Remembering My Hat

22nd June 2016

Learning Design categories – a list of ideas

This is one of my posts that will probably make no sense at all to people beyond the OU, so apologies if that is you. But for those who are at the OU, and especially those who are academics involved in the production of our materials…


(cc) Rain Rabbit


I run a group within the HSC department on production for academics new(ish) to the OU. We were talking recently about working with the Learning Design categories, and decided it would be useful to try to generate a list between us of different ways in which you could design activities of each type. This isn’t exhaustive, nor definitive, and we make no promises that these are always good suggestions – some of them would have to be done very carefully to to get over the bar of ‘but why on earth would students actually bother to do this?’. But we hope it’s useful to other people scratching their heads to think of non-assimilative activities (although we did include those too).


  • Readings – academic and more everyday kinds of texts
  • Audio
  • Video
  • Poetry
  • Maps and infographics based on maps
  • Images and artwork
  • Newspaper headlines
  • Personal stories
  • Case studies
  • Diagrams, inforgrahpics and graphs


  • Filling in a grid (gives more structure than free text ‘take notes’)
  • Numerical calculations
  • Make a powerpoint or other presentation
  • Do an elevator pitch
  • Draw a spider diagram or concept map
  • Write a briefing for a named audience
  • Write a tweet or headline
  • Write a blog entry
  • List of key points
  • Use the existing sticky notes tool on the VLE
  • Diagram which you can write on or manipulate or put sticky notes on
  • Make some notes (boring!)
  • Precis activities (e.g. rewrite in your own words, not more than 200 words)
  • Take a photo
  • Caption competition or cartoon bubble filling
  • Curating a collection of images or something else
  • Highlighting parts of text (highlighter tool in Word or offline versions)

Finding and Handling information

  • USE THE LIBRARY’S EXISTING TUTORIALS ON Digital Information Literacy
  • Access databases and other data sources and then extract some information
  • Finding a journal article or book from a catalogue
  • Doing a citation search
  • Following up a reference of your choice from a set reading
  • Generate your own data (avoid anything that’s close to interviewing people because of research ethics!)
  • Finding and evaluating infographics
  • Working with graphs and other pictorial data



  • THIS ONE IS HARD TO DO and we were least happy about the definition of this one
  • Reflective activities
  • Trying out a productive output on someone you know and getting feedback on it.
  • Trying an activity on yourself e.g. relaxation techniques, you could even include a pre and post test.


  • Drag and drop where it bounces back if incorrect
  • Quizzes with feedback on incorrect answers
  • Choose between two positions on a complex (often ethical) issue, feedback says ‘that’s valid, but have you also thought about …’ and then summarises the arguments for the opposite position.
  • Games and simulations (very time consuming to develop though)


What have we missed? Please do suggest more. And of course let us know if you think we’ve got anything completely wrong.



  1. Hi Rebecca, I think this is a very useful list. It can act as a ‘menu’ for lecturers to draw from, according to the learning outcomes they are aiming for. As ever, the challenge is to maintain a balance between variety to keep students engaged and predictability/repetition to help students feel ‘I know how do this’, or ‘I know what to expect’. I think students will spot where a certain style of activity has been inserted for the sake of variety rather than being an appropriate learning activity. The skills of a distance learning writer will involve imagining ‘the student’ at home or in the coffee lounge at work, on the train, and so on, desperately wanting to use their time productively. They will want to know – why would a spider diagram be useful for me – why should I talk to my neighbours about this – why should I read this social science paper when you are going to explain the content to me – and so on.
    The ‘experiential’ category is, as you say, hard to incorporate per se in distance learning materials. The health and social care courses have always included reflection on personal experience as a hook into topics, but it can be over-used and is probably glossed over by time-poor students. The work-based learning courses have much greater scope for experiential learning, which after all should be the backbone of WBL. People learn by hanging the new knowledge onto existing knowledge. They need to find ‘hooks’ in order to make sense of what they need to ‘assimilate’. New knowledge needs time to percolate too; its relevance is not always immediately understood. Theory may not always reflect an individual’s view of the world. I think this is where experiential learning can be powerful. It enables students to question and critique the validity of theoretical perspectives, especially in the social science and care domains. Learning from and with experience can also change a student’s view of the world, and ultimately I guess that’s what we’re all aiming for as educators.

    Comment by Anthea — 30th December 2016 @ 12:38 | Reply

    • I’m so sorry Anthea, I’ve only just seen this. Thanks so much for this comment, with which I entirely agree! It’s a real challenge but I guess that’s some of the fun!

      Comment by rememberingmyhat — 24th January 2018 @ 17:47 | Reply

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