Tool 4.1 – Learning Activity Design

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

Planning: what you need

Future Classroom Scenario – If you are following the full Future Classroom Toolkit process, the Innovation Team 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. A single Future Classroom Scenario may generate one or many learning activities, and several scenarios may also generate very similar learning activities.

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 2, preferably more), in a suitable place where they can discuss and share ideas. Ideally, all teachers and support staff should be involved in the design process in order to bring about whole-school change. Students can also be involved in the process.

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 activities that teachers and learners carry out. It can take place in a single lesson or over several lessons. A good Learning Activity is not subject-specific, but can be used across the curriculum. An example of a Learning Activity could be creating a video, learning in teams or working outside of school to collect data or images.

The design workshop

The design workshop can take place in a single session (e.g. half-day). However, as designing learning activities is an iterative process, it is recommended that it should span over several sessions so that ideas can be formed and iterated on between the sessions.

In the design workshop, the participants design a learning activity. To ensure the creation of quality learning activities, the participants should understand that a good learning activity is not tied to a certain subject area and can be used by any teacher. It is independent of other activities and can be used as part of many different learning sequences. It has depth, allowing more experienced teachers to challenge themselves, while at the same time being suitable for novice teachers. It entails active learning, where learners are active participants in rather than passive consumers of the learning content.

The key to designing high-quality learning activities is good collaboration and sharing of ideas among the participants. Everyone involved should be encouraged to contribute. Throughout the workshop, all the discussions that have taken place and all the ideas that have been generated lead to the creation of a Learning Activity.

In the design of a Learning Activity, the participants describe in concrete terms what can be delivered in the classroom and how it can be done. They propose steps that teachers can take along with practical tips and possible alternatives for preparing, leading and assessing the Learning Activity in their classroom. They emphasise the learners' and the teacher's roles and explain the motivational aspects of the Learning Activity that are likely to inspire and motivate teachers to use this particular Learning Activity in their classroom. They point out how and why the students will benefit from performing the Activity and emphasise the relevance of the Activity for teacher continuous professional development.

Along with strengths and benefits, it is also important to detect and analyse possible challenges, difficulties and obstacles that might arise during the implementation of the Learning Activity in the classroom. Having identified weaknesses and shortcomings, the workshop participants engage in a discussion on finding solutions. They come up with ways to overcome problems. We call these design opportunities. They can be existing practices of other educators or simple ways of working around or avoiding the challenge.

The next step is to identify and recommend the tools required to realistically achieve the learning outcomes. It's a good idea to list all the tools that might be useful for the successful completion of the tasks for teachers and learners to choose from. The workshop participant should explain what benefits the tools can bring to teaching and learning and how they can be used and adapted in different contexts. They should also suggest useful resources where teachers can find more information about the topic to broaden their horizon and to widen the scope of teaching and learning.

Briefly put, each learning activity should include:

  • a descriptive title
  • a brief explanation of the idea
  • teacher and student motivation
  • recommendation of technology and other resources that can support the activity
  • practical tips for preparation, introduction, teaching and assessment.

When designing a Learning Activity, make sure that the level of maturity (Toolset 2) corresponds to the intended level of the scenario (Toolset 3).

Suggested workshop activities

1 - Group work with sticky notes

The first step is to place the selected Future Classroom Scenario on a wall, poster board or table so that everyone can see it and work on it. For the sharing of ideas, different coloured sticky notes, pens, poster paper and sticky tape can be used to record different types of ideas, for instance:

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

A. Identify possible challenges and problems that users might experience while implementing the Activity in their context. Do other participants see the same weaknesses of the Learning Activity? Do they perceive obstacles you don't see?

For example, in a scenario involving teamwork, you might experience a problem of forming teams: student teams are formed based on friendship rather than interest. In scenarios involving personalised assessment, teachers may find that individual assessment is much more time-consuming, while in scenarios involving digital creativity, teachers might be put off by the complexity of digital media production and their lack of knowledge and experience.

Participants should write their design challenges on red sticky notes and stick them around the scenario.

B. Now analyse the problems and discuss with your colleagues what solutions you can come up with to overcome those challenges. How can you use the obstacles as opportunities for improvement? For example, to solve the problem of forming efficient teams use the "Jigsaw technique". Peer assessment might be a good way to overcome time-consuming individual assessment. Peer teaching has been used by many educators worldwide and has proven to be an excellent way to learn.

Participants should use green sticky notes to add design opportunities.

C. Identify tools and resources that are at your disposal and could be useful for turning a scenario into a realistic teaching and learning practice. Consider the following:

  • Places such as home, a museum, 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
  • Creativity tools and resources, e.g. for creating videos and animations
  • Collaboration tools for sharing ideas and information
  • Assessment tools and devices, including freely available Web-based tools

Participants should use yellow sticky notes to recommend useful tools and resources.

Tool 4.3. of this Toolset provides many examples of tools and resources you can use to support your learning activity.

D. Use blue sticky notes to add other ideas, notes and recommendations.

2 - Writing the Learning Activity

Now make good use of all the discussions that have taken place and all the ideas that have been generated in the productive brainstorming process and write your Learning Activity with your colleagues. Use the template provided. You can work collaboratively online using e.g. Google Docs.

3 - Enhanced collaboration

As mentioned earlier, the strength of this process depends on good collaboration among participants. One way to strengthen this is to invite others, from outside the design group, to critique and comment on the work of the group. They may raise new design challenges or opportunities or 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.

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