How would you set up a Database that helps to select a tool?

databaseIn my previous posts I described two models that can be helpful for learning designers who want to select a tool to effectuate their instructional design. Not only your learning outcomes or instructional strategy determine what kind of tool you need, but also a number of organizational and technical matters. Suppose we would configure a database, what fields would you need to allow a quick search with a fitting selection of hits?

Let’s give it a try. My commadres and a few -padres from LOSMakers (and everybody else) are welcome to help. This is a concept of a list of fields with the options one can (multi-)select while adding a tool. From experience I know a database is not built in a day, so this is just a start. And maybe it doesn’t have to be a database, but just a good tag cloud?

In the following ideas for describing tools I try to combine the Pedagogy Wheel and the Conversational Framework. See my previous post for images of those models. The wheel is helpful because it actually categorizes tools; most of which we know. The Framework is good because it describes  complete Teaching-Learning cycles. Diana Laurillard has already done some of the sorting work in chapter 6 of her book Teaching as a Design Science. I combine these pedagogical features of a tool with practical information you need to choose well.

General information

Description and screenshots

A few lines of text about the purpose of the tool and how you can use it. Screenshots give an idea of styling and usability.


Where to find the tool?


Who made it and who owns the tool?

Target groups

  • Children under 6 (who can’t read)
  • Children under 12
  • Teenagers 12 -18
  • Students in vocational education
  • Students in Higher Ed
  • Professional adults

Database fields by Learning Strategy

Do we distinguish between what a teacher can do and what a learner can do? Most tools can be used by both sides. Sometimes, for instance in a Learning Management System or Virtual Classroom the teacher has more capabilities than the learner, but it’s practically always possible to upgrade a user to a role with more powers, so I think it’s more informative to look at the functionality then at the user. Although, often a teacher wraps the concepts she wants her learners to study or tasks she wants them to work on, in digital technology. I will mention that explicitly when necessary.


Bloom: Remember, Understand

Conceptual cycle, with or without teacher

Consume digital media

  • Read text
  • Watch video
  • Watch animation
  • Listen to music or podcast

Produce or edit media to be studied, containing concepts and/or tasks

  • Write and structure online text
  • Tell a story
  • Produce and design a presentation
  • Produce a video
  • Capture a lecture
  • Edit a lecture
  • Share/stream a lecture
  • Edit video
  • Produce animation
  • Produce music
  • Edit music
  • Produce podcast
  • Present data collection or image gallery
  • Reveal or clarify structures and relations between concepts, guide study behavior

Study media, process concepts or have understanding corrected

  • Summarize or annotate text
  • Answer questions in a text or posed with a resource and save your answer(s) to be corrected automatically or personally
    • Asynchronously by teacher (essay task)
    • Synchronously with (conditional) automatic feedback or model answers
    • Synchronously during a presentation
    • Answers can be represented graphically
  • Annotate presentation slides or video
  • Create a glossary
  • Collect concepts from various resources and restructure them (mindmapping)
  • Create and save study questions
  • Produce media, other than text, in response to a study task within the same tool/platform


Bloom: Analyze

Conceptual cycle with a teacher and sometimes with peers

  • Make available a (collection of) dataset(s), digital collection of resources or virtual museum
  • Search through digital collections or resources
  • Guide a digital search (webquest)
  • Collect, select, label or structure information, URL’s or files
  • Conduct a survey to collect opinions or other data from people
  • Analyze data
  • Represent data or result of analysis in a digital medium


Bloom: Evaluate

Conceptual cycle with peers and teacher 

  • Discuss asynchronously
    • In text
    • In audio
    • In video
    • In graphical representations
  • Discuss synchronously
    • In text
    • In audio
    • In video
    • In graphical representations
  • Organize/structure discussion by topics or groups
  • Combine resources with discussion
  • Vote on statements
  • Moderate discussion with super powers
  • Evaluate contributions


Bloom: Apply or Create

Teacher Practice/Modeling Cycle (with peers) with intrinsic feedback

  • Create practice exercises in multimedia with automatic feedback
  • Create adaptive practice exercises in multimedia with automatic feedback
  • Analyse received feedback automatically
  • Monitor your progress automatically
  • Reflect on your progress
  • Design a (role playing) game  that provides intrinsic feedback
  • Play a game individually or with peers
  • Experiment in a virtual lab, simulation or authentic microworld that provides intrinsic feedback
  • Experiment in a virtual reality environment that provides intrinsic feedback


Bloom: Create

Peers Practice/Modeling Cycle

  • Create a shared output, using
    • Text
    • Graphics
    • Animation
    • Video
  • Discuss the development of shared output in relation with the output
  • Organize and structure the collaboration process
  • Document and represent the collaboration process graphically
  • Analyze and guide interaction automatically

Pedagogical use case with screen shots

I think it’s very important to show a use case. A teacher explains the pedagogical cycle she has designed for her learning goals and how she has chosen and deployed the tool, or combination of tools, to facilitate it online. Screen shots give an impression of the learning environment she created. She reports on the results and could give advice on other teachers who consider application.

(Laurillard is working on a website where pedagogical patterns can be shared. See the Learning Designer).

Practical information

Besides the pedagogical use a teacher can make of a digital tool, practical conditions are also important in the selection process. A tool might be perfectly fit for the teaching-learning cycle you ant to facilitate, but too expensive, too difficult to install, it will not pass the security thresholds your IT-department has laid out, only works with the very latest browser, or too difficult to learn if you only use it once…

Accessibility for teachers

  • Software can be used online after creating account, without downloading and installation
  • Software needs to be downloaded and installed, may require permission from institution

Accessibility for students

  • Is embedded in a HTML page, no extra  Login needed
  • Can be opened with a link, no Login needed
  • Can be opened from a learning platform with single sign-on
  • Can be opened with existing Gmail, Facebook or LinkedIn account
  • An account needs to be created
  • Student has to download and install software
  • Mobile use on tablet or smart phone

System requirements

  • Operating system independent
  • Browser independent
  • Requires Windows version x or OS y
  • Requires specific browser versions
  • Requires Flash
  • Popups have to be allowed
  • JAVA needs to be installed
  • Not functioning within Citrix

Communication with other tools, platforms or systems

Is it easy or even possible to integrate a tool in an existing platform or to make it exchange data with other systems or tools? Here my technological knowledge limits my ideas about useful describers.


  • Styling can not be adjusted
  • Own logo can be shown in header
  • Colors can be adjusted
  • Types and sizes can be adjusted
  • Styling is limited to a chosen template
  • Styling can be fully customized

Costs per user

  • Free
  • Under €5 per user per year
  • Between €5 and €10 per user per year
  • Over €10 per user per year
  • One time purchase of software included updates under €100
  • etc

Usability as reported by users

How to specify this? Make comparisons with software everybody knows? Required learning time? This is so dependent of people’s experience with technology and attitude towards it. For some people 5 minutes of concentrated exploring of menus and buttons is already too big an effort.

Are instructions available? Online help? A community?


It would be nice if visitors to the database can rate their experience, and…


write reviews, commenting on how they used the tool. One could create a form for this so user experiences can be collected in a standardized form. This would allow comparing.

I end with an afterthought…

How to describe tools that can be used in one or more cycles for wholly different stategies?

Laurillard states that usually one type of cycle will not suffice to fully master new knowledge or skills.  Suppose I am studying to become a really good designer for learning. Would just the strategy Acquisition, where a teacher comments on an essay I write, will get me there? I’d probably need to do lots of Inquiry to find out what we know about learning and what digital technology can do for learning, Practice by teaching learners in a virtual classroom for instance, Produce learning material for different environments, Collaborate with subject matter experts and multi media specialists and chew on the feedback I receive from them and from expert designers. Each unit or module in a course can play out a strategy.

I categorize functionality by learning strategy. The strategies are discussed in the second post of this trilogy.) Maybe this is not the best way, because we will see that many functionalities in tools can be used in multiple strategies, but for the inventory it helps me to follow the structure of Laurillards book. I think we will also see that each strategy activates a higher level of thinking and also contains the first strategy and often also the functionality and tools used.

An example with the very versatile tool Mindmeister

Suppose I am learning to become the best designer for learning in the Western Hemisphere, and I happen to be rather fond of Mindmeister. I could study Laurillards book taking notes using Mindmeister (Acquisition). Search for comparable design frameworks or methods and again, use Mindmeister to structure my notes and collect URL’s and files (Inquiry). Next I am using Mindmeister to create statements in the Notes fields. I share my mindmap with peers and my teacher and I invite them to respond to my statements (Discussion). We use the results of the discussion to choose three different design methods and bring them into Practice to map out a learning scenario. Again we can use Mindmeister for our designs. In our last learning cycle we pick the best design to Collaborate on a design that we will develop as a new course, using Mindmeister to define the sequence, collect learning materials and divide and manage tasks.

Where will this take us?

Some Losmakers have shown enthusiasm for the idea of a database to facilitate their daily work. We decided during our Meetup on January 28 to describe the five tools we looked at, using fields from the list above. We discuss these descriptions using one of those tools, the platform Learning Stone. This will give us a good idea of the usablility of this platform. What we conclude there will be taken over to the discussion in our LinkedIn-group, to involve the greater community. Then we will see if and how a database or tag cloud or combination of both will evolve. At least we will have a better structure to conduct our monthly tool exploration.


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