The LDL Program: Enduring, Far-Reaching, and Growing

by Tom Hanlon  /   Oct 23, 2018

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Through Learning Design & Leadership, educators and professionals from all walks of life learn to design and implement purposeful, engaging learning environments that integrate new media, learning, and assessment technologies.

The Learning Design & Leadership online program has been around in one form or other since 1998—making it a pioneer as online programs go.

“It was really one of the first web-based programs in any university anywhere, and certainly in education it was incredibly early,” says Bill Cope, a professor in the Department of Education Policy, Organization & Leadership (EPOL) and co-leader of the program along with fellow EPOL professor Mary Kalantzis. “The web didn’t happen until 1994.”

But the program is not only enduring; it is dynamic, transforming, and far-reaching: the MOOC versions of its courses alone have drawn tens of thousands of students. About 50 students each are currently enrolled in the master’s and doctoral programs.

“We have an extraordinary range of students,” Cope says. “We have teachers across the K-12 spectrum, teachers across different subject areas. We have educational software developers, people who work for design companies, for video companies. We have people in the military, in higher education, people who have been teaching but don’t have a doctorate and need to get one.

“Essentially we get people who are interested in the dynamics of teaching and learning, and they are coming from a remarkably wide range of walks of life now.”

That wide range, Cope adds, makes for rich class experiences for all.

“It changes the level of discussion from the nitty gritty of doing something very specific to where discussions are more of a generality, where people find a common ground to talk in general terms about the dynamics of learning,” he says.

Designing Engaging Learning Environments

The LDL program offers educators and professionals the opportunity to learn how to design and implement purposeful, engaging learning environments, including the integration of new media, learning, and assessment technologies. Learners tackle challenging questions about how to create more effective, innovative, transformative, and inclusive learning environments.

Cope and Kalantzis have coauthored or edited several books on literacy and learning in the digital age. “Through the LDL program, we prepare educators with a pedagogical repertoire of learning and teaching strategies to support the design and delivery of their subject matter and learning goals,” says Kalantzis. “There is a science to education, and this science asks and attempts to answer fundamental and searching questions. How does learning happen in everyday as well as formal educational contexts? How do we design learning environments so they are most effective?

Two Keys: Educational Media and Learner Diversity

Kalantzis says that two underlying keys to the LDL program are educational media and learner diversity.

“Digital technologies have the potential to transform learning,” she says. But that potential, she notes, is often not fully realized. The LDL program is designed in part to help fully realize that potential by exploring how educators design and implement technologies in support of learning and how to prepare learners for success in a world that is increasingly dominated by digital information flows.

As for learner diversity, the LDL program helps students examine how to differentiate learning to address the needs and interests of a diverse community of learners. A learning environment is only effective if it is conducive to the learning of all students, regardless of social class, age, race, sexuality, physical and mental abilities, language, and other types of diversity.

Changes in Learning—and in the Program’s Students

“The dynamics of learning is changing,” Cope says. “People are learning in workplaces, they’re learning in formal education settings. They are changing not just because of technology, though that’s part of it. But the dynamics of learning is changing where learners need to be more actively involved.”

And that change in dynamics leads to another change, one evidenced in the learners.

"It's not just a matter of what they've learned in terms of their own personal knowledge, it's how people say they've changed their practices in their everyday lives as teachers and learners."—Dr. Bill Cope

“The most profound change is when you hear people say they’re teaching differently, they’re integrating with their students in different ways,” Cope says. “That to me is the most important change. They all say they’ve taken away so much from the program. It’s not just a matter of what they’ve learned in terms of their own personal knowledge, it’s how people say they’ve changed their practices in their everyday lives as teachers and as learners."

A Better Model of Engaged Learning

Cope is a strong proponent of online learning, particularly for graduate courses and programs.

In a face-to-face course, a student’s context is understood in a “referred-to sort of way,” he says. Not so in an online course.

“We have teachers who are doing projects where they are doing innovations in the classroom,” he says. “They are teaching by day and doing our course by night. So we have this pedagogy that is far more integrated into everyday practice and we hear and see what’s happening every day in classrooms around the world. When people come to campus for their degrees, they are taken out of the world.

“These are adults and professionals and frankly, this is not only a very different model of engaged learning, it’s a better model. It’s the only way it should be for graduate education.”

The LDL Program at a Glance

The Learning Design & Leadership program has an array of offerings:

  • MOOC courses through Coursera; these are non-degree courses
  • A graduate certificate consisting of three LDL courses
  • Graduate endorsements in Bilingual/ESL and in Technology, consisting of five to six courses
  • An Ed.M. consisting of eight courses
  • An Ed.D. consisting of 16 post-master’s courses

The program offers concentrations in four elective strands: New and Innovative Learning Environments, Technology Specialist, Foundations of e-Learning in Higher Education, and Bilingual/ESL.

Inventing the Next Generation of Digital Tools

Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis have been inventing digital tools over the last decade through CGScholar, which was developed to build new kinds of knowledge communities. CGScholar allows students to access course materials, engage in discussions, create course deliverables, and review peers’ work.

“Mary and I have been building the next generation of learning environments,” Cope says. They also are developing and testing the affordances of digital media.

“Not only do the participants use the tools, but we are building the tools ourselves. That just doesn’t happen with most online courses. But this is a Research I university, and we have a research agenda that’s running alongside the courses.”