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Designing a powerful learning environment @ VIVES University of applied sciences


Institution: VIVES University of Applied Sciences (Erasmus+ ABC to VLE project partner)

Description: Didactics 1

Authors: Janne Theuninck and Audrey Deleu (teachers of the course)


ABC-workshop on 11/01/2019
Follow-up meeting on 22/02/2019

Course details:

This 4 ECTS course is part of the bachelor program in primary education. Students learn important didactical tenets to design a powerful learning environment. The course is given in Dutch. At the end of the course, students have a written examination.

Course goals/learning outcomes:

“Designing a powerful learning environment #didactics1”

The course ‘didactics 1’ focuses mainly on the development of the teacher as a supervisor of the learning and development processes. Through practical examples, students are introduced to a number of didactic tools which should help them to facilitate pupils learning processes. The design of the learning environment should always be based on the initial situation and the learning goals. These two core elements are extensively explored during the course. Based on those two elements the students are asked to create “challenging, powerful learning environments”. In order to accomplish this, the students have to consider the learning content, educational technology, didactic methods and evaluation or assessment methods. In addition, during this course, students are also encouraged to think critically about good teaching.

Case Study

“Students are more activated.”

Context of change

In this course, the teachers introduce students in every aspect of the design process for a powerful learning environment. Each aspect or facet is examined separately. The teachers notice that the current method often remains too theoretical for students, so students don’t always experience the added value of the learned facets, they don’t always see how all facets are related to each other and how they can put every single aspect into practice.

ABC workshop plan

Janne and Audrey signed up for the ABC-workshop in order to think about their course and to redesign (parts of) the course. On January 11th in 2019 the ABC-workshop was set up, only for Janne and Audrey. There were no other teachers who followed the workshop at that time. During the method, the educational development coach (Sieglinde) and educational technologist of the education department (Shane) joined the workshop in order to think along about the course ‘didactics 1’. Two educational developer from the central educational policy unit (Delphine & Lies) joined the session to facilitate the workshop.

Part 1: Tweet and shape

The workshop started with a short introduction about ‘what is blended learning?’, explaining the six learning activities, etc. After this short introduction, Janne and Audrey were asked to fill in the ‘tweet and shape’-sheet.

Designing a powerful learning environment @ VIVES University of applied sciences

The teachers talked about the main goal of their course: the focus is designing a learning environment. It’s all about designing their own course/class into a powerful learning environment.

The tweet: “How to design a powerful learning environment? #didactics 1 @VIVES”.

After the tweet, they made an estimation of the distribution of the learning activities in the current course design:

  • A lot of acquisition and a lot of practice activities.
  • Not that much collaboration activities, sometimes within the practice-learning activities but collaboration is never an end by itself.
  • Only one time a discussion activity is built in.
  • No production activities, and no inquiry/investigation activities.

The current course was also scaled to the online-F2F axis:

  • The teachers use a learning path, online exercises, … but everything they do online is on top of their normal/traditional way of teaching: classes, study at home, exam. The online activities don’t replace the more traditional or F2F classes.

Part 2: Storyboard

Before the storyboard could be filled in, there was some discussion about how you should interpret the structure of the storyboard. How to structure the rows (weekly, per theme, per class, …)? Does every student start from the top left? How do you visualise differentiation? Etc.

During the first discussion in structuring the storyboard, Janne and Audrey agreed that if they want to reach the goal of the course (‘that students actually can design a powerful learning environment’), they will have to change their current working method. They will have to activate their students more and put them more ‘actively’ at work, let them experience for themselves why specific aspects of a powerful learning environment are important and how students can put them into practices. Hence, more inquiry and production activities should be used than in the current course method.

Janne and Audrey restructured the course in order to make students see the whole model at the end of the course and to see how every aspect is related with each other in a powerful learning environment. The new approach is built up like this:

Start with the whole model -> deepen every aspect of the model -> looking back to the whole model

Next, they have chosen the learning activities for each part of the course:

The model of a powerful learning environment

Students must experience or see a powerful learning environment. Therefore, they will get in touch with good practices. From these good practices, students should be able to compose the whole model of a powerful learning environment.

LA: inquiry/investigation – discussion – acquisition

aspect 1For the first aspect, students are asked for a product (production as learning activity). They are not evaluated on the quality of the product. The product is rather the starting point of a discussion. During the discussion students built up the theory about the aspect. Through discussion students will discover what that aspect is about.
aspect 2, 3, 4, …They choose to repeat the same sequence of learning activities for every aspect.
Looking back to the modelProduction and inquiry activities are the core here: Students are asked to produce a learning environment. Through inquiry activities they get in touch with the vision about learning and teaching. They are stimulated to think critically about good teaching.

After having put all the learning activities on the storyboard, the cards were turned over. The learning activities were specified and specific educational technology was selected to use during the learning activities (e.g. an online learning path in the online learning environment TOLEDO for the first learning activities).

Unfortunately, there was no time left to think and talk about the assessment. There was just enough time to look back at the tweet and shape sheet. The distribution of learning activities has changed a lot: more production, more research, more discussion and less acquisition activities are the main result of this workshop. Also less application activities were chosen, but in the other learning activities there will be enough time and space to apply the acquired knowledge. [this shows that the participants interpret the learning activities in a very specific way; although students are applying the learned knowledge in some activities, no application card is used because it was not a real ‘application activity’ according to the teachers].

Result of the workshop: Storyboard:

Designing a powerful learning environment @ VIVES University of applied sciences

In sum, some major changes in the new design compared to the current course design is planned:

  • Students will start with inquiry activities so they can investigate by themselves which aspects play a role in a learning environment. (In the current method students start with acquisition)
  • Acquisition and application are more hidden within other learning activities where the students get more actively at work.
  • Production is an important learning activity in the re-design as it’s one of the main goals of the course.

What was actually done

After the workshop, the teachers started to develop the course. For each aspect of a powerful learning environment, they made an assignment sheet. While developing the assignments, they changed the start of every aspect most of the time from production to inquiry/investigation. For some aspects they do start with production (as designed in the workshop), but most of the time it’s investigation. Actually, the teachers follow more the first row in the design for the whole course. In the design of their course, they haven’t picked up a lot of practice because they had chosen for more production. After the development of the course, they saw that practice is still a big part of their course but they also saw that the difference between practice and production is very small.

At the end of the course, the teachers planned to have a look back to the model with production and inquiry activities. Students would be asked to produce a learning environment. Through inquiry activities they would get in touch with the vision about learning and teaching. They would be stimulated to think critically about good teaching. This isn’t implemented in practice.

What support was required/provided

In the workshop the educational development coach and educational technologist joined to think along with Janne and Audrey. After the workshop the teachers, Janne and Audrey, knew they could ask their questions to them and to the facilitators of the workshop. Janne and Audrey received support from the educational technologist to use educational tools in their classes. Next to this, a follow-up meeting was planned in May 2019. Janne and Audrey shared their experiences, asked further questions, etc.

Impact and evaluation

The teachers experienced some changes in their course:

  • Students are more activated. Student are more actively at work in class and the teachers are less talking in front of the class.
  • Students know what to expect in every class because of the assignment sheets.
  • The teachers feel more like a coach in the learning process of their students.
  • They work more inductively.
  • It’s a more relaxing way to teach comparing to a lecture. Especially when the teacher notice that students are not paying attention during the lecture.
  • Janne and Audrey’s goal was to show the students more of the links and relations between the aspects of a powerful learning environment. The teachers notice that this goal is reached. The students see the relations better.
  • The individual differences between the students are more visible for them, so now they can respond better to those differences.
  • Students become more responsible for their own learning process.
  • The lessons are more practical, authentic and more realistic.
  • The didactic methods, for example a take home question, was experienced very positive by students.

Student were enthusiastic and found the lessons more active and useful. Although students are more activated during the lessons, the teachers noticed that students sometimes found it difficult that there were many different elements that they had to assemble into one. Students would find it easier if everything was integrated into one. This will be tackled in the future. Using active learning methods and educational technology can sometimes be perceived and experienced as too much or too intense by students. An appropriate balance is necessary.

In additions, it takes a lot of preparation work from the teachers and there is also a lot of workload for the students. Before the workshop the teachers thought blended learning was about having less F2F-hours with the students. Their re-design however, did not led to a reduction in F2F sessions. For example, the learning path that was developed by the teachers was made by the students in class instead of at home because the teachers don’t want to let students do things alone at home. It’s frightening to let students do it alone. In the future they’ll want to try this more. So the implementation of the re-design is also a step-by-step process in which teachers experience which activities work, how they can improve the courses even more and enhance their teaching method by trial-and-error.

Successes and lessons learned

  • The ABC-method is a practical workshop which helps teachers to make their course more practice oriented.
  • The ABC-method stimulated the teachers to think about the goals of the course, about the core of the course.
  • A fixed pattern in the structure of the lessons gives structure to the students.
  • The workshop itself was a bit too short to give the teachers enough information about different educational tools.
  • The time to redesign the course was limited because the course was running in the same semester.

Scalability and transferability

The teachers are busy to redesign their other course also based on the ABC-method. They try to follow the same principles as in this course.

Further information


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