11. It entertains (through storytelling, humor, or other).
  12. It inspires and/or evokes emotion.
  13. It is generative (involves producing original works in the form of sounds, visuals, text, to enable alternative forms of self-expression and knowledge creation).
  14. It encourages reflection about the learning process.
Lead Presenter
Mary English

Mary English (Virginia Tech, USA)

Mary C. English is the Director of Faculty Learning Initiatives at Virginia Tech. Mary has a PhD in Educational Psychology and an extensive professional background in instructional systems design, technology, and educational media production. Her research focuses on faculty implementation of environments for active learning and support of student motivation and self-regulated learning.