Beetham on Learning Design

H800 notes on Beetham 1

Beetham explains that ’emergence of Learning Design as a dominant paradigm can be taken as a sign that activity is being reinstated as the focus of concern. Design for learning should therefore focus primarily on the activities undertaken by learners, and only secondarily on (for example) the tools or materials that support them.’ (p26)

Beetham explains the difference between tasks and activities:

  • tasks – are those that are set by the teacher and/or curriculum
  • activities – are what the learner(s) engage in/does, in order to complete the set tasks. Beetham explains that ‘Although good teachers will provide direction as to how tasks should be carried out, and may scaffold learners’ activities quite rigidly, different learners will still have their own ways of proceeding.’ (p26)

She offers a definition for a learning activity (p.28) ‘as  a specific interaction of learner(s) with other(s) using specific tools and resources, orientated towards specific outcomes.’

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  1. Beetham, H. (2007) ‘An approach to learning activity design’, in Beetham, H. and Sharpe, R. (Eds) Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age, Oxford: RoutledgeFalmer.

Learning Design

What is learning design and how does it differ from Learning Design?

Designing learning is a standard part of the teaching role. However, a more specific concept related to learning design and elearning arose from 2004 on – Learning Design (note the caps!). This refers to a formal specification used for designing online learning courses/materials.

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Learning metaphors ad infinitum

H800 Notes on metaphors

Hager 1 (p.679) lists four ‘practice points’ in relation to metaphors for learning:

  • Metaphors inform thinking about learning.
  • Metaphors can sometimes mislead thinking.
  • Acquisition and transfer are the most common learning
  • Alternative metaphors offer fresh ways to think about

Hager (p.679) states that ‘acquisition and transfer are easily the most popular metaphors used to understand learning.’ Both of these metaphors are described below, along with the social-participation metaphor and the knowledge-creation metaphor.

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  1. Hager, P. (2008) ‘Learning and metaphors’, Medical Teacher, 30(7), pp. 679-686, (online) Available from: (Accessed 5 April 2011).

Having more, doing more, being more

The OU course H800, moves on from the two metaphors offered by Sfard 1 to introduce a third metaphor: change-as-a-person based on research by Saljö 2 and Marton, Dall’Alba and Beaty 3.

This is explained as:

‘being more’ – or possibly ‘being different’ – in contrast with ‘having more’ (AM) and ‘doing more’ (PM)

and introduces the concept of identity into the learning mix.

My personal experiences with learning would suggest that there is an element of being changed by learning. When I teach equality and diversity I also give the example of how meeting and learning about people from other cultures enriches your own life experience – ie changes you. I know that when I was younger life was much ‘simpler’ … things were either right or wrong. As I gained in experience I learned that this is not always so and there are many perspectives and interpretations of ‘facts’.

  1. Sfard, A. (1998) On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One. Educational Researcher, 27 (2), pp.4-13.
  2. Saljö, R. (1979) Learning in the Learner’s Perspective: 1. Some Common-sense Assumptions (Report No. 76), Göteborg, University of Göteborg, Institute of Education.
  3. Marton, F., Dall’Alba, G. and Beaty, E. (1993) ‘Conceptions of learning’, International Journal of Educational Research, vol.19, pp.277–300.

Metaphors in action

The last post briefly looked at two metaphors for learning: acquisition and participation.

Examining these in light of learning I have been involved with that used technology (OU H800 Activity 3b):

PowerPoint/SlideShare – acquisition of knowledge – generally tutor-led dissemination of information to ‘passive’ viewers/listeners. I have used this to pass on or deliver information to learners both offline and online. It is useful for learning that is new to all learners where none can be expected to already have knowledge or understanding. I have also experienced ‘death-by-PowerPoint’ on more than one occasion. Most examples of this that I have used or accessed have been related to formal learning – although I am now using SlideShare as part of an informal learning blog accessed by the general public.

Crochetville: an online group – I use this community of practice to share and develop my crocheting. It is predominantly based on forums and sharing of experience, tips, techniques and commenting on others projects. Definately firmly under the participation metaphor for learning – yet it has stimulated and developed my use of this skill in a way that a formal class never could.

Two Metaphors for Learning

To understand what learning means, we use metaphors – ways of helping us to think.

Sfard 1 describes how two metaphors have come to dominate the field of educational research: the acquisition and participation metaphors.

Acquisition Metaphor (AM) – learning as a gain in knowledge, skill or understanding. Emphasis on ‘what is learned’. Key phrases: schema; knowledge acquisition; concept development; conceptualisation. Theorists that fit this metaphor: Piaget and Vygotski.

Participation Metaphor (PM) – learning as knowing – active, doing rather than having.  Emphasis on ‘how it is learned.’ Key phrases: activities; situated; contextualised; social; cultural; practice; discourse; communication; communities of practice.  Theorists that fit this model: Lave, Wenger, Brown, Foucault, Salomon.

According to Sfard, ‘While the AM stresses the individual mind and
what goes “into it,” the PM shifts the focus to the evolving bonds between the individual and others.’

Sfard also goes onto to conclude that both metaphors have value and should not be used exclusively to examine learning.

Surely common sense would support this – you cannot have a ‘what’ without a ‘how’; are they are not two sides of the same coin.

  1. Sfard, A. (1998) ‘On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One’, Educational Researcher, 27(2).

Institutions and Participation

The last two blog posts looked at learning together and participation – so what do institutions claim in relation to these two themes? As my main field of work is currently workplace learning and management development, it seemed most appropriate to examine examples from this field.

Interestingly in light of the last two blogs, is the fact that many management development programmes emphasis one-to-one work with a coach particularly at senior management levels and there is little mention of learning together or participative learning strategies. Perhaps this reflects prevalent models of management and leadership at that level? In addition a great deal of focus is placed on meeting the organisation’s needs, presumably aimed at marketing the course to the business client as opposed to describing the delivery strategies.

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Citizen Learning: learning together

A potential new model of shared learning emerging in the web 2.0 world is that of what could be termed ‘citizen learning’.

Citizen Science involves students and the general public worldwide collaborating to collect and analyse data 1. Citizen journalism involves the general public producing and sharing news and information via many web 2.0 tools – it is about user-generated content. Both could be viewed as examples of collaborative or group learning.

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  1. St. Arnaud, Bill (n.d.) Citizen Science, (online) Available from: (Accessed 22 March 2011). 

Dale’s Cone of Disappointment

It’s odd how learning can affect one – at the moment I feel bereft and somewhat disconsolate after discovering the Dale’s Cone of Experience as generally represented is not all it seems. Whilst reading around the previous blog post to do with knowledge-transfer and Brown’s webcast, I wanted to reference Dale’s Cone of Experience.

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Teaching as knowledge-transfer?

The concept that teaching is more than knowledge-transfer is not new – it is one of the underpinning principles of modern pedagogy. Very few teachers would argue that learning should be a tutor-led dissemination of information. My gut reaction is that learners particularly adult learners – come to class with a range of knowledge, skills and experiences … and learning needs to be applied to be relevant and useful. On the other hand, what about learning for learning sake? I do have a host of knowledge that is never really used – just information stored for retrieval / general knowledge … is that of less importance? Or does it make me a more rounded person?

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