Co-authored by Soli Le-Masurier and Andrew Stapleton.

Picture this learning design scenario: you’re responsible for a UTS online postgraduate course aimed at professional consultants. Of the core subjects, two of them must be completed simultaneously. The subjects are each run by a different faculty (FASS and Business) and you’re collaborating with a major industry partner (Microsoft) and multiple enterprise ‘channel partners’ (EY, Avenade, Capgemini). Technology-wise, you’re working with three major platforms, including two different Canvas sites, plus Microsoft Learn and Skillable (virtual IT labs).

These subjects could have become a cacophony of content, but with careful listening and a well-orchestrated score, we found our rhythm – as did the students and teaching staff. Come with us on a musically-inspired learning design journey to explore the creative collaboration that made this duet of subjects sing!

A trio of design challenges

Our main challenge was designing for two co-requisite subjects which have separate, but connected content – essentially, two parts of a whole.

This presented three key learning design challenges:

  1. Connection: how can we create a sense of belonging in the cohort across two Canvas sites?
  2. Navigation: how can we provide clear directions for students to complete the core learning and choose their own pathways for topics of interest?
  3. Alignment: how can we sequence the learning content so that both subjects seamlessly scaffold the development of business consulting and technology implementation proficiencies?

Connecting the musicians: are we all here?

Even though the same students are in both subjects, the Canvas LMS set up both subjects separately, which made it much harder to create a sense of belonging for students.

We created a single MS Teams site where students and academics could connect informally. The synchronous ‘Live and Online’ sessions were co-delivered on Zoom for both subjects so that discussions could help to link the learning together more effectively.

Navigating the score: are we playing the right music?

Students wanted more clarity and teachers were fielding numerous student enquiries about tasks and content. When we mapped this out and created a diagram for ourselves with sticky notes, we realised we could create a version for the students.

We created a Miro board that provided a clear ‘map’ of how content in both the subjects, the MS Learning content and the Skillable Labs all fitted together. This made it very easy for students to see where and when various learning opportunities and activities started and ended.

A screenshot of the Miro board ‘Learning Hub’ in the LMS

Additionally, we provided several options for students to ‘choose their own adventure’ with certain content. Here, similar to the way a jazz soloist would, each student was able to take ‘the score’ in a direction that created something authentic, unique and meaningful for their learning and professional context.

Aligning rhythms: are we playing in time?

Students had told us that the volume of content and subsequent workload was challenging, and that they wanted less duplication and better integration between subjects and with external content providers (MS Learn, Skillable). We reworked the order of the content in both subjects so that there was stronger scaffolding across the two subjects. Where content was relevant in both subjects, it was reworked to be ‘reinforcing’ rather than ‘repeating’.

So how did the jazz orchestra perform?

Feedback from students, survey scores (SFS), and the quality of assessments showed us that the design approaches were a great success. There were far fewer queries from confused students about the sequence of various pieces of learning, or where/when/how to access the various platforms and a significantly lowered burden on teachers.

Anecdotal feedback also confirmed that the subject had more opportunities for the students to connect with each other and with both sets of content at the same time. What’s more, feedback from academics who deliver the Capstone subject told us that students were better prepared for the Capstone, demonstrating deeper and more impactful learning.

If you’re designing for similar challenges, we recommend starting with a clear, simple and linear map of all the learning opportunities and activities, then work with your learning designers to provide a streamlined digital experience. Using the PGLD Quality Framework can help you systematically create effective and engaging learning, regardless of the technologies involved.

With genuine collaboration and design thinking approaches to focus on the learner experience journey, technology can be leveraged for complicated set-ups like this, as well as delivering an impactful learner experience. Thanks to the wonderful players in our jazz orchestra, including Professor Sara Denize (Business), Fiona Anson (Enterprise Learning), Sophie Abrahams (Postgraduate Learning Design) and Sally Creagh.

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