A shared reflection approach to learning design

Like most people at the peak of COVID, our newly created learning design team of 5 were working reactively to navigate the changing digital education landscape. We learnt many lessons and channeled them into developing a common learning design practice that was both scalable and flexible in its application. Central to this process was adopting a shared reflection approach which has become an integral and ongoing component to our practice.

We will share more about the shared reflection approach and provide some tips for adopting shared reflection in your own team. These suggestions are the outcome of the shared reflection we conducted in our own learning design team and all ideas can be attributed to the team as a whole.

Where do we begin?

We started by reflecting on significant incidents we faced during the rapid transition to online learning.

As digital learning designers at the Business-Co Design team, we focus on transforming traditional teaching methods into an interactive online learning experience for students. We partner together with academic subject matter experts, educational developers, media and the wider teaching team. While we often co-design with multiple collaborators in different project teams we are rarely collaborating directly with each other. So it was important to see where our individual experiences intersected. Recurring challenges included:

  • Differing interpretations of our visual style guide often led to inconsistent student experiences across core subjects.
  • Implementing design solutions that were not evergreen and sustainable.
  • Our design solutions were sometimes too time consuming for teachers to maintain without our ongoing support.

Developing a shared approach to learning design

After uncovering our recurring challenges we began meeting weekly to discuss, debate and develop solutions. These shared reflection sessions were democratic and required the whole team’s input and approval to move forward. Through these long-form sessions, we created:

  • Team mission statement to underpin our vision as our team grows and changes and to guide our decision-making around new innovations and opportunities.
  • Roles and responsibilities to reflect on what our role is and our purpose in this new team during a highly reactive time and where we saw our roles heading after the peak of COVID.
  • Learning design (LD) principles to have a mutual understanding of best practice and use it as a guide when making design decisions and recommendations.
12 learning design principles
Our learning design principles

Consolidating sustainable learning design solutions

Now that we had developed the basics, we needed the tools to help us apply our learning design principles in real time within real projects. We continued our shared reflection sessions to develop the following practical and time-saving solutions to ensure the sustainability of our learning design principles.

  • Updating our Quality Assurance framework in the form of a spreadsheet helped us to track our learning design principles in practice. This was right down to the small details such as font sizes and colours. As a team, we could then review how each other were applying and interpreting our principles to ensure consistency across all the subjects we designed.
  • Creating a learning design team Tool Kit to easily share up-to-date knowledge on the tools we used as our team evolved. We created a board in Monday.com to document login information, tips and tricks to help our team with troubleshooting and on boarding new team members.
Screenshot example of monday.com board showing 7 different types of training material
Our learning design toolkit
  • Creating a transition guide for teaching teams to host training videos, start of semester checklists and further support. The aim being to ensure the teaching teams can maintain consistent application of the learning design principles. Particularly, when teaching teams change between semesters. This guide is customised for each subject and included in each LMS site.

Tips for shared reflection sessions

If you’re thinking of starting your own shared reflection consider these suggestions:

  • This approach works well early on in a project or newly formed team as a way to build team culture and crowdsource ideas.
  • Set up regular weekly meetings (or as often as you can) to gain traction as a team.
  • Remind yourself of the purpose of your shared reflection. That is, for the team to democratically reach a consensus about what you stand for and how that will be applied to your project or practice.
  • Create time and space for everyone to contribute. It is important to keep projects moving forward but try not to rush the process.

What next?

So, where are we now with our shared reflection journey?

Three years on, we have created and applied these learning design frameworks as a team to over 25 subjects at the University of Sydney Business School. Our shared reflection sessions continued and we reached a point where we were ready to scale our meetings and ideas outside of our immediate team. Our weekly meetings have recently transformed into ‘Community of Practice’ meetings where we research learning design best practice and seek opportunities to connect with other learning designers. We democratically decide the topic for each session and everyone has a chance to lead discussion.

We have all agreed this journey has been transformative and worth the time and effort! The shared reflection process took the dedication of our whole learning design team and can be attributed to: Andrew Brock, Benedicte Rokvic, Courtney Shalavin, Enosh Yeboah, Rachael Lowe, Stacey Petersen, Sunprit Singh and Thea Werkhoven.

About the author

Stacey Petersen works as a Digital Learning Designer in the Business Co-Design team, building sustainable Connected Learning at Scale (CLaS) units that bring engaging digital learning experiences to students. With a background in communications, distilling information and transforming it into something meaningful to the receiver is something that informs all aspects of both her life and learning design practice.

Rachael is a Digital Learning Designer in the Business Co-Design team at The University of Sydney Business School. With a background in marketing and educational publishing Rachael enjoys working alongside teachers and educational developers to explore digital technologies and improve the student learning experience in large courses. She is passionate about creating and developing sustainable, accessible, and innovative online units of study.

One thought on “A shared reflection approach to learning design

  1. Reflection on the past is useful, but educators need to also anticipate what their client will need in the future. While many made heroic efforts to move to online learning in response to COVID-19, it would have been better if more had anticipated the need, and planned for it, as some of us did. Many academics, and universities, are at a loss as to what to do post-COVID, with no viable business or education strategy. Learning designers have a role in helping with plans for the future at the macro scale, for education systems, and institutions, not just courses. Professors, Vice Chancellors, and Australian Governments need help with plans and policy for education which is now mostly online. That future arrived much quicker than many expected due to COVID-19, and our higher education system has only a brief time to adjust to it, to remain viable.

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