There is an ongoing interest in the area of learning design, as both process and product. The process of learning design itself is the activity of putting together one or more learning activities in a way that is intended to facilitate learning outcomes. The product is the artifact such as a lesson plan, course blueprint or more complex notational or representational scheme intended to be assistive or reusable, and in more extreme cases executable or “runnable” in a software, LMS application or HTML environment.

Since the early IMS and EML connection in the late 90s and early 00s, efforts have been under way to develop a such a common method, language or notational system to represent pedagogy and its processes or products. The intended purposes have been varied, ranging from supporting faculty in the use of educational technologies, to unifying the various educational strategies in universities by creating a set of technology-supported learning experiences and artifacts.

Early iterations of learning design projects were focused on a traditional model of the individual learner in isolation, without regard for the collaboration and community building enabled by a wider use of Internet tools and methods. As a natural outgrowth of the interest at that time in the development of shareable content objects or reusable learning objects, it soon became apparent that learning object metadata needed to include a description of how they were intended to be used, and without this type of pedagogical context any attempt at a semantically based discovery method would be problematic. Further, importing these objects into learning management systems seemed fairly pointless without the use of a standard for sequencing, hierarchically or otherwise, within a learning pathway (depending of course on the granularity of the object and whether or not – say at a course level – the context would be apparent if not already built in).

New LD models continue to emerge and be tested, with the recognition that approaches to teaching online as well as in a blended classroom formats have changed over the past decade. We now see many flavours of attempts being made at this, more some successful than others. They have a wide variety of purposes, formats and structures. Automation of course design? Sharing of best practices? What’s going on? Over the next number of postings this topic will be looked at more closely – in a process of thinking and reflecting aloud about learning design research today and what it means.