Tool 4.1 – Learning Activity Design

Collaborative design of innovative and engaging learning Activities is at the center of the Future Classroom process. An essential element of this is the sharing of ideas between teachers, so the starting point of the process is to bring together a number of teachers, ideally from different subject backgrounds to work together in groups of 3-4 to design the learning activities.

The Learning Activity Design process described in this tool is based on Edukata. Edukata, was produced by the Aalto University, Learning Environments Research Group, as part of the iTEC project. This tool provides a simple guide to Learning Activity Design. Full details can be found in the Edukata Teachers' Guide.

Edukata from Media Lab Helsinki on Vimeo.


1 – Planning: what you will need

Future Classroom Scenario – If you are following the full Future Classroom Toolkit process, the Core Group will already have created or selected one or more Future Classroom Scenarios to use as inspiration for the design of Learning Activities (Toolset 3). Identifying a suitable scenario is an essential first step.

Design Workshop – The design workshop is where the design of the Learning Activity will happen. For the workshop bring together a group of teachers (minimum 3), in a suitable place where they can discuss and share ideas. Students can also be involved in this process. Ideally, the process is used to bring about whole-school change, so should involve all teachers and support staff. This is a particularly valuable approach to ensuring that everyone in the school is able to contribute to the design.

The design process, during the design workshop, can take place in a single session (e.g. half-day), but this is not recommended, and ideally it is an iterative process, taking place of over several sessions of up to an hour each. This allows ideas to form between sessions.

For the sharing of ideas, the workshop will require different coloured sticky notes, pens, poster paper and sticky tape. Use different colours of sticky notes to records different ideas:

  • red for challenges
  • green for opportunities to address challenges
  • yellow for useful resources
  • blue for other ideas and notes

Learning Activity Design Workshop in FinlandLearning Activity Design Workshop in Finland

Familiarisation with Learning Activities – Before creating a Learning Activity, the participants in the workshop should become familiar with what a Learning Activity is.

Simply put, a Learning Activity, describes what teachers and learners do in the teaching and learning process. The Learning Activity can take place in a single lesson or over a number of lessons, and uses digital technology to provide a valuable, and engaging learning experience, supporting the development of 21st century skills. A good Learning Activity is not subject specific so can be used across the curriculum.

The best way to understand what a Learning Activity is to take a look at some. Examples of Learning Activities, designed and used in the iTEC project, can be found in the Future Classroom Directory (available soon).

2 – The design workshop

There are five parts to a design workshop, as described below. The key to success is good collaboration and sharing of ideas between participants. Everyone involved should be encouraged to contribute.

You start by sticking the selected scenario/s to a wall or poster paper, or table so everyone can see it.

1. Design challenges

These are the obstacles you can foresee if you wanted to use a scenario. To identify design challenges, ask: what difficulties would you have if you tried to implement the scenario in your classroom.

Here are a few example challenges:

  • Scenarios involving teamwork - Student teams are formed based on friendship rather than interest, and some team members dominant while others contribute little.
  • Scenarios involving personalized assessment - Individual assessment is time consuming.
  • Scenarios involving digital creativity - Media production processes are complex.

Everyone involved should write their design challenges on sticky notes and stick them around the scenario.

2. Design opportunities

Ways to deal with and overcome design challenges. These can be existing practices of another educator or simple ways of working around or avoiding the challenge. 

Here are a few examples design opportunities:

  • Form teams based on student interests and use the "Jigsaw technique"
  • Using peer assessment.
  • Using students own skills, the student coaching other learners.

Participants should use a different coloured sticky note to add to the design opportunities.

3. Tools and resources

Useful resources are tools and other resources that are available to you and can be useful for making a scenario a realistic teaching and learning practice. Consider the following:

  • Places such as the home, a museum or religious center or outdoor study environment
  • Parts of the school that you don't often use that may have other resources and tools (e.g. 3D printer in the engineering block)
  • Personal digital devices owned by students
  • Assessment tools and devices, including freely available web based tools
  • Creativity tools and devices, e.g. for video and animation construction.
  • Collaboration tools for sharing ideas and information

Tools 4.2 and 4.3, within this toolkit, provide many examples of tools and resources you could use to support your learning activity. These tools should be used before the completion of the Learning Activity Design process.

Use yellow sticky notes to add ideas for tools and resources.

4. Learning Activities

Throughout the workshop, the discussions that have taken place, and the ideas that have been generated, all lead to the creation of Learning Activities. These are detailed descriptions of how to perform learning and teaching processes suggested by the original scenario, but now with more detail on exactly what the learner's role and teacher's role is, and the tools and resources needed to realistically achieve the learning. The detailed descriptions address the foreseen design challenges by building on the identified design opportunities and useful resources.

To produce a Learning Activity use the template provided (.doc). The participants can work collaboratively online using e.g. Google Docs or Titan Pad.

A single scenario may generate one or many Learning Activities. Several scenarios may also generate very similar Learning Activities. In general, Learning Activities should involve active learning with the learners actively participating in learning rather than passively being taught.

While the process may vary, it is easy to identify good Learning Activities. Each activity should:

  • have a descriptive title,
  • briefly explain what the idea is,
  • tell what motivates teachers and students,
  • hint at technology and other resources that can support the activity, and
  • include practical tips for preparation, introduction, teaching, and assessment.

A quality learning activity

  • is not tied to a certain subject area and can be used by any teacher.
  • is independent of other activities and can be used as part of many different learning sequences.
  • has depth, allowing more experienced teachers to challenge themselves, while being possible even for novice teachers.

5. Participatory Design

As mentioned earlier, the strength of this process depends on good collaboration between participants. One way to strengthen this is to invite others, from outside of the design group to critique and comment on the work of the group. They may raise new design challenges or opportunities or be able to suggest different tools. If the design workshop has more than one group working on the design of Learning Activities, you can try the following approaches.

  1. Ask one member of each group (perhaps the most talkative or confident) to move to another group to share their ideas.
  2. Facilitate a session where all members of all groups are asked to move around the design workshop to view other groups ideas and ad their own sticky notes with new ideas e.g. for alternative tools and resources.

3 – The Learning Story

Once completed, the Learning Activities can be used by teachers to plan lessons. (More detail is given on this in Toolset 5 – Evaluating Innovation in the Classroom.)

A final useful, but optional, step in preparing to use Learning Activities, is the production of a Learning Story. You will find examples of Learning Stories in the Future Classroom Directory.

A Learning Story is simply a way of describing how a group of Learning Activities "could" be used together in a certain sequence, and a certain context. The purpose of the Learning Story is to give teachers an idea of how a Learning Activity could be used in their own teaching, but nothing more than this. Learning Stories are not meant to be followed like a lesson plan. A teacher will have to plan their own lessons based on the curriculum learning objectives students' needs and local challenges and constraints (e.g. time, location and resources).

Use the template provided (.doc) to create an example Learning Story for a set of activities you have designed or selected to use together. This is an optional process, and only really helpful as a way of helping other teachers come up with their own alternative ideas. You might also want to write your learning story after your course is finished, so you can also reflect on what worked and what you would do differently next time.

This summary of Learning Activity design is derived from the Edukata participatory design model. People facilitating these sessions are encouraged to get additional support materials, tips, and training, to ensure good design outcomes.