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What makes a great learning designer?

12 October, 2021 | by Joe Lynch

What makes a great learning designer?

The profession of learning design has gained considerable attention in recent months as many students have experienced online learning for the first time. This spotlight on our work has prompted reflection on our role, how well we deliver it, and what makes for a truly excellent learning designer. As the Team Lead for OES’s Learning Designers in the UK, I work with universities around the world to bring their courses to life in online environments. While course content, platforms and visual styles may vary, I always retain a clear focus on the needs of the student to ensure that they receive the best possible experience.

The learning design profession has a healthy future ahead

With constant innovation in the technologies that are available to us, we learning designers need to push the boundaries in both digital pedagogies and the use of emerging content creation tools. I see the future of the profession as one where we are increasingly involved in the curriculum at the programme level, offering a strategic view of the pedagogical opportunities as well as working on tactical learning materials. We are certainly champions of ‘the possible’. We therefore need to bring creativity to our conversations with academic colleagues to help stretch their thinking and to encourage them to reimagine how they might deliver their subject area to a diverse online learner audience.

We are also the ultimate adapters. That means we are ready to work with all technologies, and we balance being responsive to academics’ different needs with leading the way as innovators. As the champions of the learner, we always think of the student or participant in the learning and not only from the perspective of those who wish to transfer the knowledge and skills. To make this work, we need to collaborate closely with academics by bringing structure to our processes and work to enable the most efficient dialogue between all parties.

The best learning designers bring passion alongside knowledge

A confident baseline knowledge of pedagogical principles for online learning is essential, but this is an evidence base which is growing and evolving. We need to maintain our awareness of the latest developments and technologies to ensure that we serve our partners well. We also need to bring a passion for the transformational impact of online learning so that we can bring others with us on the journey which is still new for many institutions and academics.

At the core of our skills is empathy for both learners and academics. We place ourselves in ‘the shoes of the student’ to achieve a learner-centric perspective, and we engage respectfully with academics to allow their expertise to be centre stage. At OES, we always start from a point of understanding the multiple time pressures on everyone involved and we adapt our approach to support others, skilfully balancing ambition with capacity. Inevitably this requires significant resilience as it can take time to win over colleagues and partners by demonstrating the value of our work.

How can academics best work with learning designers?

To create high quality and engaging online learning materials, we need effective collaboration between learning designers and academics. In my experience, the foundational conditions for success come from openness and a willingness to share. We understand that sometimes academics may be uncertain about the translation of their existing materials and teaching practices for online delivery. We take considerable interest in the diversity of learning content, but we are not the subject specialists, and therefore we need to work closely with academics. In this way, and together, we can create outstanding materials and a fully relevant and engaging online experience which meet students’ specific learning needs. Open communication is therefore essential as this offers regular opportunities to share concerns, provide feedback, and check on progress.

We always bring a creative mindset to the process and frequently get excited by others’ innovative learning ideas. Our approaches might be unfamiliar but embracing them can really drive creative and engaging learning, and deliver results that we can all be proud of. In the learning design process, a little flexibility can go a long way to producing learning materials which exceed even the highest expectations.

Learning designers do exceptional work to support online learners. At OES, we enable student success through our Learning Design and Production Services delivered by expert teams. I encourage you to find out more about our work and how we can help you delight your students.