DC4E (English info)

The 8 steps of the Design Cycle for Education

Learning design models provide guidelines and guidance for educators and course designers in the production and delivery of educational products. It is seen as bene cial to base learning designs on general learning theories, but these must be operationalised into concrete learning design solutions. We therefore present one such educational design model: the Design Cycle for Education (DC4E). The model has primarily been created to support the shift from traditional face-to-face education to blended learning scenarios. The cycle describes eight steps that can be used iteratively in the (re)design of educational products and provides educators and course designers with a exible but clearly structured design model that enables them to reinvent traditional course content for blended learning with appropriate learning design tools.

Identify – from insight to idea

Educational design problems are usually complex and require creativity to be solved. Their solution is found the quickest when conceived by heterogeneous teams of experts. At the beginning of the cycle it is important to define the goal(s) of the blended learning design and to identify challenges.

Step 1: Goal

Educators who have to develop a course or a module often al-ready have an idea about the goals to be achieved with the educational product as well as about the target group that needs to be addressed. If this is not immediately clear, it is advisable to consult stakeholders, e.g. by performing a needs analysis in the domain. In addition, it is possible to consult experienced educators who have already developed modules, but also learners who have experience with such modules as well as future students (the target group). They can not only provide input regarding the goal, but also have insight into the preconditions and requirements (step 2) that must be taken into account during development. Interviews or surveys are methods that can be used to get insight into the requirements of users. Different types of technological tools can be used,e.g. online surveys tools, online focus group interviews and online group concept mapping systems are useful resources as the collected data can be summarised and analysed directly.

Step 2: Challenge

Based on the outcomes of the first step, it is possible to describe preliminary design challenges, preconditions, and requirements. Preconditions can be legal frameworks for education, but also internal policy agreements or limitations and opportunities within an educational institution to which the course/module will contribute: the educators are the experts and they have to take and be given the space to express that expertise. Moreover, the design challenge not only depends on the stated goal, but also on the possibilities within the educational context, i.e. which resources, how much time, what kind of expertise etc. are available to achieve the goal. To make the educational context within an institution more transparent, success factors for designing blended learning within the institution up to that point can be analysed with the help of an expert study. This information can provide insight into important requirements for shaping a sustainable and pleasant environment for designing education, i.e. looking at what has been tried in the past to achieve the goal. During this step, much consultation is needed with the stakeholders involved about the design challenge, but also with regard to the module’s contribution to learning outcomes. It is recommended that the final formulated design challenge together with the associated learning outcomes be presented toa representative group of people from the chosen domain / educational program.

Combine – from idea to creation

If the design challenge is set out in a rough form, the next phase is to further explore what the current situation is, which learning activities were selected, what the possible social interactions are that are planned, and, in particular,which contextual factors were taken into account. Other questions that need tobe asked are: To what extent does the current module have to be redesigned in order to be able to tackle the formulated design challenge? Is a radical new design needed? How does the module contribute to the learning outcomes?

Step 3: Inspiration

As already indicated, designing is a cyclical process. A designer should not only look back on their own previous solutions, but should specifically consult those of others. After all, when trying to solve a problem, it is important to make use of already existing (innovative) solutions. Design metaphors (see section 4) are one way to do so. Wherever the design ambitions go further, it can be useful to conduct a literature review or to contact educators who have experience with curriculum development. It is often easier to be creative by deriving a solution from existing sources than by coming up with something completely new.

Step 4: Analysis

After gathering new ideas, all realistic options have to be analysed in the light of the educational context, the design challenge and the learning outcomes to which the module contributes. Depending on the learning outcomes the course/module is aimed at, final goals and any intermediate goals need to be formulated. This target structure largely determines the structure of the course/module. During this step, which deals with the generic design, it is the intention to choose the components of didactic action in direct relation to the overall and intermediate goals. Every educational design requires content knowledge, pedagogical and technological knowledge independent of whether this is united in one person or covered by several. The core concept of this step is the educational design. The rough design takes shape at the end of this step while the specific framing will be worked out in the next phase of the model in concrete blended learning activities using learning technologies.

Realise – from creation to product

In this phase of the cycle, the components of didactic action are filled in and elaborated into a specific design. The prototype is implemented in the LMS and presented to stakeholders for further development into the final educational product, i.e. the course or module.

Step 5: Development

When the scope of feasible and usable solutions isthus defined and the choices for the components are made, it is time to workout the specific design in detail. The first elaboration is based on the genericdesign from step 4 and is translated in the form of a test version of the modulein the LMS. This step deals with combining content (as set out in overall andintermediate goals) with the design choices. Here, it is also decided which toolsand technologies will be used to support the educational activities.

Step 6: Prototype

In step 6, the test version of the course/module in theLMS is submitted for feedback to fellow educators, (educational) experts oralready graduated students. It is important that essential components as wellas didactic methods and learning technologies are properly tested in order to beincorporated into the final product. Test sessions with prototypes provide thedata on the basis of which the prototype can be assessed for its suitability andadjustments can be made. Information can be retrieved face-to-face, but digitaltools for online consultations or online platforms for conducting digital surveyscan also be used. At the end of this phase all adjustments have been made andthe module is ready for implementation.

Investigate – from product to insight

The first implementation of the module takes place in this phase of the cycle; the course/module will run for the first time and will then be evaluated. Adjustment scan be made based on the evaluation, i.e. the cycle is repeated on the basis of the evaluation data, al be it at a faster pace. In this phase we can still speak of a prototype as it is assumed that various iterations are needed for optimisation.

Step 7: Evaluation

There are a number of criteria that can be addressed in evaluations, with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction being the most important ones. Education is always about learning something or achieving the learning goals set for the target group. When what has been learned matches the designers intentions, a course/module can be deemed effective. Other measures that can also be taken into account are attractiveness and sustainability. Attractiveness of a module is high when it motivated learners to learn. Sustainability of a module can be set into relation with the costs it takes to maintain it. Evaluations can be carried out formally, e.g. by hiring experts or by letting learners and educators complete questionnaires, or informally, e.g. by the designers themselves. The latter is less objective but may be sufficient. In addition, standard user statistics can be taken from the LMSs log files.

Step 8: Adaptation

Depending on the outcomes of the previous step, the adjustments needed for a given course/module can be quite small. Sometimes, however, a reconsideration of one of the preceding steps of the cycle may berequired. Step 8 of the cycle thus often signifies a new iteration of the cycle, though possibly in an accelerated way. In addition, at this point of the cycle reflection happens with regard to the entire design process. To make this exercise meaningful, it is necessary that not only the results of the evaluation are carefully recorded, but that the process of going through the design cycle is also well documented in order to learn from it. Reflection is the prelude to the next round of the cycle. The knowledge acquired can be used to improve the course/module for the target group. Even if a new design round is not necessaryat this moment, compiling a reflection report is sensible. If small defects gradually appear during the course of a module, the report can help to make the correct change


Examples and templates for the 8 steps can be found on our website [only Dutch]


See also the blog item about our poster presentation at EC-TEL 2019


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