Time-limited project approachs

Today, I was asked to do a last-minute presentation on my teams approach to course and module design for online and flexible programmes. The main aim is to get the right people in the room and create space to take them through a practical approach based on what we know to work and addressing what has gone wrong in the past. 

In the presentation, I focused on three key characteristics of the approach;

  1. Parkinson’s law where work expands to fill the time allocated 
  2. Capabilities Maturity Model, where we formalise and optimise the process to reliably and sustainably produce required outcomes
  3. Design thinking, a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test.

Parkinson’s law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. The more time we allocate to a task, the more of it we waste, the less time we assign, the more efficient we have to be, cutting out anything that is not essential to getting the job done. When a deadline is far away, we tend to spend some of our available time in active procrastination or giving away the time to other demands. It is only when a delivery date approaches that we ruthlessly trim anything non-essential to complete the task and constrain our activity to what matters. Restricting the delivery time allotted to only what is needed to complete the task creates focus.

Once we have trimmed the time, we need to use a defined series of actions to help get the outcome required. Process maturity refers to the extent to which the process is managed, defined, measured, and controlled to ensure a reliable and sustainable development each time the process is used. As a manager, I need to know that no matter who is assigned to a project, I can have confidence that a certain level of service and quality is achieved; a mature process with frequent feedback loops supports this. The Capability Maturity Model has five levels;

  1. Initial: Unpredictable and reactive – each individual runs each project based on their own with little standardisation
  2. Managed: Project management – projects are dealt with in a systematic and organised way
  3. Defined: Proactive – standards and process are provided across all projects
  4. Quantitatively managed – Measured and controlled – metrics are used to monitor and improve performance and provide a predictable level of quality
  5. Optimising: Stable and flexible – feedback loops offer continuous improvement and the ability to be agile and innovative.

Design thinking is a structured approach to product development and provides the process that the capability maturity model fits around. There are three broad phases; First, you understand the problem, explore possible solutions, and then finally materialise the selected outcome. Within these three phases, there are six main activities;

  • Understand
    • Empathise: carry out research such as interviews and observations to understand the user or client and their stories.
    • Define: use the research to write a clear definition of the problem. This might include user personas that use cases.
  • Explore
    • Ideate: Divergent thinking is used to generate as many possible solutions without judgment. Then, Convergent thinking is carried out, with each idea evaluated, and the best is chosen. 
    • Prototype: A version of the solution is created to test the idea with the user or client. This might be as simple as a paper prototype on a series of slides or a one-page document, or a quickly generated but fully working minimum viable product.
  • Materialise
    • Test: The prototype is put in front of users to refine and validate the proposed solution. 
    • Implement: The solution is built and delivered to users.

To illustrate the approach, I used three examples;

  • Example 1: Google’s Design Sprints
  • Example 2: The universities Course Design sprints
  • Example 3: My teams adapted ABC Module Design Workshop

Time-limited approaches to projects work as they create focus. A mature process optimises the time available, and divergent and convergent thinking produces better ideas. Testing the solution allows a design to be refined and validated before it is released.

Limiting delivery times and defining the process is effective once working, but the transition creates challenges. The first is that those implementing the changes need to build credibility, so they are trusted. Most people know how they want to solve a problem and can be resistant to a design process they see as unnecessary and overly structured. Finally, most people are busy but are unpracticed at estimating how much time something takes to complete; they tend to panic when they see work in clearly defined packages and want to ‘just get work done.

How many hours does it take to transform a campus-based university module to online learning?

recent post on WONKHE, the higher education policy news site stated that it takes 80 hours to convert an existing module into an online or blended one. WONKHE gave no details for where this number came from other than academics had repeatedly mentioned it as the time required.

This comes as no surprise; speaking with hundreds of educators across the sector, we know that, on average, it will take 80 hours to transform a module from face to face delivery with lectures and seminars to high quality online or blended delivery.


I want to do a thought experiment for fun as to where these hours might go. I will make many assumptions, so comment at the bottom to correct me or suggest better hypotheses to use. 

My first assumption is that the 80 hours are on top of the existing workload allocation. The module team would use the standard hours for prep and delivery of live (synchronous) learning and facilitation of on-demand (asynchronous) learning.

Assuming the average university module is 20 credits, and one credit is equal to 10 hours of notional learning, students should spend 200 hours on average completing each module. 

The term ‘notional learning time’ is used to denote all time expected to be spent by a student in pursuit of a higher education qualification. This includes independent study and reading, preparation for contact hours, coursework, revision and summative assessment. This term is used because the actual time that learners need to achieve designated learning outcomes varies considerably. Notional study time of ten hours per credit is the agreed tariff that higher education providers use in designing their programmes and learning outcomes for higher education qualifications, with 360 credits making up an honours degree.


Let us assume that a module might be delivered over half an academic year, over 15 weeks, with a one hour lecture and two one hour small group seminars per week as contact time. That would mean that the academic would have 45 hours of teaching time to convert from campus-based to entirely online or a blend of online and campus-based. The other 155 hours would be made up of independent study and working on assessments. This conversion is due to the pandemic, so the independent study and assessment would probably not change too much, even if the assessment is transformed from a three-hour exam to a 24-hour open book exam done remotely.

So, 80 hours to convert 45 hours of teaching to online learning.

Let us further assume that the seminars will stay live (synchronous) through Microsoft Teams or Zoom or, if they are lucky with rooming and social distancing, stay live on campus. That gives us 15 hours of online content and activities to create to replace lectures. 

So, 80 hours to convert 15 hours of teaching to online learning. Suppose the academic spends four hours redesigning their module through a workshop activity like ABC, and six hours of training and experimentation to use the software. In that case, this gives our fictional academic 70 hours to create 15 hours of online content and activities for our made-up module.

70 hours of development time to produce 15 hours of video content, text, activities, and self-mark questions mean 4 hours and 40 minutes of development time per hour of online learning. 

Let us say that each one hour lecture is 40 minutes of content and then 20 minutes of discussion and answering questions on an audience response tool like Mentimeter. If we allocate 40 minutes of development time to set up a discussion forum and convert the questions to the VLE quiz tool, that leaves four hours to develop four ten minute videos or one hour per ten-minute video.

To sum up, a Module Leader might spend 80 hours converting their existing module to online:

  • 6 hours of training
  • 4 hours of design using the ABC model
  • 70 hours creating content
    • 1 hour for each 10-minute video
    • 40 minutes for each 20 minute activity time

This is a tough ask for academics that may not have the digital skills or technology at the start of the pandemic to transform their modules in just 80 additional hours. It is important to note that these 80 hours will not have been given to academics within their usual workload but instead done on top of everything else.

Let me know what you think in the comments or via Twitter if you want some discussion.

The basics of learner analytics

Each time a student logs into your institutions Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), a new session is logged in its database. The summary of login information can be helpful to assess student engagement over time. Three metrics are beneficial:

  1. Average session duration: The average time students are active on the VLE for each login.
  2. Frequency: how often a student logs in over a given period, such as a week or month.
  3. Recency: The duration since the last session on the VLE.

You can use the average session duration to assess if students are engaging longer with their online learning. This metric requires your VLE to accurately measure when the student is active and does not just have the VLE open in a tab while watching Youtube.com. Average session duration is beneficial at the course or module level to track the time students are on the VLE against the expected time and at the institution level to track progress from year to year.

The average frequency of sessions is a good marker for how engaged students are on a course. You may set expectations of how often a full-time student is supposed to log in, at least once per working day, for instance, and then you can track against this. 

Identifying students at risk of dropping out of a course is crucial as they may need support. Tracking students who have not logged into the system for a set number of days, say five during term-time on a full-time course, will allow you to identify students who might need academic or pastoral help. The recency table will help you determine how long it has been since students last logged in and show the number that falls outside your expectations. 

For these three metrics to be valid, you need to have trust in their accuracy; this includes the technical accuracy of how they are tracked and how it captures all the online activity a student might complete. Other metrics can help, but these are a great starting point.


I completed my degree part-time while working full-time in my early thirties. One of the first modules I took was Introduction to Economics, which had pre-calculus level maths as a prerequisite. I had taken an AS in mathematics at school ten years before but had not done anything since. I found Khan Academy on the internet and started to work through the knowledge map towards my goal. The site used rudimentary gaming principles, including rules; you used to need ten questions correct in a row to ‘master’ the skill. It also required you to set goals, provide feedback, and give rewards. I spent four to six intensive weeks relearning maths from the ground up and complete my economics module.

Gamification is the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts. It can also be defined as a set of activities and processes to solve problems by using or applying the characteristics of game elements.


The three core elements of gamification:

  • Points as visual identifiers of progress and provide meaning and purpose
  • Badges display and reward achievement
  • Leaderboards present competitive placement as a sign of social status

Gamification in education attempts to add elements of fun into learning by making lessons into games. Games are motivating; sports were created to keep people motivated to stay fit and healthy, and Games like chess help people learn strategy. By making learning more fun, it can potentially become more engaging.

Kahoot is an excellent example of simple gamification in education. Kahoot is a multiple choice quiz tool that teachers can use in live sessions to use a leaderboard to motivate students. Students use their mobile phones to follow along with the teacher’s questions and are scored on the speed of their correct answers. A leaderboard is presented after each question showing the highest-scoring students self-assigned title providing a level of anonymity where needed. 

Yu-kai Chou provides eight universal core drivers of gamification in the Octalysis model framework described in Actionable Gamification

  1. Meaning – the desire to feel that our actions have purpose
  2. Accomplishment – The drive to achieve and overcome challenges
  3. Empowerment – The desire to choose one’s own direction and try a variety of solutions to a problem
  4. Ownership – The desire to own things and have possession
  5. Social Influence – The drive to interact with, help, learn from, and compete with others
  6. Scarcity – The drive of wanting things you can’t have
  7. Unpredictability – The drive of wanting to know what will happen next, and…
  8. Avoidance – The drive to avoid pain or negative consequences.

The UX knowledge base has a three-part series on gamification that is worth a read if you are interested in learning the basics: 

How would you go about becoming an expert at designing online learning?

I read a tweet this morning that asked; if you could be in the 1% of experts for any skill, what would that be? I have been building my skills in the design of online learning for several years, so it got me thinking about what expertise looks like in my field. I wrote the following question at the top of a page and started to make a list. 

How would you go about becoming an expert at designing online learning? 

Here are my steps to developing expertise in the design of online and blended learning courses. If you have questions or what to add to the list, message me on Twitter.

  1. Follow a documented set of learning and design principles
  2. Develop a model for estimating effort and costs
  3. Follow a repeatable development process
  4. Know the fundamentals of project management and follow them religiously
  5. Treat the course creator like the hero of the story, support them and collaborate.
  6. Have a Quality Assurance process linked to the design principles
  7. Set clear expectations for students, create metrics to monitor against these, and have interventions in place when they are not met.
  8. Collect and analyse lots of data and user feedback
  9. Iterate, iterate, iterate
  10. Frequently update your learning and design principles, costing model, and development process

Notes: Firstly, I have explicitly focused on the design of courses and separated this from the very different development and delivery skills. Secondly, I have taken some liberties by putting all the learning and design principles into a single step. These two areas are vast and cover everything from accessibility and user experience to psychology and learning and teaching models. Thirdly, within the third step of following the development process, I currently prefer to use the rapid prototyping model that follows the Design thinking steps, including the creation of student personas, and UCL’s ABC workshop for mapping out the course. Finally, this is the first attempt at a list, and I might wake up tomorrow and realise I have missed a whole section of the field and need to update this list. If you are in the area already or are interested in developing your expertise, then I hope this list is useful.

If you have questions or want to add to the list, message me on Twitter. I would love to see other peoples lists for building expertise in the design of online courses too.

Linkedin Learning’s Workplace Learning Report 2021

Linkedin released their 5th annual Workplace Learning Report today. The findings are collected from Linkedin’s learning and development survey, completed by over 5,000 professionals across 27 countries.

65% of L&D pros have a seat at the exec table, up from 24% last year. This increase is mostly due to the need’s for remote working during the pandemic. 57% of L&D professionals say learning & development as moved from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘need to have’.

The focus of Learning and Development in companies in 2021 is upskilling and reskilling, with 59% of companies saying this is their priority. The need for new skills can be partly attributed to the digitalisation of many roles. According to the World Economic Forum, 85 million jobs will be displaced, and 97 million new jobs will be created globally by 2025 due to computing playing a larger part in many businesses. The pandemic has accelerated many companies plans for digitisation and the training staff to take advantage of the new technologies. Leadership and management (53%), Virtual onboarding (33%), and Diversity and inclusion (33%) are the other most common priorities. The two most essential skills are resilience and digital fluency to address the pace of change. 

The skills gap created by increase technology in the workplace has lead companies to focus more on internal mobility, giving employees extra motivation to engage in learning and development. 51% of UK companies now say that internal mobility is more important now that pre-pandemic. To support internal employee progression, 39% of L%D professionals are currently identifying skills gaps in their organisation, and 33% are developing tools to help develop programmes targeted at upward or adjacent moves of employees within the company. The report suggests that employees at companies with high internal mobility stay almost twice as long; an average of 2.9 years for low internal mobility companies and 5. years where internal mobility is high. 

Community is becoming a crucial part of learning programmes. At Linkedin learning’s internal programmes, learners who used the platform’s social features watched an average of 30 times more content. This mirrored in the feelings of Learning and Development professionals in the survey. 84% said that learning is more engaging when done with other people, 94% said that it is more successful, and 95% said it helps create a sense of belonging. 

Linkedin Learnings own programmes have seen a 58% increase in users in the last year to 25 million global users; each user is watching on average twice the number of hours. Generation Z, born between 1995-2010, are the top uses of Linkedin Learning, growing 2.5 times the number of users in this bracket, and they are watching 50% more hours.

The five most popular Linkedin Learning courses for learning and development professionals:

  1. Instructional Design Essentials: Models of ID by Joe Pulichino
  2. Articulate Storyline Essential Training by Daniel Brigham
  3. Instructional Design: Storyboarding by Daniel Brigham
  4. Converting Face-to-Face Training into Digital Learning by Daniel Brigham
  5. Measuring Learning Effectiveness by Jeff Toister

Gravity Assist, the Office for Students new digital teaching and learning review

On the 25th of February, The Office for Students released their digital teaching and learning review paper titled Gravity assist: propelling higher education towards a brighter future. The report states that in November 2020, 93% of undergraduates and 89% of postgraduate students received most or all their learning digitally. The scale of change is impressive when you consider that 47% of the academics questioned had no digital teaching experience before the pandemic. Universities have done in weeks what most had planned to do over the next five to ten years.

The sudden move online has effected teaching student satisfaction; 67% of students polled said they were content with their digital teaching, and 61% said it was in line with their expectations. 29% of students said teaching was worse than expected, and 48% said they had not been asked for feedback on teaching by their institution. The lack of satisfaction can be explained by only 21% of teachers saying they were very confident they had the skills to design and deliver digital teaching and learning, and 20% are not confident in their skills for the new teaching methods.  

Some of the changes enforced by lockdowns will have a lasting impact on the workplace and the classroom. The report found that 70% of academic staff think digital learning and teaching represent exciting future delivery opportunities. The report suggests five key benefits of online learning: increased flexibility, personalised learning, increased career prospects, pedagogical opportunities, and global opportunities.

The six components of successful digital teaching and learning

The paper provides a model for good digital learning and teaching. The model involves six core components to help universities define quality online and blended learning and then create a plan to achieve it:

  1. Digital teaching must start with appropriately designed pedagogy, curriculum and assessment.
  2. Students must have access to the right digital infrastructure.
  3. Good access enables staff and students to build the digital skills necessary to engage.
  4. Technology can then be harnessed strategically, rather than in a piecemeal or reactive way, to drive educational experience and outcomes.
  5. Inclusion for different student groups must be embedded from the outset.
  6. All the elements need to be underpinned by a consistent strategy. 


The lessons identified by the gravity assist paper and the core components generated from them have been condensed into a set of recommendations for high-quality digital learning:

  1. Redesign pedagogy, curriculum and assessment
    1. Design teaching and learning specifically for digital delivery using a ‘pedagogy-first’ approach.
    2. Co-design digital teaching and learning with students at every point in the design process.
    3. Seize the opportunity to reconsider how assessments align with intended learning outcomes.
  2. Ensure digital access
    1. Proactively assess students’ digital access on an individual basis and develop personalised action plans to mitigate any issues identified.
    2. Build learning and procure technology around the digital access actually available to students, not the access they would have in a perfect world
  3. Build digital skills
    1. Communicate clearly to students the digital skills they need for their course, ideally before their course starts.
    2. Create mechanisms that allow students to track their digital skills throughout their course and allow these skills to be recognised and showcased to employers.
    3. Support staff to develop digital skills by incentivising excellence and continuous improvement.
  4. Harness technology effectively
    1. Streamline technology for digital teaching and learning and use it consistently as far as possible.
    2. Involve students and staff in decisions about the digital infrastructure that will be used and how it will be implemented.
    3. Foster a culture of openness to change and encourage calculated risk-taking.
  5. Embed inclusion
    1. Review and evaluate whether provision is inclusive and accessible.
    2. Design inclusively, build a sense of belonging and complement this with tailored support for individual students.
    3. Adapt safeguarding practices for the digital environment
  6. Plan strategically
    1. Ensure a strong student voice informs every aspect of strategic planning.
    2. Embed a commitment to high-quality digital teaching and learning in every part of the organisation.
    3. Proactively reflect on the approach to the digital and physical campuses.

Six actions for 2021-22

Universities are currently planning the 2021/21 academic year, and the paper included a checklist of considerations that align with the recommendations.

  1. Assess students’ digital access on a one-to-one basis and address issues before learning is lost
  2. Inform students what digital skills they will need
  3. Involve students in designing teaching and learning
  4. Equip staff with the right skills and resources
  5. Make the digital environment safe for all students
  6. Plan how you will seize the opportunity for the longer-term

The paper is not regulatory guidance, but the clear message is that Universities should be moving to blended learning long-term. Institutions should be reflecting on the progress and challenges of the 2020/21 academic year and use the recommendations to plan out the future direction of their delivery model.

There is a big focus on digital access and skills for students. The access recommendations include assessing students’ digital access on an individual basis to put in place mitigations that allow them to continue learning, and design learning around the technology students have available. Simple solutions include:

  • Stating a courses technology needs for students before they start.
  • Creating accessible materials.
  • Considering bandwidth limitations.
  • Making asynchronous alternatives to live events available to students with limited or unreliable internet.  

The six actions do not present anything surprising, but this might represent an acknowledgement of the work that has been done this year by academics and professional services staff to move to online and blended learning. The one notable exception is within action three, to have a mechanism to involve students in learning design beyond the usual feedback opportunities. Each of the action points for co-design involves student feedback, so it is not clear if students should be directly involved in learning design or just an effort to increase the feedback collected and a need for increased responsiveness to it. What is clear is that student feedback needs to far more regular than mid-module and the end of module reviews, and academic will have to be prepared to update their delivery quickly in response.

You can read the full report on the Office for Students website. Let me know on Twitter what you think.

The MBA where your teacher is a machine

Quantic.edu, formally Smart.ly, is an online MBA programme built by a former CEO of the Rosetta Stone language learning company. It is based on self-paced learning driven by questioning and then supported by live sessions for traditional discussion of case studies and group work. The aim is to make high-quality education cheaper, quicker, cheaper, and better at delivering outcomes. They have taken the learning by testing idea that has made Rosetta Stone so successful and repurposed it to help people learn business skills. 

To make education cheaper, the programmes primary instructor is software, which is then supported by live classes with humans. Around 80% of the cost of a degree in America is staff costs, so replacing the lecture with self-paced learning allows Quantic to offer their Executive MBA for just $9,600, significantly cheaper than other similar programmes. The programme is also quicker, taking 11 months to complete compared to the 18-24 months of a regular executive MBA. 

The company offers its regular MBA for free to the student. It acts as a recruiter, placing its graduates in jobs with tech firms like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook, looking for a talented individual, and then charges the company a recruitment fee. They have been innovative with their admissions process too. Once a prospective student applies, they have to go through the self-paced business Foundations’ courses in the period before their submission is accepted, with the engagement in these courses being a part of the acceptance criteria.

The real innovation is in their active learning teaching method. The website states that there is individualised feedback every eight seconds. The free course I took averaged around fifty words to a page and taught through questioning the questions’ difficulty gradually increasing as your confidence builds. These tests are presumably ‘low stakes’, meaning your answers are not recorded, but rather it’s part of the teaching method to give regular feedback and allow you to get it wrong and provide the solution to correct you.

Research – just as good as a traditional MBA

A July 2016 study by Stanford University academics compared learning from Quantics’s online model to on-campus MBAs for finance and accounting modules. Quantic participants took a pre-test, completed a self-paced course, and then took a post-test. On-campus MBA students took only the post-test. The study concludes that ‘Preliminary analyses show learners in the Quantic groups performed as well as or better than MBA participants at post-test.’

The Quantic students improve an average of 29 percentage points in accounting and 33 percentage points in Finance from pre-test to post-test. The average post-test score was 86% (accounting) and 82% (Finance), which was 11% higher for accounting and 1% higher for Finance than the on-campus MBA students’ scores in the same test. Students also like it; Quantic received similar net promoter scores to Harvard and Wharton MBA programmes in the study but has since improved on this by introducing their blended model that supports machine-driven learning with live classes.

“This study supports the assertion that some of the foundational accounting and financial concepts taught in traditional brick-and-mortar MBA program can be learned independently, online through Pedago’s targeted Quantic active-learning courses. Significant improvement in students’ knowledge can be gained in as little as two hours of engagement with these courses.” Quantic efficacy study

The self-paced courses are not enough on their own. The study suggests that the materials be used as part of an MBA programme that includes cohort-based elements alongside. The two suggestions were for the machine taught content to acts as introductory materials before the MBA starts or as prerequisites to live sessions in a flipped learning approach.

If acting as introductory materials at the start of the course, they can enhance students understanding of fundamental ideas in hard to learn areas or bring students up to a similar starting level—the Prerequisite work for blended-learning classes. If used as prerequisite learning between live sessions, it can leave instructors more classroom time to explore case studies and interact with peers in group work. 

Podego – The tesla of education – cheaper and quicker to learn 

Quantic is run by Pedago, a private company that aims to ‘build an end-to-end talent engine.’ They state that the fourth industrial revolution is leading to disruption of the labour market, removing or changing the jobs people do, and that technology can help people become smarter and re-skill in the new job market.

Education + career matching = Talent engine


They want to be the ‘Tesla of education’, using technology to making it cheaper and quicker to learn new skills, using technology and new approaches. One such method is eliminating the lecture and replacing it with discovery-based learning, replacing the lecturer with a computer, and focusing on interactivity and personalised feedback and progression, supported by live online classes with humans.

They state that Quantic is the worlds first accredited, machine taught degree and that it is specifically designed for access on mobile as that is where modern students want to learn. Their MBA is their first course and acts as a proof of concept and aim to move into teaching programming, blockchain, robotics, and other subjects that represent a skills gap in the economy. 

The Education company of the future

MAKE IT ACCESSIBLE: We’re mobile-first, platform-agnostic, self-paced, and easily-translatable into every major language.

MAKE IT AFFORDABLE: We remove the cost barrier and the heavy student debt burden, ensuring access regardless of socioeconomic status.

MAKE CREDENTIALS VALUABLE: We admit students for degrees and certificates based on prerequisites and prospects for employment.

TIE IT TO CAREER: We link education directly to its ultimate benefit, motivating financial gain, career advancement and personal fulfilment.

MONETISE ON THE EMPLOYER: We help companies match with the ideal job-seeking student, with the desired skills, education, and culture fit, paying upon a successful hire in our career network.


I highly recommend you sign up for their free courses and experiment with the Quantic learning method. If I took anything from exploring a couple of their introductory courses, it was the idea of tracking the number of interactions a student gets in their on-demand content. Self-paced learning in courses is essential to make the class time more valuable but can often rely too heavily on content and not enough testing. Moving to a metric of ‘seconds per interactions’ might be too much of a jump for current HE lecturers, but ‘minutes per interaction’ might improve the student experience significantly. 

Three Pedagogic approaches

Most people teach as part of their everyday lives and become good at it. They develop their teaching as an art, learning to explain things clearly, be patient, sharing just enough but not too much, and learning to read people to see if they have understood. For those who teach as a profession, we must take this art and add science to approach teaching systematically. This science helps us understand how learning happens, how to organise teaching to improve its effectiveness, what works for learners, and how we assess that learning occurred.

Pedagogy the method and practice of teaching that attempts to collect the science of learning into practical application. Three common types of learning pedagogies are: 

  • Didactic
  • Authentic
  • Transformative.

Didactic pedagogy is an effective method for large scale education in groups and teaching the basics of education, such as reading, writing, and discipline. It is a teacher-led approach where they, along with textbooks, are the authority of knowledge, and students absorb this knowledge presented to them often with little critical investigation or questioning of the source. University modules that involve a series of lectures and readings followed by a written exam where the student is questioned on the material is an example of didactic pedagogy.

Authentic pedagogy is learner-centred and expects the student to participate in the knowledge transfer and understand the learning through real-life experiences. There is less emphasis on learning through repetition but rather through building understanding from the ground up through self-direct inquiry, problem-solving, and reflection. This can be a slow and involved process, it requires a solid base of the basics, and not everything needs a deep level of understanding. Inquiry-based learning is an excellent example of authentic pedagogy. Students are given questions, problems, or scenarios and are expected to do their own research and then present their findings. 

Transformative pedagogy recognises the changing nature of technology and modern society and that knowledge may not currently exist to address what students need to learn. Instead, transformative approaches focus on problem solving, co-design, and producing new knowledge. One method of transformative pedagogy is project-based learning, where students are presented with a question or issue as a starting point; they then have work to produce a product to address it.  

These three teaching approaches have a place in the modern classroom and in preparing students for the world after university. There is a level of basic facts, knowledge and processes that are needed. Students then need to learn to question authority and established norms to develop a deeper understanding of the world. Finally, learners need to be able to deal with incomplete problems and generate new knowledge and approaches specific to the context they are in. If you were designing a higher learning course, you might even want to divide it into three discrete stages, building from didactic to authentic and finishing with transformative learning…  

Solving problems with the double diamond design process model

Traditional project management starts with a brief, and you go through several steps to get to a solution. In the Double Diamond, this is called the design phase and involves a period of divergence followed by convergence. The divergence and convergence process is done twice, first to go from problem to design brief, and second to go from the brief to the solution.

Divergence and convergence

The most crucial concept in solving any problem is to have multiple ideas and then chose the best. Before committing to a solution to develop, you need first to think up and test multiple ideas to find the best one.

Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.


Convergent thinking is the type of thinking that focuses on coming up with the single, well-established answer to a problem.


You will have done this process of divergent then convergent thinking in school many times. First, you brainstorming as many ideas as possible, not worrying about the quality of what you are writing, then you choose the ones that sound the most suitable and investigate them further. Finally, you select one single idea that performs best in your tests. This process was to train you on how to think about a problem and come to a solution.

Designing things right and designing the right things

Designing things right requires a design process where the problem definition is used to develop, test, and deliver a solution. You collate many potential solutions by generating ideas and then trying them. You can then deliver solutions that work to users and listen to their feedback to refine your solution further. 

The best designers spend time designing the right thing first by researching the problem to create a problem definition or design brief. You need to gain insights into the challenge through exhaustive research and then scope down the focus by exploring this research to come to a clear definition.

The Double Diamond design process model

The British Design Council published the double diamond as a visual representation of the design and innovation process in 2004, adapting it from similar iterative models used by IDEO and the divergence-convergence model. The aim was to produce a simple way to share a strategic approach to a design and innovation project. The Double Diamond was published alongside the Methods Bank resource to define the British Design Council’s innovation process.

The double diamond collects divergent and convergent thinking ideas and design principles and the Methods bank to create an innovation process that you can use in any field.

The design process has four stages:

  • Discover – question the problem and research to identify users needs
  • Define – make sense of the discovery phase findings to create a design brief
  • Develop – develop, test, and refine multiple potential solutions
  • Deliver – Select and prepare a final solution for launch

Design principles:

  • Be people-centred
  • Communicate visually and inclusively
  • Collaborate and co-create
  • Iterate, iterate, iterate

Methods bank

  • Explore: challenges, need, and opportunities
  • Shape: prototypes insights and visions
  • Build: ideas, plans, and expertise 

Learn more on the Design Council’s website.