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Practical design patterns for teaching and learning with technology

A book for Sense Publisher's 'Technology Enhanced Learning' series

Editors: Yishay Mor (London Knowledge Lab), Steven Warburton (King's College London) and Niall Winters (London Knowledge Lab)
Series editors: Richard Noss & Mike Sharples

Designing effective educational technology and technology-based activities is a non-trivial problem. This is often because the two need to co-evolve and thus no designer has a fixed reference point. Ideally, techno-pedagogical design needs to be an interdisciplinary exploration where every agent in the system – the learner, teacher, educational designer, and policy maker – is driven to constantly experiment and redesign their practices. This creates an acute need to find effective ways of sharing design knowledge in education. Yet the current literature, whether academic or professional, does not adequately support such sharing. Two extremes dominate: anecdotal accounts of personal experience on one side, and abstract theory on the other. From the perspective of practitioners aspiring to perfect their craft, both are problematic as they require significant interpretive effort before they can be applied to a new situation. This interpretive gap means that practitioners have difficulty building on the success of others in a cumulative manner. The current literature (in particular academic texts) tends to refer to a specific disciplinary or paradigmatic source. What practitioners need is to be able to access all facets of the educational experience and choose those that work best for their context, be it epistemic, pedagogic, organizational, social, and/or technological.

The situation is just as critical when several actors are involved in the development and implementation of an educational intervention. Here, where responsibilities are divided between parties they must find a common language for collaboration and co-ordination at the design level in order to create meaningful learning and teaching experiences.

Thus we are confronted with the multi-dimensional challenge of capturing and sharing distributed and dynamic design knowledge in education. This knowledge relates to the design of tools, activities, social configurations, and the synergies between them. Our solution to addressing this problem is through the iterative development and use of design patterns.

The last decade has witnessed a growing acknowledgement of the design pattern paradigm for research and practice in the learning sciences, (for examples see: Bergin, 2000; Goodyear et al, 2004; Brouns et al. 2005; Retalis et al, 2006; Winters and Mor, 2008). This book builds on this growing tradition, and specifically on the outputs of the Learning Patterns and Pattern Language Network projects. It adopts the participatory pattern-based methodology developed in the course of these projects to offer a set of themed solutions for practitioners. Each self-sustaining package includes a suite of tools comprising a set of case stories, related patterns and solutions in the form of future scenarios.

Case stories illustrate a critical problem by demonstrating its manifestation and resolution in a concrete context. They are first-person accounts of practitioners' experience detailing a challenge they have faced and successfully overcome. These will include both technology experts developing new technologies for learning, and educators finding effective ways of using technology in their practice.

Design Patterns distil the reusable elements of design from distinct cases, so that they can be immediately applied in new situations. A design pattern captures a recurring problem, the context in which it occurs, and a possible method of solution. They are derived from experience and backed by theory, abstracted one step away from the concrete yet still applicable to real-life situations.

Scenarios demonstrate the application of patterns to hypothetical problems. Where case stories report on past experiences, scenarios present current and future challenges facing practitioners. They are used as test cases to demonstrate the validity and utility of patterns.


Design patterns articulate captured design knowledge held by both practitioners and experts in a meaningful and actionable form. As such this book aims to bridge the divide between researchers, technology developers and educators, by providing a common design-level language. The primary audiences are educational practitioners who will find it an inspiration for the effective use of technology. They will find a set of practical and usable design ideas that, rather than being prescriptive, provide open solutions to concrete needs. The scenarios will elaborate real world solutions that will help guide practitioners in adapting and applying the patterns to their own educational contexts. The book will also appeal to developers who can use it to ground their design in evidence drawn from the case-stories. Researchers in education, technology and design will find the book useful as a way into the design patterns methodology itself.

How will this book be used

The primary usage pattern for the book is as an off-the-shelf problem-solving resource for educational practitioners. Whether conceptualising an educational experience, selecting and configuring technology to support the experience, or developing content and tools of their own, practitioners need to make many design decisions under tight time and resource constraints. The design patterns in this book should highlight key issues they need to consider, and offer insights in to possible ways of addressing them. These are not set recipes: as Alexander says, a practitioner will apply the same pattern a million times, without doing the same thing twice. Cases and scenarios serve as grounding illustrations for the patterns.

A second pattern of using the book is as a straightforward literature, a cohesive set of ideas which should provoke practitioners to reflect on their domain, its challenges and potentialities.

Finally, we hope that practitioners will find inspiration in this book to follow a similar process of identifying cases of problem-solving in their work and their peers, extracting patterns, and using these as a vocabulary for design level conversation in their professional environment. Having worked with communities of practitioners, we are aware of the acute need for providing patterns, and supporting cases, in a form which has been subjected to editorial scrutiny and is readily accessible. A dynamic, accompying collaborative web site is valuable in the process of developing patterns, but it does not afford intuitive and straightforward use by non-experts.

Our observations from the workshops we have run over the last few years suggest that software developers find such patterns useful in conceptualising the problem domain and identifying rich requirements. Similarly, researchers find them a powerful tool for qualitative analysis. While we hope that the book will be used in such ways, this is not our primary concern as noted above.

We believe that this book will provide an invaluable resource for educators, researchers and technology developers, and would facilitate deeper communication between these communities.

Current Draft

The book is being developed via an open collaborative process. The current draft of the book is available for viewing. After publication, this site will be retained as a companion site, for on-line refernece, updates and discussions.

Related titles

Peter Goodyear and Simos Retalis, ed. (forthcoming) Technology-enhanced learning: design patterns and pattern languages, Sense Publishers

Goodyear and Retalis set the scene with a comprehensive review of the field and solid theoretical grounding. The proposed title builds on these foundations, by adopting a single well-defined methodology and using it to offer theoretically-sound practical resources.