Pearson Shares Its Learning Design Principles

In December 2016, Pearson published a set of 45 learning-design principles under a Creative Commons license. A company blog post calls them the “nexus of education research (i.e., products based on research) and product efficacy (i.e., research-based products that evidence impact on outcomes).”

Pearson is an international company that creates educational courseware, publishes textbooks, and sells a variety of technology-based learning services and products. From its place at the center of the US battle over “privatization” of public education, the multibillion-dollar company is not without controversy, particularly for its dominance of the standardized testing market. Pearson designs curriculum, creates learning materials and standardized tests, trains testers, runs tutoring centers and online education programs, and more.

The publication of the learning design principles is, according to EdWeek Market Brief editorial intern Leo Doran, “part of a company-wide push for transparency in evaluating the efficacy of their products.” The company simultaneously released a report on how it uses learning design. Transparency is certainly valuable, as is insight into how Pearson and other instructional designers “make the sausage,” so to speak.

The principles are grouped into six themes:

  • Foundations (eight principles)
  • The nature of knowledge (ten principles)
  • Practices that foster effective learning (eleven principles)
  • Learning together (five principles)
  • Learning environments (seven principles)
  • Moving learning sciences research into the classroom (four principles)

They are presented as “cards,” each filling the front and back of a full sheet of paper. Each includes a description, list of capabilities, sample design implementations, learner impacts, and a “self-assessment instrument.”

It’s not clear how Pearson hopes or anticipates that learning or eLearning professionals will use these principles or “cards.” They are not written in a way that will be easily understood or useful to everyone. For example, one principle under “practices that foster effective learning” is “universal design for learning” (UDL), pictured in the original article.

The description offers a broad definition of what UDL means and why it matters. The learner impacts—behavior and self-regulation—are vague, and the capabilities and sample design implementations listed are somewhat obscure, though perhaps they are meaningful to Pearson insiders. The self-assessment grid, also vague, does provide some insight as to how a designer might apply or implement the principle, with several entries hinting at “provision of multiple options” presumably referring to providing learners with multiple ways to achieve each learning objective.

Similarly, the description for “games and virtual worlds,” under “learning environments,” explains why people use games in learning and references several research studies. But the “capabilities” section says only “Instruction: Active learning experience”—not very meaningful. Nor are the statements on the “self-assessment instrument” particularly helpful.

In short, some of the principles are more accessible than others, and instructional designers might find useful ideas among the sample design implementations suggested. The PDF with the 45 principles also includes a lengthy bibliography, which could be useful to many eLearning professionals. 

The Pearson blog post says that the company has also created design tools and guidance documents. They use the cards to “set a common language and understanding of learning science research” for their product designers and developers. The Pearson announcement hints at additional releases and an “extended dialogue,” which might provide more information on how people, both within Pearson and outside of the company, are using the principles.


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