This paper authored by Helen Bound and Arthur Chia from Singapore’s Institute of Adult Learning (IAL) sets out 6 principles of learning design. Its aim is “to assist adult educators in thinking about how to design learning holistically, so that doing and knowing are integrated” – which will lead to strengthened and better learning outcomes.

The 6 principles

Principle 1: Authenticity

This involves making effective use of real-world work practices and settings that “embodies complexity of work and enables learner engagement.” Learner engagement is a critical aspect of authenticity, as is engagement with the complexities and nuances of the work of a particular profession or vocation (including cross boundary work).” Thus, “in authentic design, learners are actively engaged, the activities lend themselves to lots of dialogue amongst peers to assist with developing deep understanding that is holistic.” This is a much deeper and richer learning approach than more traditional ones, the authors suggest. It requires learners to bring together all the different aspects required for effective performance.

Principle 2: Alignment

This requires that every aspect of the student’s learning experience “all works together for a common purpose.” This means that “learning purposes and outcomes, assessment design and learning activities and the place of learning, need to support each other.” This also means that teachers need to work effectively as teams to ensure their individual contribution to learning is aligned with, and helps contribute to, those of their colleagues. Put simply, they need to talk things through, and all get on the same page.

Principle 3: Holistic

As the paper points out this process “integrates knowing, doing, thinking and feeling. It integrates theory and practice, the technical and generic, and ‘learning to learn’ capabilities. Being holistic aims for learning to be inclusive of the wider ethics and values of the profession or occupation, and involves integrating knowledge, skills and experience.”

Holistic design is important in developing the core of what it means to be a particular professional, or in a particular role or vocation. Task specific competencies or capabilities are therefore not enough, they cannot be separated from the context in which the tasks or skills are used in the real world.

Principle 4: Feedback

To address this principle “learners need to be engaged in giving feedback, and receiving feedback from peers, educators, work supervisors etc. (where appropriate) and in self-assessing their own performance.” “The purpose of such a feedback loop is to improve performance – [and] this is why feedback needs to be a discussion and from multiple sources.”

Principle 5: Judgement

This principle “enables learners to make judgments about their own and others’ performance. In some cases and fields it can also involve making and evaluating ethical judgements.” This is an area that can be ignored in VET delivery, especially in ‘caring occupations’ and those requiring strong interpersonal connections because outcomes are less tangible and readily measured.

As the paper points out: “Judgement is an essential part of the learning and assessment processes because the development and use of judgement is fundamental in enabling learners to understand their own work.” Good judgement skills are also required for them to practice their vocation effectively. Judgements can also be undervalued as a valid part of the assessment process.

Principle 6: Future orientation

This principle “involves learning to learn, [and developing] deep understanding – thus enabling application to multiple situations and contexts,” and being able to enquire and look at things from multiple perspectives. In essence, it’s about future proofing the learner so they are not tied to the ‘here and now’ and can continue to learn, grow and thrive. They need to learn to think, it’s suggested. Thus, “the emphasis is on the ability to resolve unfamiliar or non-standard problems.”

In fact, and we have been over this ground before in other VDC News articles here and here: “Future-orientedness involves many of what are variously called 21st century skills, or the new ‘top 10 skills’, such as critical thinking, creativity, learning to learn.”

A big message

At the heart of this is VET practitioners moving from being ‘monologic’ to ‘dialogic’. That is, the educator moves from being the expert and the student the passive recipient to where the educator becomes the facilitator and scaffolds but increasingly hands over responsibility for learning to learners. In this role the educator becomes the ‘critical questioner’. The learner now becomes actively engaged, is part of an authentic learning community, and is also a problem solver, critical questioner, and reflexive – that is, a learner who can explore his or her experiences to become more conscious, open-minded, self-critical and empowered.