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Designs for the learning outcome ‘to explain a concept’

Ideas for activities to motivate and encourage students to learn, with illustrative examples, and participants' learning designs collected on Padlet.

The previous exercise was about creating a learning design for the learning outcome ‘to learn a cognitive skill’, which should be relevant to most teachers at some stage. This exercise is to design for the learning outcome ‘to explain a concept’.

Learning design begins with defining the intended learning outcomes, i.e. the achievements you intend for your students by the end of the session. Being clear about what they should learn makes it easier to think through what it takes for them to achieve that. It also helps you to decide how you will know what they have taken from the session.

This is a fundamental aspect of a good learning design: that there is alignment between the intended learning outcomes, the form of assessment, and the activities that link the two.

The ‘form of assessment’ simply refers to the means by which you find out how students are thinking – it could be from their discussion comments, or a quiz, or a poll, or an exercise – not necessarily anything formal.

The Download on ‘Constructive Alignment’ is a set of 6 slides with a worked example, and a blank template, of how you might think through this type of planning. Just click through each slide and read the Notes below each one.

Before working on your design, here are some ideas for activities that motivate and encourage students to learn, illustrated with examples

Create clear expectations of how students should work together

Guide their group work by giving explicit instructions as to the roles each student should play, how long they have, what they should agree on to produce as the joint output of their work, and how it will be followed up.
Scaffold students’ development of their ideas
Create the confidence in students for them to take part in online discussion by setting up small buzz groups to discuss the points they want to make before opening up to plenary discussion. They can rehearse the points they want to make with less risk.
Set up the means for students to comment on each other’s plenary contributions, even if only in Chat, to encourage independent thinking, help them rehearse their point in a less risky way, and improve the teacher-student talk ratio – and make time for your summary comments across the main points they make that need comment.
Help students discover what they don’t understand
Attempting to ‘teach back’ the teacher’s presentation to fellow students can help students discover the questions they really need the answers to. Split the class into groups of 2 or 3:
  • Each student takes the role of teacher, student, observer (if using 3) in turn
  • Give the ‘teachers’ 2 or 3 concepts to explain to the ‘students’, while the ‘observers’ take notes on questions they cannot answer
  • Students take turns at each role for 2 mins each
  • In plenary each group asks the questions they could not answer, for the teacher to respond.
Encourage social learning
Make use of student-led small-group discussions between synchronous sessions to maximise student interaction when learning online. Motivate them by proposing an aim and output for the discussion that is challenging enough to make them think further about the concepts they are learning. Then they post their output to a shared site for review by the rest of the class, and the teacher.

In each case the idea is to create the reason why the students should be doing each task, giving them the sense that there will be a beneficial follow-through. All these ideas help to keep the cycles of learning moving through operation of the teaching-learning process.


  1. Compare the two learning designs in Downloads for Explaining a complex concept (water cycle), and see how it was turned into its generic version Explaining a complex concept (system), or click on the Learning Designer versions.

  2. In the Learning Designer, adapt the generic version OR create your own design for this type of learning outcome.

  3. See if you can use any of the ideas above.

  4. Save your design and click ‘Share’ to generate a short url, which you can post on Padlet.

  5. Browse through other participants’ versions of this design, noting the comments you would like to contribute to the discussion.


Did you find some good ideas among the other contributions? Can you see how digital and online methods can help with this kind of learning outcome?

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Blended and Online Learning Design

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FutureLearn - Learning For Life

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