Published: 30 June 2020

Active Digital Design: Webinar review

Last week, Surrey Business School shared their work on Active Digital Design (ADD) with other universities and institutions, keen to learn best practice when designing their online learning offering.   

Person working on laptop

The webinar was presented by Dr Christine Rivers and Anna Holland from the Centre for Management Education (CME) and was facilitated by Stuart Norton from Advance HE. Christine and Anna have been instrumental in developing Surrey Business School’s blended learning journey by introducing an interactive and engaging Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), tailored for each module to maintain an authentic learning experience.

Covid-19 has accelerated the need to fully transition the Business School and led to the development of ADD. Over the summer more than 100 academics in the business school are attending hands-on weekly learning ‘design sprints’ to ensure the school can deliver an outstanding student experience in the new academic year.    

In 2017, Dr River’s research on how to improve visual usability in the VLE was introduced at module level and then programme level in 2018 where a variety of key design elements were introduced to engage students and aid navigation. These include: embedded content, short narratives, decorative images, guided-learning, content maps and colour coding. In October 2019 testing of these aspects was expanded and work on the IVUS project (Improving the Visual Usability in SurreyLearn) started.

The IVUS project introduced more in-depth aspects to support student learning online and offline. More scaffolded learning, further visual aids such as icons and a ‘student-lens’ approach were at the forefront of the project. IVUS testing started in February 2020 and all level 4 modules of the Business Management degree were included. Student feedback was very positive and over 85% agreed that they would like to see this new approach in the next academic year. Find out more here.  

Following the great success of IVUS, the approach used was refined and led to the development of Active Digital Design (ADD) in May 2020. This was in response to Covid-19 and the immediate need to move online and to accommodate hybrid learning and teaching in the long-term.

ADD philosophy is grounded in five inclusive principles for learning and teaching: Explore, create, collaborate, share and reflect. These principles are equally important for students while learning and academics while designing modules. The ADD method is based on five practical steps, identified throughout years of testing and in-depth research on visual usability:

Step 1. Template and content > Unified structured module design template and consistent approach to embedded content

Step 2. Supporting visuals > Individual conceptual module maps with weekly module maps and use of decorative images for content (e.g. weekly agendas, activities, narratives)

Step 3. Learning icons > Integrated learning icons to enhance student learning and signpost particular aspects in both the VLE and learning materials

Step 4. Narratives > Scaffolded learning through guided activities and captured content accompanied by short narratives and hyperlinked content

Step 5. Learning resource sets > Including sets of bite-size videos and deeper learning materials (activities scaffolded with narratives).

While ADD suggests following these five steps to warrant a holistic student experience, each step can also be implemented separately or over time. ADD is therefore a flexible approach to designing hybrid learning and teaching journeys, guided by questions of value and purpose.

While a consistent, templated approach is advocated for all modules on a particular programme to ensure students are able to easily navigate through modules without getting lost or having to adapt to different structures, the team also strongly believe that module personality and academic voice is crucial. These can be achieved by individual bespoke module maps and narratives to support learning. In addition, where face-to-face time is reduced, the use of narratives often replaces corridor chats and pre and post lecture conversations.

The five, key take-aways to consider when implementation ADD include:

  1. How does the culture and leadership support a move to ADD?

  2. Is it possible to adopt a programme level approach?

  3. Does the VLE space allow for ADD to take place, or which VLE would be required to adopt ADD?

  4. What resources (support, financial, technology) are available and needed to implement ADD?

  5. What level of transformation wants to be achieved? This could be at programme, school or institutional level, but also which of the steps are adopted and over what time period.  

For more detail on all of the above, an insightful Q&A, and to see examples of the design interface, please watch the full webinar here.

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