Learning Spaces twilight walk on #ActiveLearning on Thursday – join us! #SpaceTwalk2020 #ALN


This is a reminder that this Thursday from 4pm-6pm (UK) our Active Learning Network at Anglia Ruskin University is conducting a learning space walk (#SpaceTwalk2020) and we encourage you to join us from wherever you are – walking in parallel on your own campus.

See the original blog post which sets out the theme.

Here’s the ‘map’ we’ll be using on our Cambridge campus: 20-01-16 leaning spaces walk map

See the Twalk Toolkit at https://melsig.shu.ac.uk/melsig/resources/twalk-toolkit to find out more about the Twalk model which allows us to walk and talk in parallel using social media.

If you want to plan your own route, here’s the plan:

Meeting point: e.g. a reception point, then:

  • Topic 1: Doing: a studio or performance-based environment
  • Topic 2: Being: a space in which the learners enact their learning
  • Topic 3: Belonging: somewhere the students congregate e.g. outside a lecture theatre
  • Topic 4: Becoming: a learning hub or library space
  • Topic 5: Connecting: corridors, twitter, employability centre, course office, Students Union

Remember! You can do this ‘on your own’ because you’ll be with us on the hashtag

I look forward to seeing you there.


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Identity and the D3BsC Model – a briefing

This post allows me to encapsulate ideas discussed here previously in a form that I hope is useful to you whether you are an academic or educational developer. It presents the D3BsC model in the form of a useful framework intended to support thinking about identity and how educators can support our students to feel part of their course and get the most from their time at University.

Please feel free to download and use this briefing: Identity and the D3BC model. Feedback to @andrewmid or via this site is always welcome.D3BC

The model is called the D3BsC model – Doing, Being, Belonging, Becoming and Connecting. In this model,

  • Doing describes enactment as a process of the learner constructing their identity;
  • Being describes acts of embodying learning;
  • Belonging describes the value placed on the social context by the learner;
  • Becoming describes the intentional and incidental acts of negotiating one’s identity; and
  • Connecting describes the social and semantic learning context and its roles in validating identity.

The model is being used again as a framework to support the learning walk on the 16th January 2020: see Space Walk #Twalk #ALN #activelearning

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Space Walk #Twalk #ALN #activelearning

Active Learning Network – Space Walk

16 January 2020, 16:00 – 18:00 GMT
Our Active Learning Network satellite group will be taking part in a Space Walk at Anglia Ruskin University and we hope others in the sector will join us by following the same walk – but on their campus! This can be achieved using the #Twalk model – divising a physical route on your campus that takes your walking group to similar types of spaces for the discussion points and connecting with others via a Twitter hashtag (#SpaceTwalk2020). See our Twalk Toolkit at https://melsig.shu.ac.uk/melsig/resources/twalk-toolkit to find out more about the Twalk model.

The initial draft itinerary is outlined below – but I will develop this with timings and a template for you to fill in with your campus details so your walking group members can have a printed ‘map’ to follow.

The walk will consider active learning spaces and take the theme of D3BC.

Doing, Being, Becoming, Belonging, and Connecting (D3BC)


Draft itinerary and handout information

Twilight Space Walk

a twilight walk from 4pm to 6pm, 16th January 2020.

Starting point: near to Reception desks at Helmore (Cambridge) and Lord Ashcroft Building (Chelmsford).

You are invited to take part in this Active Learning Network space walk. It takes the theme of Doing, Being, Becoming, Belonging, and Connecting (D3BC).

The walk will visit five locations – one for each theme (see below). At each location, you will be invited to discuss and share your ideas about active learning using the space we are in as a stimulus.  If you are interested in interacting in this way, we will use Twitter and other social media using the hashtag #SpaceTwalk2020 (you can leave that up to others if that’s not your thing).

We will use Twitter to connect between Cambridge and Chelmsford and we will be ‘joined‘ by participants from other universities where they will be conducting similar walks and exchanging thoughts. This method is known as a Twalk!

Initially, in pairs and then by sharing more widely, each theme will be discussed by the walking group at each location. The suggested location and question for each theme is as follows:


Location: (A studio or lab environment?) to be decided

Time: to be decided

Consider the affordances of this space. What does it invite the learner or their teacher to do that will engage the students in their learning?


Location: (a social learning space or somewhere where they exhibit their work or meet as a group)

to be decided

Time: to be decided

Consider how this space affects the student’s sense of self within the context of their area of study. In what ways might the space affect the student’s experience, their self-direction, or their self-determination in how they approach their study?


Location: (a corridor where students congregate e.g. outside a lecture theatre) to be decided

Time: to be decided

Consider active learning as a socio-material endeavour. How might this space foster a sense of belonging and a co-operative approach to active learning?


Location: (e.g. a learning hub or library space)

to be decided

Time: to be decided

Consider how students ‘come to know’ (Barnett, 2009). In what ways might this space be a site for the co-creation of knowledge and the development of the student’s identity as contributing agent?


Location: (twitter, employability centre, course office, Students Union,..) to be decided

Time: to be decided

Consider the learner as a negotiator and navigator of their learning, exploring and exploiting the connections available to them. How does this space signal to the student different ways for them to enact their learning by connecting with other people, by connecting ideas, or by connecting their course-long and course-wide learning experience?

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Universal design and #activelearning

Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/@derstudi

Following on from the previous post on Decolonising the active curriculum, this post looks more closely at some of the seven principles of universal design to explore how they can inform the active learning space – its pedagogy and physical-digital context.

Background and further links to universal design can be found in this useful Wikipedia article.

Note, the principles set out here are not specific to teaching and learning, but address usable design in general. I consider them in terms of their pedagogic use however.

I present each of the seven principles and its key points followed by a brief reflective commentary on active learning design.

The Seven Principles of Universal Design

Principle 1: Equitable use

The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

  • It provides the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible; equivalent when not.
  • It avoids segregating or stigmatizing any users.
  • Provisions for privacy, security, and safety are equally available to all users.
  • The design is appealing to all users.

Active learning commentary

Universality means we respond to either individuals or the whole group and we avoid categorising participants by any other extraneous typology. This means the academic can communicate expectations for the whole group more confidently, while recognising individuals will approach their learning according to their personal motivations, strengths and dispositions.

The learning environment should feel equitable and encourage peers to respond to each other as co-participants, not according to demographic biases. This reflects a professional ethos. This equitable basis is appealing to all users, if it can be enacted, because it preferences learning rather than irrelevant biases, assumptions and anxieties that can create barriers to learning.

Principle 2:  Flexibility in use

The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

  • It provides choice in methods of use.
  • It accommodates right or left handed access and use.
  • It facilitates the user’s accuracy and precision.
  • It provides adaptability to the user’s pace.

Active learning commentary

Active learning aims to promote learner self-direction, determination and autonomy. It should engage the learner through stimuli and should develop their sense of curiosity. The learner is an agent of their own learning, motivated as a navigator and negotiator to incrementally construct, reflect on, apply and make sense of their learning. This allows the learner to set and meet their own standards for excellent work, looking beyond extrinsic measures for quality.

Principle 3: Simple and intuitive use

Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

  • It eliminates unnecessary complexity.
  • It is consistent with user expectations and intuition.
  • It accommodates a wide range of literacy and language skills.
  • It arranges information consistent with its importance.
  • It provides effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.

Active learning commentary

The teacher’s role is to establish the learning context, set and clearly communicate tasks, and ensure the learning environment is rich, meaningful, challenging and full of feedback. Participants have the skills to confidently engage and access information and guidance as needed.

Principle 4: Perceptible information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.

  • It uses different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
  • It provides adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
  • It maximizes “legibility” of essential information.
  • It differentiates elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
  • It provides compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

Active learning commentary

While the learner assumes a navigator identity, the learner is clear about what is expected. The learner, in this respect, is scaffolded by information, signposting and other structures so that they can immerse themselves deeply in their topic and the task in hand.

Principle 5: Tolerance for error

The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

  • It arranges elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded.
  • It provides warnings of hazards and errors.
  • It provides fail safe features.
  • It discourages unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

Active learning commentary

Active learning is challenging, and both motivates and stretches the learner. The goals the learner strives to attain are not always attainable but the act of learning involves meaningful activities or processes that deliver deep learning outcomes nevertheless. Failure in an active learning space can have great value if the learner uses unmet goals as a learning opportunity.

Activities, such as projects, require a methodological approach with frequent opportunities for reflection and feedback.

Principle 6: Low physical effort

The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

  • It allows user to maintain a neutral body position
  • It uses reasonable operating forces.
  • It minimizes repetitive actions.
  • It minimizes sustained physical effort.

Active learning commentary

Active learning requires the learner to take a measured approach. While they are motivated, the learner should use and reflect on the strategies they use for undertaking activities effectively, being aware that their energy levels and the need to manage concurrent responsibilities.

Principle 7: Size and space for approach and use

Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

  • It provides a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
  • It makes reaching to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
  • It accommodates variations in hand and grip size.
  • It provides adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.

Active learning commentary

Active learning can be exhausting. Immersive learning environments can be mentally and physically demanding. Time and space for reflection and rest is needed to ensure learning happens and its implications for future application are considered.


The principles for universal design help the academic to design the effective active learning environment. The principles are useful for guiding any learner to engage effectively and realistically.

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Decolonising the active curriculum #activelearning


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

This post considers the need to decolonise the active curriculum. It follows on from ideas considered in the previous post on embodiment which concluded that advocates and practitioners of active learning must look deeply at the meaning of being student-centred. We must look beyond the meaning of simply ensuring the learner is more active in the classroom, or even the idea of the student as a co-creator of knowledge, to understand ideas like personalisation, inclusivity, diversity, and decolonisation, as well as embodied experience.


Personalisation is accommodated in the active curriculum by designing for learner agency and the expectation that the student is the ultimate arbiter of their learning because only they understand where they have come from, where they are going, and how what they are doing today fits into their personal schema. I used to think designing for each individual student was logistically impossible, but then I realised that this idea of differentiated design for each student is not what personalised design is about. It can be helpful to have differentiation strategies, such as extension work or further support activities and resources for those who need them. However, I think personalisation mostly involves:

  1. Avoiding over-specifying tasks or, more positively, creating ill-defined activities in which the learner makes decisions to ‘customise’ their version of the activity. This is why projects work, even amongst groups, because the task requires a degree of creativity and design thinking.
  2. Creating space for reflecting in and on learning; in effect, using an experiential strategy. Such reflection accommodates metacognitive engagement involving the learner critically evaluating their response to stimuli.

Note, expectations for engaging in ill-defined activities must be clear to students. It is always important that students are clear about what they are expected to do. Rather, some task design parameters and what they choose to look at are left open for them to specify to make the task ‘their own’.

The implications of this are that learning designers should heed the stimuli or interventions they use. Pedagogic interventions sit on a continuum of broad (e.g. lectures, set literature) to personalised (e.g. an artefact selected, created or negotiated by the learner themselves).

In this sense, decolonisation is about allowing for self-direction by letting go of specification or control. It is about appreciating the value of using stimuli to reflect the breadth and depth of an idea by engaging the breadth and depth of the participants being engaged in the investigation.

Personalisation and decolonisation go hand-in-hand. They are positive design strategies that release the curriculum from its traditional hierarchical and colonial limitations. It also allows the colony, or learning community, to become self-governing. In a learning context, a decolonising ethos leads us to an expectation for learner autonomy, co-operation, peer learning, co-construction of knowledge through co-creation and contribution. Decolonisation is essentially a key dimension of student-centred and active learning philosophy.

Decolonisation is a term rightly associated with BAME, gender and ability, but its broader meaning leads the designer to think about universal design. The challenge for the learning designer, facilitator or orchestrator is to create stimuli that become catalysts for a vibrant and diverse colony, empowering individuals and the social networks within which they belong.

Decolonisation provides a clear rationale for active learning, whether we are using a research-informed learning strategy or more of a problem-based and experiential approach. In active learning, the learner can be understood as a contributor and co-creator and, if nothing else, the effective teacher has access to a huge intellectual resource embodied in the experiences and ways of thinking available to the classroom.


Diversity partly concerns the social potential present with any group of people: the ‘2+2=5’ and ‘all for one and one for all’ factors. However, in my experience of educational discourse, diversity tends to surface as being a problem to do with individuals – a deficit discourse. No, diversity brings social benefits in ways that empower individuals. All individuals. Again, the design of ill-formed problems allows individual students to find learning purchase (i.e. self-direction) in order that they develop diverse, complementary valid responses of benefit to all.

This is why diversity must not be read as a deficit discourse. Diversity is necessary and helpful to active learning. It usefully explains ideas such as learning ecologies and student-centredness. A student-centred learning environment is one that accommodates and values the potential of each and every student, and the value of each student to their peer learning community.


The terms inclusivity and diversity are often used together as though they mean the same thing. Inclusivity tends to emphasise providing access to learning and being able to respond to student needs. A diversity discourse, on the other hand, tends to value difference for what it offers the learning environment.

The tacit and the hidden curriculum in plain sight

If we are to consider the active curriculum as one that is rich in its diversity, we need to pay particular attention to our unconscious bias as orchestrators and contributing participants to the learning environment. We must be sensitive to the unintended messages that may inadvertently undermine our best intentions. We must do our best to make visible and examine the hidden curriculum – those lessons that are learnt by students “…which are not in themselves overtly included in organizational arrangements and the formal curriculum ‘or even in the consciousness’ of those responsible for them (Kelly 1982:8).

From a diversity perspective, this sensitivity is less to do with specific ‘types’ of students (e.g. BAME as a ‘type’ as communicated by Kingston University drama students in a recent performance at our recent Course Leaders Conference), and more to do with common decency and equity as a principle for universal design (it avoids segregating or stigmatizing any users).


An active learning space is one in which the locus of control is distributed amongst its participants. The teacher’s role is to design stimuli which enable all students to contribute to the co-creation of knowledge in a respectful, trustful and diverse learning environment.


Kelly, A. V. (1982). The curriculum: Theory and practice. London: Harper and Row.

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Embodiment – physicality and presence in #activelearning


Photo by Chris Fuller on Unsplash

Imagine active learning.

What comes to mind for me is people, together, finding value and common purpose in each other. ‘People’ is a significant word in this description. It’s not an abstract notion of ‘learner’, it is a real, humanistic involvement in which each person brings their all – their multiple senses – to the situation.

An environment of self-actualisation

bell hooks (1994) refers to this as ‘engaged pedagogy’ coming from a holistic appreciation of the learning experience in which there is self-actualisation: first, the teacher’s self-actualisation, but ultimately the learner’s self-actualisation; a sense of self-recognition of one’s achievement in applying one’s full potential to a given situation. The implication of this is that, by conceiving the learning environment as a space for self-actualisation, the design of the space and the way in which the teacher engages the learner in that space is markedly different to a delivery-based teaching philosophy. The teacher’s conception of learning is not only active but student-centred: really student-centred, in a way that values individual difference. Specifically, teaching values the whole person and the learning event is essentially inclusive and highly appreciative of diversity.

Embodied learning

This brings us to the idea of embodied learning, which reflects learning as being of the moment; a lived experience. Knowledge is viewed holistically as something that is experienced continuously, affecting the whole person. It is learning as being in flux, ambiguous and subjective.

Embodiment describes knowledge as being bound to a person, their senses, their movement, and their engagement with their environment, culture and language, and its effect on self-understanding and empathy towards others (Baker & Janja, nd.).

Embodiment is often discussed quite literally as being about the body, and less about psychological engagement or presence. Literature on embodied learning theory regularly makes reference to sport, dance or other forms of bodily performance in which movement is the focus of assessment. Sharples (2019, p. 175), for example, draws attention to the physicality of learning, going on to relate embodiment theory to emerging learning technologies. “Embodied learning involves experiencing and controlling one’s body interacting with a real or simulated world. The aim is that physical feedback and bodily actions support learning.” Smart technologies and haptic technologies introduce new ways of thinking about how the body interacts with the real world and, through them, physicality can heighten a learner’s emotional and cognitive engagement. Haptic interfaces create a literal, tactile relationship between the body and cognition.

The title of my own blog, Tactile, makes some connection to this though here the connection of fingers to keyboard infers the decision-making act of thought transformed into writing in the presence of an audience.

Sharples acknowledges interaction with the material environment which “provides opportunities for action (called ‘affordances’) that our bodies detect and act upon by walking, running, hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, tasting.” (pp. 175-76)

Reviewing my own interests, I have been consistently driven by how the learning environment engages the learner fully in a sensual and emotional way whether that involves aural or oral senses, smart devices, or the third places deemed significant by each learner according to their own needs and preferences. In this way, we can acknowledge the learner’s physicality and presence in either the material or digital space, somewhere between or where and how spaces connect. This leads us to an appreciation of the polycontextuality of place and its effect on a student’s psychology, and vice versa.

For example, in my study of audio as a learning space over the years (e.g. educational podcasting in its various forms, digital storytelling, audio feedback, etc), my primary interest has been of embodiment through psychological presence. For example, embodiment created and felt through the receipt of personalised tutor-generated audio using the conduit of the learner’s headphones. Similarly, the reports of staff engagement with audio for learning in my research has revealed their desire to speak directly to/with each one of their students so as to make a difference to their lives by showing their interest and care. Tutors care for their students and audio, they say, creates a proximal channel for intimate personal support. This, by the way, is not purely altruistic; it is a reciprocal act about giving meaning and purpose to the academic too.

Embodiment theory finds connections with ideas such as experiential learning (Kolb, 1984), reflection in learning (Schon, 1984), situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991), agency (Bandura, 2006), critical pedagogy (Friere, 1973), and placemaking (O’Rourke & Baldwin, 2016).

Baker and Janja (nd.) identify several conditions from the literature that demonstrate embodiment in learning,

  • mindful awareness in the present lived experience and attuned senses and perceptions to engage with the lived experience to gain a greater awareness of qualities in experience (Eisner 2002, p. 231).
  • a strong emotional or ‘felt’ dimension in learning and meaning-making. They cite research that describes how “these physical memories and feelings, when evoked from lived experiences, have a strong influence on meaning which leads to action”;
  • sensorially enriched aesthetic experiences are linked with embodied emotion and embodied meaning – “this sensorial experience occurs when the person attunes their perceptions to the sensorial values and qualities in the world around them.” (p.7)

Embodiment, then, refers to an atmosphere or presence inherent in, or created in response to, the environment as an assemblage. Anderson (2009) posits the idea of ‘affective atmospheres’ and Sloterdijk (2009) explores ideas ‘spheres’. Sphere can be imagined as a bubble-like definition of space. Ash (2016, p. 94 ) discusses these ideas and notes that,“Developing aspects of Anderson and Sloterdijk’s account, we can define atmospheres as the effects, forces and affordances contained and brought into being by the specific objects that make up a sphere, which in turn create the appearance of objects as being discreet and spatially differentiated from one another.” So while we consider embodiment as being about the whole person, we can see the environment as being an assemblage of objects and people that together form a lively constellation with its own significance. He goes on to note that,

“Space can be understood as emergent from the relations and non-relations between objects, which in turn constitute a specific sphere. Objects, spheres and atmospheres are therefore linked to one another in processes of co-emergence.”

This notion resembles Actor-Network Theory (Latour, 1990).

Space, in relation to physicality, embodiment and spatial presence, can be considered as a playground full of latent experience and promise. It affects the subject’s presence, expectations, and imagination which is connected to a person’s emotional engagement with the world (Watkins 2000: Dirkx 2006) and thereby a factor in a person’s creative processes.


Beyond the physicality of space, bodies and objects, active learning is affected by the people who enact it, their values and sense of common purpose or alienation. As actors or objects in a constellation of objects, people exert an influence on each other and the situation as a whole. They have and are affected by social presence: the degree to which a student feels personally connected with others according to five experiential facets (Sung & Mayer, 2012):

  1. social respect (being noticed);
  2. social sharing (information and beliefs);
  3. social interaction;
  4. social identity;
  5. social intimacy.

Lowenthal (2010), in consideration of online learning, feels that definitions of social presence tend to lie on a continuum with a focus on interpersonal emotional connection between communicators being on one end and a focus on whether someone is perceived as being ‘present’, ‘there’ or ‘real’ on the other end. Perhaps, in consideration of presence in general, we may propose there is a similar continuum of affective and transactional influence.

The development of social presence in online, corporeal and blended learning spaces can counter potential feelings of anomie (Garrison & Anderson, 2003). Short et al. (1976), and Gunawardena (1995) concur, adding presence is concerned with “the degree to which a person is perceived as a ‘real person’ in mediated communication” or having a sense of heightened reality.


Active learning is as much about the psycho-social environment and its complex constellation of influences, as it about the methods and strategies we deploy as teachers and learners. Such a constellation forms a spatial body that allows us to develop an environmental framing of embodiment.

If active learning is believed to be student-centred and inclusive compared to other pedagogies, the teacher-designer must understand what bell hooks refers to as ‘engaged pedagogies’ and how they can accommodate the whole being of each person. Such design should not only be inclusive but should accentuate the value of a diverse and complex learning environment.

Indeed, this raises the challenge of subjectivity, hidden curricula, and assumed values in the design and orchestration of learning, space, and assessment, and the curriculum in general: a psycho-social view of embodiment not only identifies the value of a diverse and complex ecology, but the many value systems present that give it its vibrancy.


Anderson, B. (2009). Affective atmospheres. Emotion, Space and Society, 2(2), 77-81.
Ash, J. (2016). Theorising studio space: spheres and atmospheres in a video game design studio. In Farias, I. & Wilkie, A., eds, Studio studies: operations, topologies and displacements. Abingdon: Routledge.
Baker, R. J. & Jahja, R. (nd). Bridging embodied learning theory, place meaning and the process of placemaking in design studio pedagogy. Online at: https://www.academia.edu/14240393/Bridging_Embodied_Learning_Theory_Place_Meaning_and_the_Process_of_Place_Making_in_Design_Studio_Pedagogy
Bandura, A. (2006). Toward a psychology of human agency. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 164 –180. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6916.2006.00011.x
Eisner, E.W. (2002). The arts and the creation of the mind. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Garrison, D. R. & Anderson, T. (2003). E-Learning in the 21st century: a framework for research and practice. London & New York: RoutledgeFalmer.
Gunawardena, C. (1995). Social presence theory and implications for interaction collaborative learning in computer conferences. International Journal of Educational Telecommunications, 1(2/3), 147-166.
hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York and Abingdon: Routledge.
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development, vol. 1. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Latour, B. (1990). On actor-network theory: A few clarifications plus more than a few complications. Online at: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/P-67%20ACTOR-NETWORK.pdf
Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge.
Lowenthal, P. R. (2010). The evolution and influence of social presence theory on online learning. Online Education and Adult Learning: New Frontiers for Teaching Practices, 124-139. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
O’Rourke, V., & Baldwin, C. (2016). Student engagement in placemaking at an Australian university campus. Australian Planner, 1-14.
Schön, D. A. (1984). The architectural studio as an exemplar of education for reflection-in-action. Journal of Architectural Education, 38(1), Autumn, 2-9.
Sharples, M. (2019). Practical pedagogy: 40 new ways to teach and learn. Abingdon: Routledge. Chapter 30, Embodied learning – make mind and body work together to support learning. pp. 175-180.
Short, J., Williams, E., & Christie, B. (1976). The social psychology of telecommunications. London: John Wiley & Sons.
Sloterdijk, P. (2009). Talking to myself and the poetics of space. Harvard Design Magazine, 30
Varela, F, Thompson, E and Rosch, E 1999, The Embodied Mind. Cognitive science and human experience, The MIT Press, Cambridge.

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Design for Active and Blended Learning


Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

I am reposting my blog post for the #LTHEchat tweetchat I led this evening. The tweetchat community is a fantastic forum of co-creativity and I very much value the knowledge that it always generates. Thanks all. The response tonight was as incredible as always.

The following was my stimulus for the event.

The idea of active learning is hard to pin down. It embraces a number of educational theories and pedagogic strategies including problem-based learning, enquiry-based learning, project-based learning, and team-based learning. Such philosophies and approaches are often presented in binary opposition to lecturing and other teaching-led methods – approaches which are often how today’s ‘lecturers’ experienced university. In reality, active learning and blended learning are integrated amongst a range of techniques that address and involve the student in different ways. This can be different according to discipline, teacher and cohort. This melding of approaches is seen most obviously in the concept of flipped learning where essential knowledge is first provided online where it creates the basis for a deeper social exploration through vibrant class-based activities.

Active learning can be off-putting to staff because group work is usually a characteristic of active learning. For example, discussion, projects, co-creation, peer-led assessment, while apparently student-centred can treat students as an anonymous and homogenous mass. Active learning can be noisey, teetering on chaotic, making the classroom harder to manage and students can resent being put into groups with peers who they perceive to be less capable or innately passive and uncooperative, especially where assessment fails to recognise individual contributions and talents.

The teacher’s role shifts from sage on the stage, to guide by the side and meddler in the middle. It can challenge academic identity and esteem, being perceived by some as a shift from wise expert to manager of people.

Active learning and the technology-enhanced learning environment implicitly promote engagement as a pre-requisite to learning knowledge. It becomes a two-stage operation: first stimulate the learner and make them curious. Then immerse the learner in knowledge and developing skills. The active and blended learning environment is an open-ended, risky, creative, agentic space. If the academic’s role now is to manage the learner, then it seems active and blended learning strategies are designed to make that management as complex as possible! It is understandable, then, that some in the academic community can approach the active learning paradigm with reservations, if not contempt.

Given the number of students in higher education is greater than ever and our students are more diverse, we need to find alternative strategies for helping them to gain purchase, reveal their talents and capabilities, and share their diversity for the benefit of all. Active and blended learning strategies recognise student-centredness and the role that a university has in developing graduate dispositions for a connected world that rejects stability and thrives on innovation. In this context, new literacies and skills are needed so that our students can contribute and learn to take leading roles on a global stage. Many academics get this and are prepared to take pioneering roles in exploring the possibilities, especially now that technology allows any of us to connect our classroom to anyone, anything or any place in the world – instantly. Sharples (2019), for example, sets out 40 new ways to teach and learn using practical active and blended pedagogies. Ideas like ‘spaced learning’, ‘seamless learning’, learning through social media, and bricolage, hint at what academic innovators are doing. Active and blended learning, it seems, opens the door to fulfilling and creative academic practices. It reveals new ways for making learning more relevant, authentic and challenging ensuring that feedback is immediate and integral in the actions we take together. In brief, the learning paradigm creates a rich learning experience that contrasts with the teaching paradigm (Barr & Tagg, 1995). Ideas about active learning are not new – Piaget (1926), for example, describes learning as “a product of the learner being involved in a process of resolving practical or cognitive dissonance.” The LTHEchat provides us with an opportunity to explore the value of dissonance and challenge, and allows us to consider how we can present it in a way that persuades reticent academics and students so that the curriculum can be experienced as a coherent, rich and vibrant space for engaging students in developing learning habits so that they are ready to embrace the opportunities awaiting them.


Barr, R & Tagg, J. (1995). From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change, November, 13-25.

Piaget, J. (1926). The child’s conception of the world. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Sharples, M. (2019). Practical pedagogy: 40 new ways to teach and learn. Abingdon: Routledge.

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