ABC Learning and Design is a curriculum design workshop developed by Clive Young and Nataša Perović in 2014 at University College London (https://abc-ld.org/). The methods align closely to the well renowned research by Prof Diana Laurillard on how students learn in “Conversational Frameworks” (2012).

The method was developed to meet the needs to build new courses quickly while working with inundated academics. This format allowed considerable amounts of work to be completed in a short amount of time and made information easy to share with colleagues. There was also a need for academics to be more inspired in what they could do when it came to; blended learning, using technology and design. Therefore, the process allowed academics to appreciate how they may use these tools and what could be realistically achieved in the time that they had.

During the usual 90-minute sprint session of an ABC workshop, academics are split into teams to work together to create a visual storyboard. The activities in the session include:

  1. Defining the unique selling point of programme, module or short course.
  2. Drafting the storyboard.
  3. Defining activities and assessments

The storyboard consists of printed cards in different colours which represents the types and sequences of the learning activities which the academics devise in the workshops.

On one side of the card the type of learning is categorised as one of the following:

On the other side of the card, the activities are detailed by the academics– whether that be digital or more traditional tasks. This enables the academics to illustrate the sequence and the variety of learning activities that will be used to meet the modules intended learning outcomes and the method of assessment.

The workshops have already seen evidence of success across the higher education sector. It has been shown to produce a sharp focus and high level of engagement from academics, specifically those who may not have normally had the time to collaborate in this way. An increase in the dialogue surrounding creative information has also been observed, as well group reflection about curriculum design, thus helping to produce a more cohesive and interactive product.

Academic themselves have noted a number of benefits to the method, including a quick development process, a reminder of the various types of activities that can be used and greater recognition of the benefits of different formats of teaching and learning.

Here at The University of Manchester, the ABC workshops were initially piloted within the University of Manchester Worldwide team to help develop courses as part of their Clinical Bioinformatics distance learning master’s course. The team had shared their success in using the high-energy 90-minute workshops to develop plans for their modules.

The FBMH eLearning team first became aware of the method when attending TELFest, The University of Sheffield’s technology enhanced learning festival. Here, the creators of the ABC method hosted a session on its use in higher education, and subsequently, this piqued our team’s interest on how it may be implemented in the design of courses within our faculty.

Following this, our team organised and ran two very successful sessions that saw staff attending from across the university. Although further sessions were in the planning stages due to increasing interest, the impacts of COVID-19 on university activities meant that the planned face to face sessions could no longer take place. The team is currently devising a strategy to deliver these workshops in a virtual setting, thus maintaining teaching continuity during the transition to online learning.

Lizzie Lewis and Annie Pye spoke about their experiences using the ABC workshop in developing their Psychology units. They decided to use ABC for developing their new unit on Emotion for the Psychology BSc. They appreciated how quickly you could redesign a whole unit and had the ability to collaborate with other academics on their strategies for teaching and learning. Lizzie explained how it was easier to tailor activities to topics and being able to concentrate more on pedagogy when picking new learning activities. ABC was efficient, helpful, creative and “an obvious choice for quick progression”.

So far, our colleagues in FBMH have used ABC resources to run online sprints in a variety of ways. For example, an editable online document was used for the presentation and the storyboard by psychology staff. Participants were able to copy and paste the learning type cards from the side of the storyboard slide, positioning them collaboratively during the group session. The whole slide could be copied if more space were needed for further weeks, and the document itself duplicated a number of times depending on how many groups were working simultaneously. This approach allowed for easy storage and reference to the created plan, and slides from individual presentations could be copied into a master presentation to talk to a wider group after returning from breakout group rooms.

Screenshot of PowerPoint Live Storyboard

Later when academics were faced with moving content from face to face, to blended and online, the programme committee asked that the ABC sessions were utilised for the entire BSc degree. They therefore ran sprint sessions with 1st, 2nd and 3rd year teams.

Speaking about the success of the sessions, Annie Pye commented, “The feedback we got was really positive, and pretty much everyone who participated came back with a good idea of how they were going to get that module to the next place. It [ABC] chunks information in a really nice way… you’ve got this flow of information and then it is really nice to implement because then you’ve got this idea of what you’re trying to achieve prior to that, and after that”.

Lizzie Lewis added, “Now we are in a situation where, in nearly every module in the BSc, we have a description of the module that uses the same visual format – which makes it easy to look across the different units and see what’s happening”.

Improved visualisation of the “learner’s journey” from year to year was also described as being an added benefit. Each session allowed the team to categorise each unit into subsections and then create tasks/materials that related to each of those. It was commented that modules with numerous teaching staff often lack connection across the various pieces of content, however, the use of ABC method helped in devising a “cohesive journey” for students on the unit.

One particularly useful element of the sessions was in developing short descriptions of course units in less than 140 characters (the former maximum length of a Twitter post). When included at the beginning of the sessions, it helped in understanding the students’ perspective of the course and provided a “selling point” for the unit, therefore allowing each of the academics to be on the same page when working towards their final goal.

Lizzie recommends ABC to “anyone who is looking to redesign their unit. It’s really helpful right at the beginning or if you are doing a redesign, or even if you have a module and want to re-evaluate if it’s the best way to teach your content.” Adding a new member of staff to the teaching team was also cited as a potential opportunity to use ABC, and completing the work online allowed for previous versions of the storyboard to be reconsidered and reflected upon.

Annie and Lizzie have very kindly stated that they are willing to share their resources if others would like to proceed with their own online workshops.

Trello boards are another way in which members of staff have made use of the ABC method when planning their projects. Here, the academics use the same headings and colour coding methods to produce their weekly plans, as seen below.

The below article by John Owen (Lecturer in Technology Enhanced Learning – i3HS Hub) discusses capturing the outputs of learning and design approach, and how he used 3 cloud-based apps to work alongside ABC workshops. Specifically, Airtable, Zapier and Trello (all which have free versions) were used in managing the development of online learning materials that allow for collaboration from a distance.

Link to article:  https://medium.com/i3hs-hub/designing-and-planning-your-online-course-with-trello-ad0ce1637fad

If you’re interested in learning more about ABC LD or running a session for your module, unit or whole programme, then please contact the FBMH eLearning team at FBMHcontact@manchester.ac.uk


Case Study: ABC Learning Design