Feenberg, A. (1998) Questioning Technology. London:Routledge.
Designing the Learning Architecture in HE
architecture in HE
Institute of Education, University of London
• Flexibility and learning architecture
• Examples of designing for learning
• Concepts, interpretations and
• Student experiences
(Picking up on this morning‟s feedback – what‟s too
flexible? From Open to Closed – and keynote – how
do students make their „homes‟; arranging and
patterning? And a bit about post-humanism…)
Flexible learning is enabling learners to learn when
they want (frequency, timing, duration), how they
want (modes of learning), and what they want (that is
learners can define what constitutes learning to
(Van den Brande, 1993: 2)
Consider the irony
…of choosing to attend a series of face-to-face
lectures about “promoting and developing flexible
• Is it really ironic…? Even if it is, is it sensible…?
• Learning architecture is…?
o What architecture students do
o The formalisations that allow intelligent systems (neural networks)
to develop in response to new inputs
o A map of the technical functionality required to support learning,
and the technical systems that will provide this
o A conceptual overview of the structures and processes that are
intended to shape learning
(…a euphemism for “teaching”…?)
• But also
o Architecture as a metaphor for designed structures
o …and how about some real buildings too…?
Some familiar ideas
• Constructive alignment (Biggs, 1996)
• Instructional design
• Curriculum theory (e.g. Barnett & Coate, 2005)
o A structure framing curricula in terms of acting, knowing
• Resouce based learning and the economics of
Higher Education (Dearing report)
• Some perhaps less familiar?
Designing for learning
Source: http://www.elearning.ac.uk/effprac/html/design_model.htm; JISC, 2004
Wherever we look, around the globe or in our own
backyards, we can see that more and better
education is needed. But the scale of the problem
cannot be tackled through our traditional
technologies for teaching. When you measure student
numbers in billions, staff-student ratios of 1:30 make no
impact at all. So the problem of scale is challenging.
(Laurillard, 2008: 319-320)
• Global education, but also MOOCs
We have conceptualized the Learning Design Support
Environment (LDSE) project as the development of an interactive
microworld that enables teacher-designers to act like
researchers by developing knowledge and practice about
teaching and learning. We call this system The Learning Designer.
It gives academics a way of developing and testing their
teaching ideas in terms of the established principles of effective
learning design. Here we illustrate only the phases of work within
the project that (1) elicit users' conceptions of the learning design
process; (2) balance their requirements and concepts against
the existing knowledge base of teaching and learning and the
aims of the project; and (3) provide a formal representation of a
learning design that can be analysed in terms of the underlying
(Laurillard et al, 2013)
Journal of Computer Assisted Learning
Volume 29, Issue 1, pages 15-30, 15 NOV 2011 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00458.x
• The Virtual Learning Environment
o VLE, LMS, IMS…
o …and its integration (Student Records such as SITS)
• Once home-grown
o Co-Mentor, Boddington
• Now typically commercially outsourced (and often
o Blackboard VLEs, Coursera MOOCs, etc.
• Interest in Personal Learning Environments (PLEs)
o “Proponents of PLEs agree that there is a need to harness the power of a
range of tools, services, and content outside of the institution that learners
can use during their studies.” (Sclater, 2008: 3)
• “Bring your own device” (BYOD)
Could there be a down side?
As the learner progresses through the courseware,
there is the opportunity to ask questions by selecting
the associated „chat‟ channel in the toolbar. In
response, a chat window opens and the learner is
greeted and invited to describe the assistance
sought, in text form. The person who answers the
questions is part of a call centre and is specifically
trained to answer questions about the courseware.
[…] If the mentor is unable to answer a question, it is
referred to a tutor with superior subject expertise, who
returns a full answer to the learner by e-mail within a
(PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 2000: 23-4)
• Will we end up with flexibility of
(This is still more support than you‟d get on a
• What‟s the opposite of
o Ad hoc?
‘Good’ associations Gets on on his/her own
Stands on his/her own feet
Willing to listen
Able to take in feedback
‘Bad’ associations Won’t listen to advice
Unable to take in opposing
points of view to his/her own
Won’t take direction or
No ideas of his/her own
Needs to be told
• Morgan, via Thorpe, 2002
The problem of design
• Design is socially relative: it incorporates social terms
• Where design prefers particular groups, social
• Dominant technical codes, and the over-
determination of action: managerial control
• Room for maneuver as necessary and desirable in
Feenberg (e.g. 2010)
The ‘margin of maneuver’
Power expresses itself in plans which inevitably
require implementation by those situated in the
tactical exteriority. But no plan is perfect; all
implementation involves unplanned actions in
what I call the “margin of maneuver” of those
charged with carrying it out. In all technically
mediated organizations margin of maneuver is
at work, modifying work pace, misappropriating
resources, improvising solutions to problems and
so on. Technical tactics belong to strategies as
implementation belongs to planning.
(Feenberg, 1999: 113)
Power and interests
The flexible student is not a spontaneous occurrence.
Students (including full-time students) have been
engineered to become more „flexible‟ as a result of
policies, which have put more financial pressures on
them to work in particular ways. It has also the created
conditions under which the only way for many adults to
access higher education is via „flexible‟ modes of
delivery. In this sense, students are forced to become
„flexible‟ and the flexibility to which they are supposed to
conform is a particular pre-determined set of learning
practices or process.
(Clegg & Steel, 2002)
Flexibility or (ir)responsibility?
The emergence of [flexible lifelong learning] serves in these senses as
both cause and effect. On the one hand it enables both the
individualisation of responsibility for education or learning, and on
the other it enables the abolition of welfare obligations of states. […]
In this sense, lifelong learning is a market discourse that orientates
education to the enterprise society where the learner becomes an
entrepreneur of him/herself. What s/he becomes depends solely on
her/himself and the choices s/he makes. S/he is responsible for
her/himself. Such a model requires skills of self‐management and
record keeping so that demonstrations of established learning are
rendered transparent through audit. Ultimately lifelong learning shifts
responsibility from the system to the individual whereby individuals
are responsible for self‐emancipation and self‐creation. It is the
discourse of autonomous and independent individuals who are
responsible for updating their skills in order to achieve their place in
Do we desire structure?
Interpassivity is defined in relation to the more common
notion of interactivity, and refers to the way digital
technologies position people as responders. Žižek‟s prime
example is the tamagochi, the virtual pet that captivates
its carers by issuing orders: „the satisfaction is provided by
our being compelled to care for the object any time it
wants – that is, by fulfilling its demands‟ (1999a, p. 107). In
contrast to non-digital toys, such as dolls, which are passive
and pliable, the tamagochi is thoroughly active: „the whole
point of the game is that it always has the initiative, that
the object controls the game‟ (p. 108 – author‟s emphasis).
It is the process of delegating our agency to the game‟s
needs that sustains enjoyment.
Humans, and what they take to be their learning and
social process, do not float, distinct, in container-like
contexts of education, such a classrooms or
community sites, that can be conceptualised and
dismissed as simply a wash of material stuff and
spaces. The things that assemble these contexts, and
incidentally the actions and bodies including human
ones that are part of these assemblages, are
continuously acting upon each other to bring forth
and distribute, as well as to obscure and deny,
(Fenwick et al, 2011)
What is lost?
The campus is best thought of not simply as a constraint
but, to borrow Brown and Duguid‟s phrase, as a
„resourceful constraint‟ (Brown & Duguid 2000: 246), one it
would be premature to write off and which those
developing distributed learning need to take seriously.
The campus – or more generally, the co-location of
learners, teachers, labs, class-rooms, lecture theatres,
libraries and so on – refuses to lie down and die. […] Those
seeking to develop distributed education should
understand the support a campus setting gives the
educational process and should be prepared for the
necessity to find new ways of providing that support in a
distributed education context.
(Cornford & Pollock, 2005: 181, 170)
• Holley‟s work on students‟ non-engagement with a
• Biographic Narrative accounts of students‟
• Mismatches between students and tutor
expectations that form the basis for “portraits of risk”
o Expectations about Higher Education
o Views of learning space as private or social
o Their ability to control technology
“It‟s because I always wanted something that was
mine and, you know, when you‟re working and you
buy something with your first pay cheque, that
computer, I felt kind of good. I felt like I was working,
old enough, I‟d bought something to the family, so it
was something that I also did for them, as well as for
me. So it was something kind of precious. It was
something that I did for myself and for the rest of the
(Holley & Oliver, 2009)
Marco does not see himself as a typical student; this is
partly because of his part time work. He prefers the peace
and quiet of his home to study; student areas of the
university are noisy. […]
Marco is keen to use technology at a place and time of his
choosing, and he wants to keep the University side of his life
separate from the rest. He manages a combination of work
and study by strictly controlling the impact of his study to
regular periods when he has carved out the space, either
in his preferred location of home or the post-work period
when there is quiet in the office behind the bar. He is
blocking out time to create space, and giving up sleep to
enable him to continue to pursue his aims of a degree
while living in London and earning his own living.
(Holley & Oliver, 2010)
Joanne is a single mum [who] started University 6 years
ago, and had to give it up when she became pregnant
[…] The circumstances that allow concentration to occur
are typically when she has been able to split her time up
and create a learning space. Sitting down is important, in
the peace and quiet of the university library, away from
home. The space and freedom of the library is liberating for
Joanne, and offers her far more now as a mature learner
than it did previously as a young undergraduate. Online
materials help with creating the circumstances for
concentration, and Joanne prefers to make use of these.
The university has IT studios where she can sit and focus on
(Holley & Oliver, 2010)
Power, the changing role of the tutor and the
relationship between technology and flexibility all
feature strongly in the student narratives presented
here. What was novel, however, was the importance
of controlling spaces for learning. These accounts
showed how easily Charles was able to colonise new
spaces for study (at home and online) using principles
from his work in industry. […] The irony here is that the
online learning materials had been created to support
the widening participation agenda, yet in these
cases, it was the traditional „good‟ student who
(Holley & Oliver, 2010)
• “Digital literacies as a postgraduate attribute?”
o Led by Lesley Gourlay, IOE
• Survey data, focus groups, multimodal journalling
o 12 students, 3-4 interviews over 9-12 months
o Focus on understanding how students study – where, when, how
o Visual data, used to guide discussions
In my school, I… we had… our staff room was equipped…
one, two, three, four, five, six, seven… seven computers
now we can use and only one of them attached with a
printer. So, actually we‟ve got six PGC students over there,
so it‟s, kind of, everybody wants to get to that computer
where you can use the printer. Yes, so in the end I found
actually I can also use the printer from the library in the
So, six student teachers tried to use other computer. So, it,
kind of, sometimes feels a bit crowded. And when the
school staff want to use it, well, okay, it seems like we are
the invaders, intruders?
• Well-established approaches to designing
• Newer approaches to codifying and sharing
„patterns‟ and other formalisms
• An increasingly mature, outsourced and
taken-for-granted technical infrastructure
• But are we asking students to do more –
although only on our terms?
o Where have we given flexibility?
o What ambiguity has this introduced?
o What are we implicitly requiring students to do in
order to deal with this?
• Designing the learning architecture involves
managing the tension between structure and
• “Empowerment of learners” – all learners,
always…? Some…? (Coercing…?)
• We need to consider…
o Well established issues(learning objectives, assessment, etc.), and…
o Pedagogic structures – and who‟s responsible for deciding them
o Material and technical structures – and who‟s responsible for
providing them (BYOD? We always did…!)
o Ambiguities – and who‟s responsible for resolving them
o Whose interests are being served by doing this
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