How to select a tool that fits your design?

9LinkedIn supports many interesting groups for people in the educational domain. The nicest group I subscribe to is LOSMakers (“Loose Makers”). The members, currently 334, talk about online tools and their usability. Every month there is a Tool Exploration, always held in some web conferencing tool. To see each other live we meet up every 3 months. On January 28 our topic is: how do you select a tool that fits your pedagogical plan? We can refer to two models. One is The Pedagogy Wheel and the other is Diana Laurillards Conversational Framework. How could that work and how can they help us to describe a tool so it helps us to choose from the toy store?

For the Dutch speaking audience of Losmakers, I created a presentation in Emaze.

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1000 Tools in a list

A very active member of LOSMakers, Joost Verbrugge, has collected a yard long list of URL’s leading to online tools, categorized by functionality. Categories range from Brainstorming to Search options, and all kinds of types of producing media and online communication tools in between.

If I want to choose a tool to have my students easily create and share a video I can choose from a list of 25 online tools. I think they’re all free to use by the way. Obviously this list is fantastic. It grows daily, fed by tweets from people who signal tools to @VerbruggeJoost.

This categorization is a great help in the selection process. But, one obviously doesn’t start from this list when building an instructional scenario. “Hey, let me have my students make a game, because it sounds like fun! We’ll see what they learn from it.” When designing you would think:

I would like my students to understand some principles behind a well structured instructional text. I am going to let them compare three expertly written texts and search for examples of application of these principles. As a group they work online and collect these examples matching them to the principles.

What kind of tool would you suggest?

I am going to see how The Pedagogy Wheel helps me.

The Pedagogy Wheel based on Bloom’s Taxonomy

During the LOSMakers MeetUp we will go over the possibilities and pros and cons for about five tools. At the end we want to draw conclusions on useful labels for identifying tools. The group might work towards a database or tags for the tools. Three freelancing women are organizing the MeetUp. Su Rondon Gasque,  Jolien Wessels and me. Su suggested The Pedagogy Wheel as input, designed by Allan Carrington and others.

wheelYou can download the wheel as a pdf with all the apps linked. In 2013 already 8000 people had done this before you! The wheel shows apps for the iPad but also stuff you can use online or tools you have to buy, like Articulate. As you see, the apps are divided over Bloom’s Cognitive Learning Domains.

Choosing from the wheel menu would work like this, I think:

  1. Select a Domain your learning objective fits into. In the next circle in this piece of the pie you choose an Action verb that you have used in your objective (if you have written your objective as a performance, like Dr Mager taught us to)
  2. Choose an online Learning Activity that allows your students to perform the action(s)
  3. Select a tool based on the Activity that you want your students to use

Sounds easy.

Next task for you as a designer is of course to find out how the tool works and how to offer it. Is it best to present your assignment in the tool or somewhere else and than link to the tool? Do you see your target group eagerly dive into it? And, how are you going to make it available to them? Does it need installation, an account, or can you embed it somewhere?

Using the wheel for my learning task

In my example I launch my students safely from the Understanding platform. Surely, scaffolding is important, som more complex stuff will follow later. “Compare” is an action verb in the wheel. “Collect” examples and “match” them with principles are also part of the Bloom vocabulary.

Next: what activity will I get going online? It looks like I need Bookmarking and Commenting. Students can work straight into the example text I have given them.

From the tools in the outer ring I only know Twitter, Facebook and Google Search. iAnnotate is a name I associate with commenting into a pdf. Having checked this out in the AppStore, I think this tool can do the trick. My students need to share their stuff. No problem, I see they can share the annotated pdfs on Google Drive.

Before I would actually decide to use this, I have a long way to go researching and testing. The tool is not free, for instance. I would like my students to have a drop down box to choose the principles from, etcetera. (To be honest, as a Moodle user, I would first check out the plug in database. I think there is a pdf annotation plug in…)

The Conversational Framework

What I like about the wheel is that you can research tools driven by learning objectives. But, I miss the perspective of the pedagogy you as a teacher have chosen (or you are “invited” to apply by your institution).

Suppose you are not only thinking about having your students Evaluate texts but you also want to let them do this by Discussion. Categorizing tools with a combination of learning objectives and pedagogical strategy they afford, could be ideal.

Through a Mooc on blended learning organized by our Open University I stumbled on the work of Diana Laurillard. She works at the London Knowledge Lab (view her profile).

I am deeply interested in design methods for instruction, so I was delighted to see she published a book titled Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology. Building good instruction should be considered a design science, she says. I couldn’t agree more! It is awfully hard to prove scientifically what method or learning activity has a significant effect on learning outcome. Laurillard states that working as a designer and stealing from industrial or architectural designers lets you “articulate your pedagogy, adopt, adapt, test and improve it and even co-create and share it.” This will help in finding Holy Grails.

How does the framework work?

Laurillard explains her Conversational Framework in the first chapters of the book. In following chapters she discusses how you can use it when you are designing within the instructional strategy you have chosen, or when you want to evaluate what you just designed. No patience for a whole book? This link takes you to the moment in a recorded presentation on video where she starts explaining the Framework.

Here is an image of the framework.


The book explains how you can touch just one part of the framework, some parts, or all of them. You can take a trip through the whole framework with your learners, if you let them follow a sequence of patterns of teaching-learning cycles, each based on a different learning strategy.

At first it takes quite some mental work to get it, but if you analyse it from the viewpoints that:


  • the learner is always in the middle of the framework and
  • he is “in conversation” with either the teacher on the left or his peers on the right and
  • working conceptually or practising

it becomes clearer in which parts of the framework the strategy and pattern you have chosen are sitting.

Teaching/Learning cycles

A teaching-learning-cycle contains these steps for conceptual learning:


Learner has a goal > She studies, investigates or discusses concepts (action) > She generates some form of output (without that, feedback is impossible) > Teacher (and/or peers) give feedback > Learners revises her concepts and reaches her goal > New goal

For learning in practice or modeled learning:

Learner has a goal > She studies a model (action) > She tries it out in the real world or in a practice environment (action and output synchronously, with or without peers) > Feedback is returned intrinsically from the environment > She adapts her actions until she reaches her goal > New goal

Before we can really use new concepts or skills in our work we need to go through a number of these cycles. As a designing teacher we give our learners a series of Assignments. An assignment guides learners through a cycle that is optimally aligned to their learning goal and learning context.

They will learn either individually and only focused on conceptual knowledge, for instance What is the short term memory and how much information can it hold? Or they go through them in dialogue with a teacher and peers while experimenting in practice with new concepts. How can I create e-learning modules taking in account the limitations of short term memory? And all variations in between. These variations are determined by the strategies you choose as a designer.

In the chapters consecrated to strategies she discusses learning through Acquisition, Inquiry, Discussion, Practice and Collaboration. Examples of the way in which digital technology can facilitate them,helps to choose appropriate tools. She rarely names specific apps or software, but describes activities or features like hyperlinking, web quests or forums.

If you are interested in how these cycles look for each strategy, then move on to the next post.

Using the Conversational Framework for my learning task

So what strategy would I choose for the task in which I have learners understand principles of good instructional writing by recognizing examples of application? A simple form of Inquiry combined with Discussion, I think it is. The learners’ ideas about the principles will get sharpened in his own mind by distinguishing examples and receiving correction form the teacher. He would get help from peers in his reflection on the matching of principles with examples. I would try to find a clever way to link the group discussion to fragments in the texts they have read. This would perhaps take me to iAnnotate!

Synthesis possible between the wheel and the framework?

How do we proceed from here if our goal is to describe digital/online tools for education (or team collaboration) so we can select the tool that facilitates our design for teaching best? Should we:

  • design a database with fields for Blooms domains as well as for the strategies so you can do a combined search
  • write a formula that describes the pattern in the framework and make tools searchable per formula
  • create a set of tags for the Action verbs, activities and strategies
  • create a model that shows a synthesis of Blooms domains, verbs and activities and patterns from the framework
  • forget about synthesis and go for just one model, as using one model is already complicated enough?

And what to do with tools like AdobeConnect, platforms like Moodle or Learning Stone or YouTube? With these toys you can do almost anything, depending on the task you give your learners!

What strikes my while I am reading a post of another instructional hero, Clive Shepherd, is  that Laurillard is very much focused on teaching an d learning in formal higher education. Does her framework and the strategies she describes, cover workplace learning where so much learning is happening informally? This is a context for learning many of the LosMakers are designing for. Maybe ask Laura herself?

Read on from here to gain insight in the combination of pedagogical strategy and teaching-learning-cycles. Or jump straight to the overview of possible fields for a tool database.