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The Learning Science Podcast
Online learning is broken - is a new approach to learning design how we fix it?

Online learning is broken - is a new approach to learning design how we fix it?

The Learning Science Podcast, with Dr Phil

Transcript & images:
Hey folks! Welcome to this my first podcast as part of my Learning Science Newsletter - it’s great to have your here.

For the new subscribers who have joined us since last week - welcome! I’m Phil and I’ve been researching & experimenting with online & hybrid learning for over 20 years now, as an academic as an instructional designer and, more recently, as a Chief Learning Officer, VP Learning Product & founder in the world of ed tech. 

Today, I’m going to be talking about some of the fundamental problems that we face with online learning & exploring whether (or how far) we can solve this problem through changing how we think about and execute learning design processes. So, let’s go!

In the last decade, millions of us - from teachers, academics and learning designers to people in workforce training and individual content creators who want to share what they know and love with the world - designed online & hybrid courses. This is great news, but there's a problem: online learning is broken.

More and more platforms are being built every year, enabling more and more people to deliver learning experiences online.

However, the vast majority of the learning experiences that we create fail to engage, inspire & inform learners in the way that was intended: the average completion rate for online & hybrid learning experiences which aren’t mandatory continues to flatline somewhere between 7% & 14%, meaning that - astonishingly - drop-out rates for online learning sit somewhere between 86-93%.

The most interesting question, of course, is why? Why, despite our growing appetite and ability to build them, are our online learning experiences failing to meet anywhere near their potential?

Often it’s the technology & sometimes the content which get the blame: if only we had better online platforms and if only it was easier to make dynamic content more quickly, then things would be different and online learning would change the world.  

The Great Delivery Problem

While there is certainly an amount of truth to The Great Delivery Problem, there is a more fundamental but less obvious problem at play which - if we can resolve it - has the potential to transform online learning as we know it, regardless of the technology that we use to deliver it.  

Introducing: the Great Learning Design Problem

Put simply: there is a breakdown in communication and a lack of intersection between the science of learning on the one hand & the art of learning design on the other. On investigation, it doesn’t take long to see why.

Learning science research is very expensive: articles are locked behind multiple paywalls which mean it’s not readily accessible, especially so for those outside of academia.

Finding & reading research is incredibly time consuming: it often takes postgrad-level skills to source the right content and then to translate research data into actionable design practices.

If you do manage to access the research, read it and distill it into your design practices, the constantly evolving nature of the world of research means that your work to keep on top of it is never done.

The Great Learning Design Problem

What all of this inevitably means is that what we know about how humans learn is not being translated into learning design processes or practices, which helps to explain the 7%-14% average completion rates.

As I know first hand as a learning designer, in the absence of learning science, learning design tends to become a bit of a finger in the wind exercise; we’re forced to make critical design decisions about things like how to write and sequence outcomes, how to balance content and activity and how to select modes of delivery based on a combination of instinct, precedent & - if we’re honest - an amount of sheer guess work

But, interestingly, things are beginning to change. A small but important trend is underway which has started to reframe The Great Online Learning Problem as one of pedagogy rather than technology, and one of design rather than delivery.

The DOMS™️ Learning Design Framework

One example of this trend is the emergence and early success of the DOMS™️ Learning Design Framework - DOMS™️ being the acronym for the four stages of the process - Discovery work, Outcomes writing & sequencing, course Mapping & course Storyboarding.

For those who are familiar with existing learning design processes, DOMS™️ is essentially a post-ADDIE & SAM design framework for a pedagogy-first world: a simple, step by step method which makes it easy to apply the science of learning to the art of learning design.

The DOMS™️ Learning Design Process & Principles, based on 150+ peer-reviewed articles

So how does DOMS™️ work in practice? Well, at every stage of the 4-step design process, the DOMS™️ Framework provides people who design learning experiences with two things:

  1. A summary of peer reviewed research related to that stage.

  2. A set of design principles & concrete design practices, based on the research. 

So, for example, at the Outcomes stage of the process, the DOMS™️ Framework provides a summary of what the research says about effective outcome writing & outcome sequencing and it also explains how to apply the science of outcome-writing & sequencing to your design decisions in order to optimise your learning experience for leaner engagement, motivation & achievement.

Discovery: a summary of what the research says about effective discovery & how to apply the science of learner profiling to optimise your design for learner engagement & motivation

Outcomes: a summary of what the research says about effective outcome writing & sequencing & how to apply the science of outcome-writing & sequencing to optimise your design for leaner engagement, motivation & achievement

Mapping: a summary of what the research says about effective course formats and flows & how to apply the science of sequencing to optimise your design for engagement, motivation & achievement

Storyboarding: a summary of what the research says about how to select & design content, activities, assessments & feedback which optimise for learner engagement, motivation & achievement

The DOMS™️ Effect

So, does the DOMS™️ Framework work? Well, DOMS™️ has been tested in a number of contexts - including higher education, K12, workplace L&D and with individual content creators - with some great success.

In each case, using DOMS™️ resulted in 10X improvements in levels of learner engagement, retention, achievement & satisfaction, compared with designs created using alternative design processes like ADDIE & SAM or experiences designed using no defined process at all. 

The DOMS™️ Effect

Thanks to its simplicity and clarity, DOMS™️ has also proven to increase “time to design” - i.e. the speed of the end to end design process - by between 5X and 10X, when compared with alternative design processes.

Initial findings therefore suggest that DOMS™️ is delivering on its promise to solve the The Great Design Problem & help fix online learning by helping people who design learning experiences to connect the science of learning with the art of great, high-impact & truly-transformative learning design. 

Try the DOMS™️ Framework for Yourself

If you’d like to get hands on and try out DOMS™️ for your design work, you can join my Learning Science Bootcamp: a three week, hands-on, cohort based course during which you will design (or redesign) an online or hybrid course of your choice using the DOMS™️ Framework supported by me, guest experts and the rest of our cohort.

The next cohort kicks off July 11th & applications are open now - come and join me!

Apply Now

For now, happy designing! 👋

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Dr Phil's Newsletter, Powered by DOMS™️ AI
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Connecting the science of learning with the art of learning design
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Dr Philippa Hardman