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Breaking the iron triangle



Presentation title of no more than 50 words

Explorations in breaking the iron triangle: Alternate conceptualisations and contemporary technologies for moving beyond the pivot

Abstract of between 300 and 350 words

flexibility, quality, scale?

Projects can be seen as having three constraints that are inextricably linked to form an iron triangle. The linkages between these constraints mean that attempts to move one of the vertices (constraints) must result in movement the other two.

With learning and teaching in higher education the most commonly discussed constraints are: cost of provision; quality of experience; and scale and diversity of access.

For some time, a key challenge for higher education has been how to maintain quality whilst increasing scale and diversity.

A challenge made real by the pandemic-enforced pivot online. Where the rapid diversificiation and scaling of different modes of access are perceived to have negatively impacted quality and come at increased cost, especially workload.

It appears that beyond the pandemic pivot there will be an on-going need for flexibility in access that will prevent a return to pre-pandemic practices and continue to raise iron-triangle questions about cost and quality.

This session will focus on sharing and questioning the approaches, successes, failures, issues, and reflections arising from the work of one group of learning professionals as they struggle(d) with the iron triangle challenge. It will explain how this work has drawn on alternate conceptualisations (e.g. the Law of Requisite Variety, Tesler’s Law, activity-centered and task-oriented design, Dron’s definition of educational technology, Fawn’s entangled model, Goodyear’s forward-oriented approach to design for learning etc) and contemporary technologies (e.g. web components, citizen development, robot process automation etc.) to respond in ways that often challenge existing practices and at their best had positive impacts on learning and teaching both within and beyond our group and institution.

Providing access to high quality L&T via various modes to a large and diverse student body Trying to change one of those constraints inevitably impacts the other constraints.

Author details

including name, title, affiliation and a biography of 200 to 250 words for all named authors

David Jones Learning & Teaching Consultant (Design) Griffith University

David has worked in higher education for almost 30 years. Most of that time has been spent figuring out how to improve and transform learning and teaching, including the use of digital technologies. A tinkerer with a love for kludges and bricolage…awards etc.

Alignment with sub-themes

A statement of no more than 50 words outlining how your submission aligns with one of the sub-themes for the conference

The explicit aim of the session will be to share ideas and generate discussion around how universities can move “Beyond the ‘Pivot’”. With particular focus on how to improve and transform “emergency remote instruction” sustainably and at scale.


Explorations in breaking the iron triangle: Alternate conceptualisations and contemporary technologies


Idea for an abstract/paper for Theta’2022

Ryan et al (2021)


Already facing massification, reduction in funds, with COVID higher ed is facing increasing need for flexibility and scope (micro-credentials etc)

Pre-covid Massification etc had already made the iron triangle a key challenge for higher education. The apparent triple constraint of the iron triangle created a challenge that any attempt to increase scale would require movement in the remaining two triple constraints of quality and access (or some such). A challenge that COVID - with huge increase in technology (access) and increasing uncertainty/flexibility combined with on-going government cost savings made only more difficult.

How does a higher education institution break the iron triangle?

This session will report on explorations within one Australian university that has had some success in increasing quality and scale of learning and teaching


Downes pulls apart ALT ethical framework, including priority given to the autonomy of others

Linkages to other practices

Ellis and Goodyear

I’m wondering if what we saw today was Rob’s response to the following from Ellis & Gooyear (2019)

I also like Goodyear’s (2009) suggestion for the “short arc teacher” (i.e. Rob’s 60%) “embed good ideas in these tools”

Technological change

All the numerous technology studies of the 20th century share one conclusion: it is simply wrong to conceptualise technological evolution according to a simple, linear model, no matter how appealing the simplification. Technological evolution is neither simple nor linear. Its four major characteristics are instead that it is uncertain, dynamic, systemic and cumulative. (Grubler 2003, p. 21)


EDUCASE’s Dx push

Some of the same drivers

Largely the same intended outcomes that drive student success

And mentions some other potentially important points

But seems mostly focused on what management does. Defined actionable steps for campus leaders end up with

No description (yet seen) of how and what transformations those teams work on. Also has heavy focus on key institutional goals and ambitions.

Against User Centered Design - more systems

Beyond the lens of UCD makes three points against UCD, including “obscuring possibility”

Learning technology and COVID

How learning technology can help?

Description of technologists involvement in generating a Scottish Government report around COVID. With a particular focus on what it says about learning technology.

With particular quotes/recommendations including

The author concludes

What started with the Scottish Government looking for ways to utilise support staff expertise in the development and delivery of online & blended learning ultimately narrows to educators having to take on more responsibility, and support staff being cut….Or perhaps more likely a middle ground, where the use of multi-disciplinary teams of subject specialists, learning techs/developers, admin & IT all come together to deliver teaching and support learning?

Highlighting the failed focus on the activity system/ecosystem?

Response to the above a follow up blog post that distills a twitter thread of responses.

Highlighting different perspectives, including the challenge of educators wanting some sense of ownership of their work and also the challenge of clashes of perspective/purpose/goal