Learning Design

In our role as the College's learning design unit, our team works with faculty members associated with the College of Earth and Mineral Science’s academic departments to design, create, maintain, and evaluate online programs offered to adult professionals worldwide.

What is learning design?

Learning design focuses on the connection between what to teach and how best to teach it. Our learning design faculty have graduate-level training in instructional systems design, educational psychology, curriculum and instruction, adult education, or a related education field. Their educational background enables them to create effective, efficient, and appealing instructional resources in partnership with College faculty. This means that every online resource we create is informed by tested pedagogical and androgogical (adult learning) learning theories and practices.

Course Development

We use a team approach to course development. While team makeup varies depending on the type and scale of a given project, the learning design team generally consists of the following individuals:

  • Faculty author(s)
  • Learning designer
  • Assistant learning designer
  • Multimedia specialist(s)
  • Technical editor
  • Programmer/analyst

To deliver our course content, we use Drupal, an open source, web-based content management system. We also employ several education-specific Drupal modules developed by the College of Arts and Architecture’s e-Learning Institute. Drupal works by storing content in a database. Text and images are entered online in an editing environment that is much like any popular word processing software. By using this environment, it is easy for faculty to quickly add or change content, without needing to know HTML. Even students can be given permission to contribute content to a course!

We also use Canvas, the University’s course management system, in course delivery. Canvas is typically used for its communication tools, gradebook, course roster, calendar, dropboxes, and quizzing tools. Students spend the majority of their online course experience in the course’s Drupal environment, switching to Canvas only for specific tasks like assignment submission or to participate in a graded online discussion. Links between Drupal and Canvas make this transition easy. Likewise, many courses link to other Web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs and Adobe Connect or Zoom, as part of the learning experience.

Examples of EMS online courses are located through the College’s open educational resources initiative (open.ems.psu.edu), where faculty authors make courseware freely available to informal learners worldwide.

To learn more, see The Online Course Development Process.

Overall Design Goals

Throughout the learning design process, there are key design goals to be considered:

  • Scalability to large enrollments when appropriate
  • High retention rates
  • High student satisfaction
  • High faculty satisfaction
  • Positive peer reviews of teaching
  • Project sustainability

Additional design considerations include:

  • Enhancing the student experience and learning effectiveness
  • Personalizing the learning environment
  • Keeping students and faculty “connected”
  • Employing data-driven decision making
  • Enabling work-integrated / experience-integrated learning