Learning design in an emergency

Over the last five years, UCL’s ABC Learning Design (ABC LD) has grown in popularity across the sector as an effective ‘rapid development’ workshop helping teaching teams create a visual ‘storyboards’ of student journeys. Storyboard are built using pre-printed cards representing the types and sequences of learning, and the (blended) activities that can be used to meet the learning outcomes. Participants overwhelmingly find the 90’ minute ‘sprint’ approach engaging and fruitful, leading to pedagogic ideas and conversations that continue long after the event itself.

Since COVID, the live workshops had to be suspended. At the same time, though, the sudden shift in institutional focus from blended to fully online revealed an urgent need to redesign modules. Many institutions are keen to use the principles ABC to help colleagues through this transition and the sizeable ABC community has been very active in sharing their experiences.

Three components of ABC LD that are often repurposed for online delivery. The first is the learning types framework, already proven to stimulate pedagogical discussion and reflection. Learning types can act as a focus for consideration of existing (face-to-face or blended) teaching and learning activities and what fully online alternatives might be. UCL has developed simple worksheet categorising the six types in terms of ‘conventional’ and digital practices, how they might be implemented in the VLE (Moodle, in our case) and some ideas for engaging activities using these tools. The ABC Tool Wheel provides a complementary approach to linking pedagogy and technology, providing a clear visual representation of the toolset available and where it can be used.

The most challenging component of ABC LD to replicate online is also the part that participants usually find the most rewarding: the collaborative storyboarding. Several platforms have been tried by the community. One is to use a shared Microsoft PowerPoint space, as the base version tools (primarily the cards and storyboard) are already in this format. The participants work synchronously in the shared online worksheet and ‘drag and drop’ cards along the timeline. Popular shared ‘whiteboard’ tools such as Padlet, Miro and Microsoft Planner have also been applied to provide some of the dynamic interaction of the live workshop. Trello, the card-based digital organiser also shows considerable promise.
UCL has experimented with Learning Designer a session planning tool based on the same learning types as ABC LD. While not designed for course-level development, it produces a useful list of actions. Members of the ABC LD community, including UCL, have also produced Microsoft Excel sheets that can be used to track decisions in ABC LD workshop and produce an action list. Probably no single software tool will emerge, and institutions will adopt different tools and workflows according to local licensing availability, context and needs. Examples of these tools and webinars on their application can be found at the website of the international ‘ABC to VLE’ project where a free Toolkit can also be downloaded for the original ABC and localised variants.


Nataša Perović, Digital Education Advisor (SLMS), UCL Digital Education and Clive Young, Digital Education Advisory Lead, UCL

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