Taking Stock of ABC Swap Shops

In October 2019, Dublin City University (DCU) initiated a special interest group and webinar series called ‘ABC Learning Design Swap Shop’ to promote the sharing of knowledge and experience around implementation of ABC. This community was set up as part of the ABC to VLE project to provide an opportunity for educators across Ireland who are using the ABC learning design method to swap ideas about approaches they have tried in different contexts. Through a webinar format, anyone who is considering or is already using the approach was invited to come along, share their experiences and join in the conversations about ABC Learning Design.

Webinar technology was deliberately chosen to enable maximum inclusion and attendance from participants across the country. This community has already met four times (October 21st, December 4th, January 15th, March 11th) and has brought together participants, mainly academic developers and learning technologists, from 10 higher education institutions across Ireland. It has led to active and interesting discussions, where, for example, attendees identified the need for further training/support for novice ABC facilitators. Digitised adaptations have also been discussed (well before Covid-19!)  and practical ideas and challenges have been shared. A brief overview of each Swap Shop is outlined below:

Webinar 1, October 21st

This webinar kicked off short talks by Isabel Ashburner (Dublin Business School) and Clare Gormley (DCU). There were 18 attendees from a range of HE institutions across Ireland including Maynooth University, NUI Galway, University of Limerick, Mary Immaculate College, Hibernia College, Dublin Business School, and of course DCU. It led to an active and interesting discussion, including the following highlights:

  • Attendees identified the need for further training/support for ABC facilitators – interesting points were raised about the challenge of facilitating ABC workshops if working alone, including difficulties in timekeeping.
  • Discussion about DBS use of Trello as a link from the workshop to the development and delivery phases. Isabel highlighted its use as a ‘living’ planning board which is referred to beyond the ABC workshop at her institution. 

DBS use of Trello

DBS develops use of Trello





  • Conversation about the need for participants to come adequately prepared for the ABC workshop (e.g. familiar with learning outcomes) and the challenges of this in practice. Clare highlighted ‘Pre ABC’ learning outcomes-focused discussion activities that were introduced at DCU.

Webinar 2, December 4th

This webinar was delivered in partnership with the Irish Universities Association #IUADigEd project that aims to mainstream digital in teaching and learning activities in Irish universities. Two members of the project team joined this webinar to share their experiences of the method with the assembled group of 16 participants.

Kate Molloy (NUI Galway) explained that the ABC approach has been in use as part of local PGCert and PGDip academic development modules. In terms of her own practice, she explained that when she first applied the approach, she was already very familiar with Conole’s 7Cs of Learning Design approach (2014) and had developed a ‘ready to go’ custom version of that toolkit. What appealed in particular to her about ABC was the rapid fire, tightly-timed format that would not require extensive blocks of time from staff mid semester. In sharing her experiences about using the method to date, she highlighted the following lessons learned from recent use of the approach within the context of the IUA DigEd pilot project:  

  • Having watched all the preparatory videos and reviewed the materials, sticking rigidly to the format with minimal intervention may have backfired a little in timings.
  • For the Tweet exercise especially, participants seemed perhaps overly concerned about wording and word count, possibly because everyone wanted to contribute.
  • The teams were unable to complete all aspects of the workshop within 90 minutes (they started but did not complete storyboarding) but participants generally liked the format overall and said they found it useful working through it in course teams.

NUIG use of ABC






Kate plans to use ABC as a Learning Design Framework more consistently but “going forward, I would remix the materials to suit our needs, as I did with the 7Cs”. 

David Moloney of University of Limerick (UL) talked us through his experience of using elements of the ABC approach with programme teams to design/redesign programmes in human rights and criminal justice.  His first goal was to ask participants to “stand in students’ shoes” i.e. to consider what they would like to experience if they were students on the programme in question. In particular, he highlighted the following aspects of the approach:

  • The relative simplicity and clarity of the cards which he described as “extremely intuitive”, with examples that help to link the learning types with formats/activities that make sense to participants.
  • The potential for digitisation of some elements of the workshop – for example, in his case, Mentimeter was used to pose questions to develop the spider graph element of the process. In a break with ABC tradition, he also discussed that instead of using the standard printed storyboard poster, he used the University of Ottowa’s Course Structuring Tool as an online spreadsheet for each team to develop a storyboard. 
  • The value of developing a storyboard that acts as a concrete foundation for the design.
  • The potential of ABC for identifying where further academic development or digital competency professional development may be required.

Interestingly, David’s workshop also drew from a number of other frameworks (the OULDI Course Features cards, for example) and his group also ran over time in completing the storyboard. It is also worth noting what he might do differently next time, as outlined in the image below:

UL lessons learned






Webinar 3 January 15th

In this session, Dr Carina Ginty of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) stepped us through their extensive implementation of the ABC LD approach. Since 2018 ABC workshops have been run across four GMIT campuses for the benefit of programme teams in multiple disciplines including business, IT, hospitality, sports science, furniture design, creative arts and more. By January, 200+ staff had engaged with the method which has also been integrated into their PG Certificate and Diploma in Teaching & Learning. It is also woven into that institution’s processes for programmes moving to blended or online delivery.

Specific adaptations described by Carina included:

  • Inclusion of additional supports within an extended workshop format, including guidance and resources on writing learning outcomes and understanding assessment & feedback concepts.
  • Inclusion of learning outcomes-oriented game activities to help create correctly worded outcomes, select appropropriate learning activities, and align with assessment ideas.
  • Inclusion of Online Course Design Scorecard/Rubric, currently in pilot phase.

GMIT tailored workshop resourcesGMIT ABC workshop format






Webinar 4 – March 11th

In this session, Dr Briony Supple of University College Cork (UCC) explained how they have been using the ABC approach. The university’s move to the Canvas VLE was a major driver for adoption of ABC as was the embedding of the Connected Curriculum at UCC (comprised of Research Based teaching, Employability, Sustainability, Trans & Interdisciplinarity, Global Reach, and Community Engagement). By the time of the Swap Shop webinar in March, some of their experiences of ABC included:

  • Use of the method in a range of international contexts (including Tokyo, thanks to HEA Mobility Grant) and in a partnership with final year students in a BComm International with Hispanic Studies programme.
  • Confirmation that the clear terminology of the framework is “extremely useful” especially to non-native English speakers.

Feedback of ABC LD - terminology is useful






  • Suggestion that sometimes more frontloading in advance of ABC sessions may be needed. Briony identified the Curriculum Stocktake idea featured in an Online Planning Guide by University of Tasmania (UTAS) as a potentially useful tool to help plan the learning experience and think through some ideas before the workshop itself. 
  • Use of ABC’s spider graph concept in another context as a reflective prompt when asking teachers to reflect on a teaching session within their own practice – Briony explained how she got staff to map out the learning types of a session on a spider graph and asked them how they might adjust that in future.

Reflective prompts for use with Spider Graph






Overall, the four events promoted the sharing of approaches from multiple contexts in what we hope was a welcoming and accessible way. A huge thanks again is due to all the speakers who contributed to these sessions. As so many institutions will almost certainly have modified/extended their existing approaches further in response to Covid-19, the value and benefit of continuing to share experiences is clear.  If you are interested in participating in a Swap Shop, please
join the group. The date of the next Swap Shop session will be announced over the upcoming academic year.

Learning our ABCs: Project update on lessons learned so far at DCU

It seems safe to state that there are challenges in learning design that almost all institutions face: limited staff time, a modular focus, and a tendency towards ‘lone ranger’ thinking to name just some of the potential barriers to successful course design. These types of challenges have significantly influenced the team-based ABC methodology developed originally by Clive Young and Nataša Perović of University College London (UCL) which continues to grow in popular use worldwide as a model for blended learning design.

Dublin City University (DCU) Teaching Enhancement Unit is currently engaged in the ABC to VLE Erasmus+ funded project to further develop the ABC Learning Design methodology. As relative newcomers to ABC (DCU first experienced it in 2017), this project has been a great opportunity to apply the approach and benefit from the experience of UCL and the 11 other European partners involved. For those not familiar with the format, ABC offers a rapid-fire, hands-on workshop approach where in just 90 minutes academic teams work together to design or redesign modules and programmes. By the end of the process, teams have discussed, debated, and discovered a range of potential activities and technologies, communicated their overall vision of their course, and ultimately created a storyboard of an intended learning experience. Not bad work in under two hours, especially when it all goes according to plan.

The overall goal of this particular European project is to develop ABC as a downloadable toolkit that can be used and adapted by any institution. At DCU we have adapted the ‘classic’ materials to suit important strategic priorities such as flexible learning modes, enhanced feedback mechanisms, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Furthermore, by using the approach with several teams, evaluating it, and learning how different aspects perform on the ground, we hope to continue to develop our own expertise in using the approach in different contexts. We also plan to do our bit to promote conversations amongst the Irish learning design community about using and tailoring the method to optimum effect.

Clare and Mark facilitating at the ABC to VLE workshop with DCU Business School
Facilitating an ABC workshop at DCU Business School earlier this year
Workshop participants work on the 'Tweet' activity
DCU Business School participants work on  the ‘Tweet’ activity as part of the workshop.
Clinical Exercise Science Programme Team working on Storyboard
The Clinical Exercise Science Programme Team working on their Storyboard

What has been learned along the way?

We have not quite reached the halfway point of the project so this is by no means a definitive evaluation. However there have certainly been several lessons learned to date and from our perspective thus far it appears that:

  • The 90-120 minutes timeframe is a good ‘in’ for potential participants and seems to be a period of time that can be scheduled without as much difficulty as full or half-day blocks. Quite a lot can be done to develop a vision for a course within 90 minutes and it is very clear that the collaboration and conversation raises questions and ideas that would not come up were people to approach this as individuals.
  • A ‘pre ABC’ workshop is necessary (perhaps even mandatory) to enable teams to consider programme and module learning outcomes and help them prepare their thinking for the 90 minute workshop. Without an adequate preparatory phase, teams risk feeling unprepared for the various workshop activities and consequently may find it harder to deeply engage. This is particularly true for teams who have not yet entered the validation process.
  • Facilitating ABC workshops is challenging! Keeping to the tight timings while playing an active and critical role in the design conversations is not easy and the advice to have at least two facilitators for every session held true for us.
  • Access to follow-on workshops and supports is vital: The action plan formulated at the end of the workshop highlights areas that need to be followed up afterwards, such as further technology-specific training. Additional just-in-time supports and guidance are necessary to help educators implement proposed designs back in the ‘real’ post-workshop world.

What is happening next?

By September 2020, DCU plan to have released several outputs and we hope to continue to develop our expertise in the methodology over the course of the project. For example, we are currently working with a number of programme teams to develop case studies about how ABC has been localised and implemented at DCU. Initial versions of two case studies will be published on this site over the Summer. We are also creating a range of technology supports to ensure that those creative designs talked about during the workshop eventually become a reality. For example, a customisable ‘ABC to VLE App Wheel’ is being developed to provide access to practical guidance and videos on potential educational technologies within and beyond the VLE.

Screenshot from ABC to VLE App Wheel highlighting potential technologies relevant to the Collaboration learning type
Screenshot from ABC to VLE App Wheel highlighting potential VLE and other technologies relevant to the Collaboration learning type

But it’s definitely not just about DCU: given the scale of interest in discussions with internal and external parties, the project leads are very keen to establish an ABC-oriented Special Interest Group in Ireland so that anyone using the method can learn from the experiences of others. You can expect to hear more about this in September but if this sounds up your street, you can take it that the format will be webinar based (for maximum inclusivity) and it will be more of a swap shop than a talk shop. In other words a core goal of this group will be to swap experiences and highlight tips and ideas that might be useful for others to take on board. So if you’re interested in taking part, keep in touch with clare.gormley@dcu.ie and we will keep you posted.

DCU Project Leads: Clare Gormley and Mark Glynn, DCU Teaching Enhancement Unit