Unpacking Learn Next: An Instructional Design Story

When we think about educator learning experiences, how do we define quality? How do we determine if the Learn Next content - our courses, learning progressions, and playlists - are of value to a range of educator learners? We believe that our offerings will be among the highest quality and most impactful you have experienced. We base this statement on the people and processes we employ to bring the Learn Next content to the field. Here is our story....

It starts with subject matter experts. The 2Revolutions’ instructional framework is built upon 10 Building Blocks. Each block represents a core competency educators need as they transition their practice toward the Future of Learning.  

 Figure 1: The 2Rev building blocks

Figure 1: The 2Rev building blocks

These competencies have been identified based on our collective experience and validating research. Then, building from our expertise as practitioners, we scour the literature to articulate the distinct skills and dispositions educators must possess and intentionally develop to be competent. This guides the development of learning progressions - an anticipated learning trajectory for competency development - for each Building Block. This, in turn, directs the creation of courses and playlists across the Building Blocks. (See Figure 1.) The draft progressions then go to our partners for feedback. They test our thinking against their respective expertise, and we collaboratively hone in on the core knowledge, skills, and dispositions an educator needs to be competent in that particular topic.

 Figure 2: Our Design Principles

Figure 2: Our Design Principles

Our partners also guide our course development. (See Figure 1 above.) Each partner was chosen for their deep expertise in their topic area and for the rich resources they have developed to support educators.

The role of 2Revolutions in the development process is to support the collaboration through curating, questioning, creating, shaping, and designing all of the rich information and assets from the partners into a scaffolded, learner-centered experience that adheres to our design principles (2Revolutions, 2015). (See Figure 2.) 2Revolutions’ design principles provide the overarching framework for our content design work. The first four principles- learner-driven, personalized, competency-based, and tech-enabled- also align to our Future of Learning principles where we strive for agentic, relevant, and mastery based experiences enhanced, not hindered, by technology.

A core part of our process was to identify our intended learners- would they be facilitated or non-facilitated?  Were these a mix of teachers and leaders? These and other attributes informed how we chose to structure the courses; to ensure that whatever the context, the learner could have an engaging, personalized, and coherent learning experience. To do this, we came up with user personas. Personas are fictional characters that we created to represent the different user types and to better understand users’ needs, experiences, behaviors and goals.

 Figure 3: Our content personas

Figure 3: Our content personas

Topic Tim, Rogue Rachel, and District-Driven Dan came to represent the three different types of users that our content, and therefore the overall experience, should anticipate. (See Figure 3.)

Our personas forced us to grapple with an array of needs. Ultimately, we decided to use discussion prompts, self-check activities, rubrics (or measures of success) for self-assessment, peer conversations and simulations. All of these instructional design choices are geared toward the learner engaging at levels appropriate for each of them at a particular moment.


Once the courses are complete, they are reviewed by both 2Revolutions and partner subject matter experts to ensure alignment between the learning progression, objectives, course tasks (typically scaffolded to a culminating task) and content. Often changes are requested- some minor, some major- discussions occur, updates made.

The last step in the process is the quality check. We use a standardized course template to ensure that learners do not have to guess where to start the course, find the syllabus or learning objectives, or know how to access technical help. The template provides a logical, consistent, uncluttered, and accessible layout using reliable markers, e.g., read/watch and think/do. Doing so means that the user does not have to learn a new course structure along with new content with each learning experience. (There are a few exceptions to this structure, but we note those and the rationale within the respective courses.)

Our template and quality checks are driven by research and best practices curated by the Online Learning Consortium and the State University of New York through the creation of the open-source Open SUNY Course Quality Review Scorecard (OSCQR). The genesis of OSCQR began with the Chico rubric, 20 years of Suny Learning Network research-informed best online practices, and a gap analysis with Quality Matters, iNACOL, and the Blackboard exemplary courses. The resulting rubric was also informed by the Community of Inquiry model (Garrison, Anderson, and Archer, 2000), The 7 Principles for Good practice in Undergraduate Education (Chickering & Gamson, 1987), The Adult Learner (Malcom Knowles, 1973), Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom et al., 1956) and How People Learn (Bransford et al., 1999). The OSCQR standards pertaining to course technology and tools, accessibility, design and layout, content and activities, and interaction have given us research-based goals through which we base our course-development process. Additionally, our end-of-course surveys, that let us regularly gather learner feedback, along with user analytics, further inform our revision process, as do focus groups and other targeted end-user activities. Additionally, we’ve studied Learning Forward’s professional learning Standards and ensured that our course developers understand that key outcomes address changes to educator practice and results for students. For school systems that are adopting the Learn Next professional learning curriculum, we refer them to the Standards so that they understand the essential conditions for maximizing the impact of their time and energy. This is an ongoing focus of many of our course activities and culminating tasks. The instructional design story never ends; it just iterates.