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Learning designers have a thing for signposting. Learning signposts are a type of ‘information organiser’, they are visual and/or textual elements in the learning material that tell learners what to do, what to expect or how things connect. When curating and preparing learning material, teachers and designers aim to support student success by organising information in such a way that activities, connections, and preparation requirements are as explicit as possible.
To see how good signposting helps us organise and process information, you just need to pick up any cookbook and look at how the recipes are structured. When you think about it, a cookbook recipe is like a microsystem of a learning experience with a defined outcome (the finished dish) and a set of instructions on how to get there with ingredients, techniques and steps scaffolded from start to finish. Modern cookbooks employ a variety of clever signposts to not only bring about visual appeal to the cooking process, but to safeguard against failure. In fact, one cookbook I recently picked up came complete with scannable QR codes linking to short videos on how to baste a steak, trim a fennel bulb or whisk egg yolks into perfect aioli – all designed to help budding cooks succeed in the kitchen.
Keeping it simple
Simple, a cookbook by British chef Yotam Ottolenghi has sold thousands of copies worldwide and aims to help people master flavourful recipes with “minimum hassle for maximum joy”. SIMPLE, itself a backronym highlighting related aspects of convenience is cleverly used throughout the book to organise recipes and serve as shorthand for different dishes, whether they’re suited to ‘make ahead’ (M) or ‘easier than you think (E) and so on.
In this way, the letters in SIMPLE represent a set of overall summary statements about what readers can expect from the recipes in the book as a whole. In an educational setting, this is analogous to a set of course intended learning outcomes (CILOs) that summarise what students will learn in their course as a whole. Reflecting on the bigger picture of skills and knowledge that a student will acquire over the course of a program has been positively linked to the transformative character of learning in higher education (Brockbank and McGill 2007).
Signposting for learning and teaching
So with this cookbook reference in mind, the postgraduate learning design team (PGLD) and the director of the new online Master of Business Administration (MBA) at UTS Business School developed a visual scheme to help students see how activities at the subject level connected to the bigger picture at the program level. The CILOs had previously been condensed to a set of shorthand reference statements which were then made prominent as they applied alongside key activities and assessment tasks in eight of the MBA’s core subjects.
We wanted the program learning objectives to be something our students would reflect on often, and that they recognised as forming a common theme across all core subjects in the MBA, not just statements in a subject outline.Program Director Helen Spiropoulos.
The result is a visual signposting system with an unmistakeable nod to its ‘simple’ origins. Alongside key activities throughout each of the core subjects, the letters ICEG appear in the upper right-hand corner of the activity, with the relevant letter highlighted to make explicit the wider connection to the course-intended learning outcomes. An activity with a focus on leadership capabilities is marked with an ‘G’ (global leadership), a task associated with developing innovative business solutions is marked with an ‘I’, and so on. Occasionally, as with a cookbook, two or more letters may be highlighted. The idea is to maintain a continuous connection to the bigger picture.
And the benefits of working with CILOs at the subject level go beyond the immediate transparency for students. Jessy Mai, Learning Designer in the new MBA, says it helps to frame conversations with academics in the subject codesign process.
It’s a good tool to help us identify which skills and attributes we think students should be focusing on at the subject level by looking at the bigger picture and seeing how it all connects.Jessy Mai, UTS Learning Designer
As learning designers and academics come together to develop creative ways of supporting student success, sources of inspiration are often closer than you might think. Bon appetit!
Brockbank, A., & McGill, I. (2007). Facilitating Reflective Learning in Higher Education. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).