Becoming design-savvy to improve learning outcomes Faculty Spark - View, reflect and apply

Last updated on 04/07/2018

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Goodyear's Education Design Space was used as a tool for the creation of learner-centric coursework models. It allows for the construction of learning environments that encourage real world student-centred activities.


How can we design curricula that is learner-centric, achieves learning outcomes, and is driven by pedagogy rather than technological or other considerations? 

Design theory states that ‘anyone can design and build a functional structure in a practical, safe and attractive way…” (Alexander et al., 1977, p. ix).  The key lies in simplifying the complexity of a design problem, and understanding the process of design (Alexander, 1964). 

Our challenge as academics is to develop ‘work-ready graduates’. This means students need to learn discipline-specific skills such as management, and non-technical skills such as critical thinking, communication, teamwork, and reflective practice.

Some of the risks we face include bending to various institutional pressures and/or trends, such as using specific technologies, or a move to ‘flipped’ learning, or pursuing ‘active learning’, without enough thought to what constitutes a ‘good fit’ in specific learning environments.

So how can academics design curricula that is learner-centric, achieves learning outcomes, and is driven by pedagogy rather than technological or other considerations? One solution that has worked for me is to use a deliberate, pedagogically-driven process and template.

An example of where I applied this is a 3rd year, dual-mode course in Intercultural Management, with approximately 100 students (30 oncampus and 70 online). There was a faculty requirement to implement the GBS Active Learning Strategy into the curriculum, and a key course Learning Outcome of developing Intercultural Competence. I wanted to achieve these intended outcomes where course development was deliberately informed by design theory rather than an incremental improvement approach.

In doing so, I distinguish educational design from educational development (Goodyear, 2005). ‘Educational design’ focuses on constructing representations of how to support learning , ‘educational development’ converts these representations into practical strategies.


The approach takes a high level view of the educational design space, and splits the  process into two essential components:

  • Pedagogical Framework
  • Education Setting

The Pedagogical Framework in turn is layered into four levels:


  • A set of beliefs about how we think people learn, the construction of knowledge, how we think people should be treated.

This looks at broad approaches such as:

  • Problem based learning
  • Cognitive apprenticeship
  • Collaborative knowledge building

Pedagogical strategy - an Action/plan to achieve objectives 

  • Use of an online debates
  • Team Work
  • Scaffolded reflection
  • Active Learning strategies

Pedagogical tactics

  • The detailed methods we use to set tasks for students
  • Encourage their participation
  • Offer guidance and feedback
  • Providing examples of good contribution
  • Posing stimulating and non-threatening questions
  • Private emails to "lurkers" to encourage participation

Once the Pedagogical Framework is mapped out, we can move on to the Education Design Setting. This is where we consider the constraints that we must design to.

Educational design involves three kinds of work:

  • Design of good learning tasks
  • Design and management of the learning environment
  • Create conditions for evolution of social learning relationships

The educational setting is a way of representing the confluence of tasks, activities, environment and people.  The approach differentiates between learning tasks, and learner activities.

A learning task is a specification for learner activity, while learner activities are what learners interpret the specifications of the task and what they do.

If we want learners to take more responsibility for their own learning, we have to rely on them to make their own interpretations of learning tasks, therefore activity can be different from the task which initiated it.

Ideally, we should design the learning environment so that it is compatible with activity rather than task. That is, construct the environment so that it encourages real world activity which is as close to the task as set.

Further, we should be wary of technology which enforces an unacceptably restricted interpretation of the task. More often that not, this will be rejected by its intended users. The use of technologies is an important consideration when we look at online student engagement, on campus student engagement, and how technology impacts our intended audience.


I have used this template successfully to redesign at many levels -  from a lecture/tutorial through to an entire course, or assessment strategy. 

It simplifies the design problem into the three pillars: 

  • Pedagogy 
  • Learning outcomes 
  • Contextual environment

It provides a framework that an inexperienced academic can use to focus on the relationship between teaching and learning when designing  specific learning activities.

I’ve consistently received high student feedback on both course and teaching evaluations. 

“I originally believed that that this course would be very similar to face-to-face courses. Instead, I am pleasantly surprised with the amount of virtual interaction there is using Yammer, Blackboard and email. All of this has pleasantly assisted with my learning and retaining information, and to be honest I have much preferred this style instead of how courses are usually run because we are utilizing technology more.

“I now have a new way to learn and develop by being a part of a virtual experience. This course provides me flexibility to learn in several different ways: reading, listening, watching videos, participating in virtual teams, online quizzes.”

"All of this is perfect for how I like to learn and this has allowed me to further develop my skills and knowledge professionally and personally.”

"I believe that this method of teaching allowed me and the members of my team to experience and address intercultural issues within the workplace and develop a strong cultural competency which I had never experienced so far within my time at Griffith University. Bravo.”


If you wish to this approach, consider the following:

  • Try out the template I created from Goodyear’s work
  • Begin with the end in mind (Learning Outcomes/Graduate Attributes) 
  • Develop the pedagogical framework first, before you move onto designing specific tasks and the environment.
  • Link to my related Faculty Spark where I show how I applied this process and template to embed Active Learning to achieve specific Learning Outcomes

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Preferred Citation

Mouasher, A., and Learning Futures (2018). Becoming design-savvy to improve learning outcomes. Retrieved from