JISC event: ABC Curriculum Design

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A Bad Dream – A Cracked Screen!

An ominous start to the day. My laptop fell down and my Surface Pro screen got shattered and cracked – touch screen no longer works – hope my university’s insurance covers it! Every time I look at the crack screen I think I’m in a bad dream and hope when I open my eyes that my screen is perfectly in tack.


ABC Design

Today is about the Arena Blended Connected (ABC) curriculum design which is based at the UCL and their concept of the connected curriculum which Dilly Fung has written about. Arena is the UCL academic development department/ programme.

The Connected Curriculum has 6 dimensions.

The ABC curriculum design is inspired by Diana Laurillard’s conversational framework for which FutureLearn is also based on. There are 6 learning types:

  • Acquisition
  • Discussion
  • Investigation (Inquiry)
  • Practice
  • Production
  • Collaboration

I’ve always meant to read Diana Laurillard’s Conversational Framework and wonder to what extent these 6 issues are derived from it.*

My Thoughts: Initial Impression (start of the day): It’s interesting that this ABC curriculum design approach to me appears to be more of the instructional discourse rather than the regulative discourse which can cause pedagogic frailty, according to Ian Kinchin – that is, it seems to be about the practical considerations rather than the underpinning values and beliefs. Although it does ask about the module summary, this appears to be more of a marketing blurb.

The Design

The ABC curriculum design is about deciding how the learning types can be used during the design of a module, and the sequence of these learning types and then selecting the activities relating to these learning types. One of the good things about this, that for each learning type, there are particular suggested related conventional and digital teaching methods that can be used. Therefore, I can see how this might be helpful for a novice who just wants to create a module without thinking about their beliefs and values about it.

There does not seem to be any mention of constructive alignment theory in this ABC curriculum design although one does not need to do adhere to constructive alignment theory but validation documents in the UK expect constructive alignment theory.** However, this design does not show how we can help overcome these expectations.

Module Design Activity***

We’ve just had to use the ABC approach to design a module. I found it to be quite mechanical without any idea of what we want to achieve and how we get our beliefs and values into the teaching practice. However, the one thing I do like is the ability to create a learning cycle (which FutureLearn use) which can be repeated in an online environment and allows students to recognise what is coming and feeling comfortable in knowing what comes. So, using the cards are good for creating a repetitive learning cycle. The ABC learning design is being sold as being pedagogically sound. I would, however, challenge that. Yes, they’re using the learning types by Diana Laurillard, but the learning types cards put forward is that of teaching-student-media interaction but does not try to show how these learning types fit within the conversational framework. Also, it does not take into account parts of the hidden curriculum and how it connects to the wider programme.

Lunch – Discussion

During lunch had a very long discussion with a learning technologist colleague on how we can make this work. I was still concerned about the beliefs and values as well as the learning outcomes that we wanted to achieve for our students. She, however, thought this was quite practical and meant we could develop modules quite rapidly particularly for those academics who want to get something quite tangible. I can see the advantage of that, as many academics I work with, unfortunately, want “an answer”. However, we thought that perhaps if we frame this ABC curriculum design first with the values, beliefs and learning outcomes etc, we can then go into this learning design process to help think how we can make a repeated learning cycle.

Discussion: Using data

We are discussing now how we can use data to help us improve our learning design. I heard something that was quite interesting. Looking at the flow of learning types and looking at the data that comes from these learning types we can then determine whether the flow is working and where the hold-up might be. By using the data, therefore we can determine the stumbling blocks in the learning cycle and hence be able to redesign to account for minimising these stumbling blocks. The stumbling blocks may be the content relating to the learning types or it might be the activity relating to the learning types. Of course, we need to think about how the data can help us to think about our pedagogy.

Overall Impression

Unfortunately, wasn’t there until the end of the session. The session, however, has been very interesting and has introduced me to a different curriculum design and one that appears to encourage the use of technology. I can see how the design helps in determining the technology cycle design that we can use but still think we need to think about the regulative discourse.


* This appears based on a presentation by Diana Laurillard on the ABC learning design blog to be the current 6 types.

** I’ve been reliably informed by Clive Young who was one of the facilitators on the day that the longer version includes constructive alignment, learning outcomes and conversational framework (which I’m happy to hear about!). There is also a good post on their blog on how it relates more to the curriculum design theory based on the work by Peter Goodyear.

*** Samantha Ahern (another facilitator on the day) has suggested looking at the ABC learning design blog as it has examples of how this method was implemented by module teams.

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