Category: instructional design

OTESSA 2021 (Congress) Keynote – effectiveness, efficiency, engagement. Where’s equity?

At this year’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, I gave a keynote talk as part of a keynote panel for the Open/Technology in Education, Society, and Scholarship Association, with Dr. Valerie Irvine and Dr. Bonnie Stewart. Below is a draft transcript of my comments.


Good morning everyone. Thank you to Michele Jacobsen (U of Calgary) and Anne-Marie Scott (Athabasca U) for putting together the excellent OTESSA program, and thank you to you all for joining us in our inaugural OTESSA conference. Today I’ll be talking about 4 e’s: effectiveness, efficiency, engagement, and equity.

I was going to talk about a paper that my colleagues and I wrote where we examined Canadian faculty experiences during the pandemic, but I changed my mind last night. I couldn’t sleep and I thought that there are more important and more urgent things to talk about. If you’re interested in that paper, you can read about it in the link that I put in the chat:

But, what might you say can be more important, more urgent, that the painful, anxiety-ridden, and inequitable experiences that faculty have gone through the pandemic?

As you have heard in the introduction of this session, a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children has been found in Tekamploos te sech-ewpmech, at the site of a residential school to what is now known as Kamloops, BC.

So, I would like to begin by acknowledging  that the neighborhood where I live, Royal Roads University, are on the territory of the Lekwungen peoples, the Xwsepsum, and the Esquimalt Nations. As a guest, I am grateful to live and work on these lands. I want to take this opportunity to give you a good sense of my positionality so as to set the context for my talk :

I was born and raised in Cyprus. Up until 1960, Cyprus was a colony, and it is still rife with colonial structures. The war of 1974 which divided Cyprus in half was partly a result of colonialism, animosity, and fascism. My parents were in their late teens in 1974. My father was imprisoned and my mother fled her home. When we were allowed to visit the North part of the country, where my mother grew up, we drove by the fields that my grandfather used to plow. These fields are now plowed by settlers.

Territorial acknowledgements should remind us of colonial structures. Importantly, for the topics we are discussing today, they should remind us that colonial structures impact our universities, and our teaching and learning practices, as faculty, as researchers, as students. In our efforts towards online and blended learning therefore, we need to keep decolonization and equity at the front and centre of it.

Much of the literature around the evaluation of the use of technology in education centers around three outcomes:

Is it effective? Meaning: Do students meet established learning goals and objectives;?

Is it efficient? Meaning, does instruction meet learning goals with minimal expenditure of resources, such as money and time?

And finally, is it engaging? Does instruction draw the sustained attention and positive response of learners?

Amongst the many frameworks available to evaluate instruction, this is the simplest, and focuses on core components. It’s often referred to as e to the power of 3. Charles Reigeluth and Dave Merrill both contributed to the development of this framework.

This simple framework has proven resilient and valuable. Some faculty teach it explicitly. Others use it explicitly in their research. For yet others, it is implicit in their research, in their dissertations, in their scholarship.

This framework is missing a 4th e: equity.

Equity refers to “freedom from bias or assumptions that negatively impact individual’s motivations, opportunities, or accomplishments.”

In other words, what I am coming around to say here is that a good course, a good university education, a good use of technology in education, a good implementation of online and blended learning, a good open education strategy, should not only be effective and engaging, but needs to be equitable.

I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable being in a field in which equity isn’t explicitly centered and visible. I think you should be too. If the pandemic taught us anything, it should be to ask the question: In what kind of world do we live in that we value efficiency more than equity?

Our colleague Brent Wilson asks pointedly: what is the value of a module, instructional interventions, technology and so on, that is engaging but sexist? Or racist? Or implicitly leaves some people behind?

What does this mean in practice? I’m not at a place to be as eloquent to numberous colleagues that have written about this (including many of you here and many of our colleagues who advocate for feminist praxis in our scholarship), but I’ll try: In practice this may mean a diverse and intersectional reading list. Or, it may mean that audiovisual materials used don’t (accidentally or otherwise) stereotype, shame, or degrade people. Or, it may mean that open educational resources are used instead of expensive textbooks. Or it may mean examining those OER to ensure that they don’t homogenize people or don’t privilege western viewpoints.

And that’s not all – we should examine the roots of our field: much of it is grounded in the military, in war, in colonialism, and so today, in addition to thinking about colonialism broadly, I want to ask you to reflect on the ways that our field is complicit with violence and colonialism.


Post-talk note #1: Bonnie highlighted ethics and their importance as a 5th e. That’s an important point. I was grouping ethics and equity together. In continuing to develop this framework, it would be worthwhile to explicitly acknowledge ethics rather than treat them as embedded within equity.

Post-talk note #2: For my US-based instructional design colleagues, I recommend this: Designed for Destruction: The Carlisle Design Model and the Effort to Assimilate American Indian Children (1887-1928) – chapter 4 here.

Learning Design voices CFP

Below you can find a necessary and significant call for chapters from folks at the University of Cape Town. As “learning designers, academic developers, instructional designers, curriculum designers, learning experience designers, learning experience engineers” and Centers of Teaching and Learning more broadly have carried institutions through the pandemic, while also facing incredible personal and institutional challenges themselves, this book stands to make visible what this work looks like, how it varies across contexts, how it is implicated in issues of power, opportunity, commitment, resilience, hegemony… and how those issues intersect with educational technology and design. CFP follows, but you can also find it here.

Call for chapters

We’re looking for learning designers, academic developers, instructional designers, curriculum designers, learning experience designers, learning experience engineers…  We don’t mind what you call yourself but if you create learning opportunities for students and staff in post-secondary institutions we want to hear from you! We’re keen to create a space for voices on learning design from a wide range of contexts. We invite you to share your practices and experiences, and to connect with a community of people across the globe who also do this work.  We’re hoping that together we can create the kind of book that you reach for when you need a new idea or want to be inspired by the innovative and responsive work of colleagues in challenging and exciting environments.   


During the pandemic, the pivot to emergency remote teaching highlighted the depth and extent of inequalities facing communities, particularly in relation to access to resources and literacies for online learning in higher educational contexts. Imported solutions that failed to take into consideration the constraints and cultures of local contexts were less than successful. The paucity of practitioners with online learning design experience, training and education grounded in diverse contexts made local design for local contexts difficult to carry out.

Although there is substantial research and guidance on online learning design, there is an opportunity to create a text deliberately oriented to practice. Further, online learning design, as a field of practice and research, is strongly shaped by experiences and practices from the Global North. While many of the textbooks written from this perspective are theoretically useful as a starting point, the disjuncture between theory and practice for practitioners in less well-resourced contexts where local experiences are invisible, can be jarring.



The goal of this text is to offer a discussion of key themes shaping practice in online learning design, in the form of provocations by key voices in the field, and to offer chapters that illuminate or trouble these themes. Further, we seek to listen more closely to voices from the historical margins to understand better what learning design, as a practice, a field of research and process means in Africa, Asian and South America contexts. This is an opportunity to create a text deliberately oriented to practice, grounded in diverse contexts and showcasing a wide variety of learning design responses while remaining grounded in commitments to equitable access and success.

Target Audience

This book seeks to be useful for both staff and students in formal learning contexts such as diploma or certificate courses, we imagine that it will provide a useful handbook for those working in online learning design from learning designers to academic staff taking courses online to staff developers who support those processes.


The book is structured around provocations, highlighting key concepts and debates related to that topic. We invite chapter submissions that respond to one of the provocations below.  This is not another theory book. We’re looking primarily for empirical, place-based pieces, practical advice and experiences  which are theoretically informed. Threaded through all the chapters, we expect border perspectives, peripheral views, equity considerations and the like to be incorporated. We would welcome interactive and multimodal components such as  images, videos, reflective exercises and other multimedia elements in your chapter, that can be used by readers for reflection or as teaching exercises.

Provocation 1: Learning Design as field, praxis and identity

Learning design has emerged as an area of work or practice, a space for research, and a marker of professional  identity.  How do you see learning design? How is learning design viewed in your context?  How do we, or should we, support the development of learning design? What models and assumptions underpin our work in learning design, and to what extent do these models support practice in your context? For this section, we are looking for chapters that offer insight into how learning design is located, functions and is valued in a variety of contexts.

Provocation 2: Humanising Learning Design 

Online learning faces increasing calls to centre inclusivity, diversity, and accessibility.  What inclusive, diverse and accessible online learning looks like is by no means universal. We invite for this section, chapters that demonstrate how the design and experience of critically grounded online learning can create opportunities for learning for a wide range of students, typically “othered”, marginalised, or excluded from online learning spaces.

Provocation 3: Learning activities, processes and materials

Much of the work around process and materials creation in relation to learning design assumes access to resources and skills that are limited in the developing world.  We invite chapters that consider how context shapes choices in relation to learning activities, processes and materials. We hope for chapters that speak to, inter alia,  issues of multilingualism, accessibility, universal design for learning, and racial and cultural representation.

Provocation 4: Assessment and evaluation online 

The question of assessment and the purpose of higher education are unavoidably intertwined. As the shape of higher education and its relationship to society has shifted over time, the nature of assessment has shifted. Concerns about rigour and validity are joined by concerns about authenticity, relevance and transformation. How is online assessment creating opportunities for imagining and challenging the role of assessment? We welcome, for this section, chapters focusing on online assessment practices that offer improvements on well-established practices, or offer wholly innovative takes on the form of assessment in higher education.

Provocation 5: Policy and regulatory environment 

Learning design, materials design and academic expertise all take place within existing institutional, national and international policy, funding and regulatory frameworks. Online learning is still captured by the imaginaries of traditional education. How does the policy and regulatory environment in your context shape the practice of learning design? Is open education enabled or constrained by the policy environment?

Submission Procedure and Due dates

Activity Date
Share an idea 13 June 2021 Do you have an idea that you need to chat to someone about?  Contact Shanali, Tasneem or Laura.
Proposal submission 14 June 2021 Your proposal should include an abstract of not more than 500 words, explaining how you bring a non-dominant perspective, and a one page outline of the chapter structure. Submit a proposal for a chapter.
Notification of acceptance 28 June 2021 You will be notified by 28 June 2021 about the status of your proposals and sent chapter guidelines.
Full Chapter submission 23 August 2021 Full chapters should be submitted by 23 August 2021. We expect chapters to be between 3000 – 5000 words but we are flexible about the length of chapters. Please follow APA 7th referencing.
Peer review process 20 September 2021 All submitted chapters will be reviewed by two peer reviewers, including other chapter authors and external reviewers. Please note, contributors will also be requested to serve as reviewers for this project.
Author changes End November 2021 Once authors have submitted their final changes to the editorial committee, the chapters will be uploaded  to the platform.  The formal launch for the book is planned for March 2022.

For queries, please contact: or

Dissemination and Publication

The book will be published under a creative commons licence, encouraging its dissemination and reuse in teaching and learning spaces. We are currently in the process of selecting an open textbook ebook platform.  Key criteria for the platform include that it will offer multimodal digital formats, options to download copies, and options to order print copies at cost.


Tasneem Jaffer

(@tasneemjaffer) – Tasneem is a senior project coordinator and learning designer at University of Cape Town in South Africa. She has worked as a learning designer for the last seven years and has prior expertise in the field of user experience (UX). She has completed an MEd in Educational Technology and is currently an MBA candidate. Her work includes being involved in the development and research of MOOCs, the development of formal online courses. She has a passion for learning, specifically the intersection of learning design and UX.

Shanali Govender

(@GovenderShanali) – Shanali is a lecturer within the Academic Staff Development unit at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching. Her particular brief in the staff development team is to support part-time and non-permanent teaching staff. She currently teaches on the Postgraduate diploma in educational technologies, co-convening the Online Learning Design module. She has designed several online staff development short courses, and teaches two academic staff development online courses, Core Concepts in Learning and Teaching and An online introduction to Assessment.  Shanali also has strong interests in relation to inclusivity and education, working largely in the practice space with colleagues to create more inclusive teaching and learning environments. ​

Laura Czerniewicz

(@Czernie) – Laura  was the first director of the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT), at the University of Cape Town, (2014 to 2020) having previously led UCT’s Centre for Educational Technology, OpenUCT Initiative and Multimedia Education Group. Her many roles in education over the years  include academic, researcher, strategist, advocate, teacher, teacher-trainer and educational publisher. Threaded through all her work has been a focus on equity and digital inequality. These have permeated her research interests which focus on the changing nature of higher education in a digitally-mediated society and new forms of teaching and learning provision.  She plays a key strategic and scholarly role in the areas of blended /online learning as well as in open education institutionally, nationally and internationally. Check out Laura’s newish blogsite


CICan perspectives live show: hacking education in a digital world

Recently, I was a guest on a live show hosted by Colleges and Institutes Canada. This episode focused on “hacking education in a digital world.” It focused on the question: How can colleges and institutes transform learning options to provide better access to postsecondary education for all Canadians in the context of a pandemic, and how can the success of the transformation be measured? The show is archived here, and past and current episodes are available on the CICan website.

My comments focused on a few major areas

  • that the impact of the pandemic on higher education institutions, students, and faculty in Canada has been uneven
  • that what we know from online learning research has much to offer to guide remote and emergency teaching and learning
  • that flexibility and flexible learning is important
  • that collaboration amidst the pandemic has served the higher education sector well, and we should do what we can to continue engaging in sharing and collaborations
  • that our post-pandemic future can be better (read more equitable, accessible, sensitive to student and societal needs, etc) than the pre-pandemic past

CFP: Attending to Issues of Social Justice through Learning Design

The call for proposals below comes at an opportune time following the Scholar Strike action that occurred on September 8 and 9 both in the US and in Canada.

Journal of Applied Instructional Design Special Issue 2020 
“Attending to Issues of Social Justice through Learning Design” 

We specifically seek contributions from K-12, higher education, and other organizational or workplace contexts (e.g., non-profit organizations, government, corporate) that focus on how learning design can serve as a tool for pushing back against and/or changing systems that often promote or perpetuate injustice and inequality. Such work will likely deviate from more traditional instructional design and performance improvement approaches or improve upon them in some way to address topics that include but are not limited to:

  • Culturally-situated and cross-cultural approaches to instructional design and research
  • Improving performance in the context of workplace inequity
  • Participatory models of learning (e.g., Youth-led Participatory Action Research)
  • Long-term projects that address disparity issues regarding access to technologies and resources (e.g., digital and pedagogical divide)
  • Applications of critical theory in learning design
  • Ethical and responsible (i.e., humanizing) concerns regarding the collection, analysis, and presentation of data and findings

Deadline October 16, 2020. Complete details can be found here:

In education, what can be made more flexible?

Even though flexibility and flexible learning most usually focus on enabling learners some degree of control and freedom over the location, time, and pace of their online studies (hence the terms “anytime anyplace” learning), flexibility may be applied to a wide range of pedagogical and institutional practices. Here’s some examples:

  • Flexible assessments (e.g., providing learners with “a menu” of assessment options to select from. Dr. Joan Hughes for instance allows students to complete a proportion of pre-determined set of badges in her course. This could also apply to assignment deliverables, wherein some students, for example, may produce essays while others may create videos)
  • Flexible admissions (e.g., providing multiple admission paths. For instance, at Royal Roads University students who do not hold an undergraduate degree may apply for admission under a flexible path that asks them to demonstrate how prior coursework and experience has prepared them for graduate study)
  • Flexible “attendance” (e.g., providing learners to attend class based on their emerging needs. Dr. Valerie Irvine for instance calls this multi-access learning; a situation where a face-to-face classroom is set up in a way that allows learners to choose whether they can attend in f2f or online mode, and to make that decision as needs arise/change).
  • Flexible pacing, not only with respect to activities pertaining to a course, but also with respect to program pacing (e.g., start-end dates).
  • Flexible exit pathways. While flexible admissions refers to an entry pathway, exit pathways refer to how learners choose to finalize their program (e.g., thesis vs. coursework vs. work-integrated learning project options).
  • Flexible coursework options. This is the option where students have some control about the courses they enroll in. Imagining this on a continuum, on the one end students have no option of electives and at the other end students create their own unique interdisciplinary degrees. Typically, students have electives that they select, though that option could be made more flexible through, for example, allowing learners to choose electives from institutions/organizations other than their own.
  • Flexible course duration and flexible course credits. At the typical institution, courses last for X weeks and are worth Y credits (e.g., semester-long and 3-credits, or some variation of the 3-credit system including 1-credit, 6-credits and so on). Flexibility could be applied to this form of structure as well, with course duration and credit dependent on learning needs vis-a-vis a predetermined calendar/schedule. One could imagine for example a 2-credit course, or a 1.5-credit course within a university that typically offers 3-credit courses.

While there’s benefits to flexibility, such as empowering learners through greater agency, I am not arguing for flexibility to embedded in all of these forms. There’s philosophical questions to explore. And practical concerns that need to be overcome: Student information systems for example, might prevent the creation of fractional-credit courses, as I’m certain many of of you know.

What are some other ways that institutions, courses, learning design practices, and education more broadly can be made more flexible?

Open Access Educational Technology books

I want to tell you about a new site that Royce Kimmons is launching:

This aims to become go-to location for open texts related to educational technology, instructional design, learning design and technology, and related fields. If you’d like to add a book to this collection, bring it to the attention of Royce!


AI is coming for your instructional and learning design jobs, apparently

For the most part, the early morning is my favorite time of the day. I like having a cup of coffee or tea, running, reading, writing, and just pretty much doing anything at 6am, than at 10am. This is not a productivity tip. You do what works for you.

What would have worked better for my productivity this morning was to have waited until later in the day to read Donald Clark’s predictions of AI radically transforming instructional design* jobs and replacing instructional designers (“adapt or die” he says). I don’t disagree with everything that he writes. We agree that in a largely interdisciplinary and complex endeavor as online learning designers need to make sense of AI/machine learning/etc, and developers need to make sense of how learning works. We also agree that most of online learning offerings could be amazing, but are often unexciting. And I really like some of his writing, such as his critique of the hole in the wall experiments.


That’s not where the problem lies. The problem is within this snippet:


AI is here. Few argue that is will change the very nature of employment and therefore it will change what you learn, how you learn and even why you learn. We are, at last, emerging from a 30 year paradigm of media production and multiple choice questions, in largely flat and unintelligent learning experiences, towards smart, intelligent online learning, that behaves more like a good teacher, where you are taught as an individual with a personalised experience, challenged and, rather than endlessly choosing from lists, engage in effortful learning, using dialogue, even voice. As a Learning designer, Interactive designer, project Manager, Producer, whatever, this is the most exciting thing to have happened in the last 30 years of learning. Make the leap!

The talk about AI “behav[ing] more like a good teacher” offering “typical cost reductions of 85-90%” is incompatible with the claims that AI isn’t aiming to replace teachers or designers (a claim that Clark also makes in 2016 here, even though he later notes that the time may not be 2018, but soon). If you develop software to do the job that a designer does, you are, to a degree, working toward substituting people with software. There may very well be good reasons to do that, but don’t call upon designers to “adapt or die.” The message sounds more like this: We have developed software to change the functions of your job and we want you to develop a different skill set. If you don’t, we’ll replace you.

We haven’t yet reached the point where an independent AI decided to take on the job of the instructional designer.

I work with instructional designers, and train them. Are there parts of their job that would be better automated? Yes. But here’s the issue: That sort of work is not really instructional design work. That sort of work rarely involves the conceptualization and design of empowering, equitable, engaging, and rich learning environments. If Clark’s notion of the work that the instructional designer does envisions a person who enters text into pre-determined templates, and does similar work, then we aren’t talking about the same professional

Finally, I agree with Clark that it’s prime time for instructional design to undergo a process of transformation. Not for the reason Clark sees (AI), but because instructional designers are now, more than ever, necessary to support the design and development of rich and equitable learning environments. To do so, they need to be empowered more, not relayed to conduct the work that machines could do more efficiently. The preparation of instructional designers needs re-envisioning to support this goal, and that requires not only an understanding of technical phenomena (similar to what Clark calls for), but also a truly critical engagement with what ID is and what it should do. To that end, I am increasingly turning to feminist practices, which is a topic that probably deserves it’s own post.

Now, I’m going to go back to enjoying my coffee.

* Clark calls it learning design, I call it instructional design. The nomenclature varies between the UK (where he is) and North America (where I am), even if there are more similarities than differences between what learning and instructional designers to. For the purposes of this post, the differences are insignificant.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén