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Sharing the ABC Approach

Hasenknopf, B., Michou, V., Milani, M., Perovic, N., & Young, C. (n.d.). Sharing the ABC approach to learning design across three European Universities. European University Association (EUA), 2019 European Learning & Teaching Forum.

Early thoughts

The ABC learning design approach has a lot going for it, but it’s not perfect nor universal. The authors report on the experience of rolling it out at two new institutions and the gaps that needed to be filled. Largely around better contextualisation into the specifics of the institution and its people.

Questions I have

  1. How and with what impacts the concepts and artefacts produced by engaging with the ABC Learning Design approach can be better integrated across the entire life cycle? i.e. not just design, but also implementation, orchestration, reflection and re-design. i.e. a more [[forward-oriented-design]] approach.
  2. Can Laurilard’s six learning types be used to identify, discuss, and curate the “manageably small set of particularly valued activity systems” identified by Ellis and Goodyear (2019, p. 188)? They argue that a focus on such a set is a sustainable way to bring together education, technology, and facilitities management into a useful collaboration to improve learning. But what activity systems are required/valued? Does a process like the ABC approach and its focus on the 6 activity types help to identify those?
  3. If and how would Goodyear’s (2019) “short arc” academics engage in something like the ABC approach? “Short arc” academics are time pressed, reactive and tend not to engage in more formal design of learning and teaching. For better or worse, they make up a significant proportion of the population.
  4. What is the ABC approach missing? (somewhat related to question 1) e.g. it’s described as a curriculum design process. Thus the story boards produced are fairly high level descriptions of the activities to be completed. Not specific details about how to implement or orchestrate the activities. Some of the associated resources (e.g. connected learning tool wheel) connects activities to specific tools, but doesn’t capture any information about how to use those tools and associated principles/technologies for effective learning.


The European universities wanted digitally rich learning experiences but not all teachers had “the design skills, technology knowledge and time to remodel their courses”. The ABC approach was rolled out and successfully used at two institutions.

but the approach raises complex issues of academic development prior to the workshop and learning design support afterwards. Effective adoption of shared methodologies requires considerable cultural and linguistic localisation.


Rather than seeing the deficit in teacher knowledge and digital learning design requirements as an academic development issue the paper

suggests a more holistic approach integrating skills development to a novel approach to module and course design may be more effective

The ABC approach designed explicitly for staff at research intensive universities

Extracted Annotations (1/4/2021, 7:32:32 AM)

but the approach raises complex issues of academic development prior to the workshop and learning design support afterwards. Effective adoption of shared methodologies requires considerable cultural and linguistic localisation. (Hasenknopf et al :3)

Yet in all three institutions only a few of the most pioneering teachers and academics have the educational design skills and technology knowledge to remodel their programmes in this way (Hasenknopf et al :3)

This contradiction has often been treated as an academic development issue, but work at the three universities suggests a more holistic approach integrating skills development to a novel approach to module and course design may be more effective (Hasenknopf et al :3)

But is this as holistic as you can get? A good first step. But how then to support it. Is this kind of what the difficulties in the abstract get at. The need to customise and ensure that the module and course design approach is effectively and contextually supported? (note on p.3)

conversations can be poorly structured and hampered by the lack of a shared “design language”. (Hasenknopf et al :3)

In order to address these multiple challenges the three universities required a more efficient, streamlined process to innovate and adapt that could be both aligned to institutional strategies and also based on sound educational principles and practices. (Hasenknopf et al :4)

Okay, but then the process needs

  1. To be contextually implemented into everyday experience
  2. Supported by appropriate tools/resources that help with #1

The question is how difficult it is for people to adopt the process and how likely they are to continue it? i.e. how difficult is #1? How much of a change from how they work?

Can the addition of better tools that start to the share their practice also help those that don’t engage in the design process.

Linking back to the short-term versus long-term approaches to design. Is the ABC process a long-term design solution? (note on p.4)

The EXEL team had the daunting task to engage in redesign with a wide range of academics within a short timescale. (Hasenknopf et al :4)

This is the challenge of the design/EXEL team. Not the academics. Is ABC a solution to the problem of meso-level practitioners? Rather than teaching staff? (note on p.4)

in 2018 a new law has been implemented mandating the academic development of the new teachers at the university (Hasenknopf et al :4)

UCL’s popular ABC workshop had been developed specifically for teachers in LERU-type universities and had already been used successfully for over two years in UCL (Hasenknopf et al :4)

The UCL team emphasised the alignment with institutional strategies but also the opportunities the method offered for staff engagement and development (Hasenknopf et al :5)

The ABC version provides visual overview of the learner experience externalising the course structure therefore making it immediately available for discussion by the whole academic team (Hasenknopf et al :5)

One question is how well can this artifact be more useful than just for this task. Making manipulation, implementation of the course structure easier. Rather than just for the design phase. (note on p.5)

Example activities are provided but teams are able and encouraged to add their own activities to the cards (Hasenknopf et al :5)

A question here is if, how and with what impact would the identification of common discipline (and context) specific activities within each of those 6 activity types? Having the music program identify the common learning activities within each of those learning types.

Extending beyond those, having templates/patterns for the foward-oriented design of those activities. (note on p.5)

support staff stimulates a wide-ranging discussion (Hasenknopf et al :5)

Suggesting that identifying the discipline specific learning activities before engaging in this discussion/process might not be the best thing.

The question moves onto focusing on how does the ABC learning design approach become more forward-oriented?

i.e. rather than something that is just used at the initial design of the story board, how does it become something that is useful and part of considerations/conversations throughout the life cycle of a course.

Having support staff involved in these discussions enable the identification, consideration and then implementation of the constructive templates that can help with the implementation of the specific designs. It also becomes an avenue for a program to start talking about those activity systems/templates and their use.

What Ellis and Goodyear talk about as the meaningful set of minimal activity types. (note on p.5)