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Learning Design in the time of Covid-19

Dr Orna Farrell
Dublin City University (DCU)

This blog post is a summary of my recent journal article “Learning Design in the Time of COVID-19: The Digital Learning Design Unit Story”.

Learning design is a methodical approach to planning, developing and designing good learning experiences. Learning design is particularly important when planning blended and online learning experiences. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, online and blended learning design was quite a slow, tailored and quality orientated process. The large-scale pivot online due to the pandemic necessitated a different approach to learning design, speed, pragmatism and just in time support became key ingredients of emergency remote learning design. This meant that learning designers became the “first responders” during the great onlining due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this article, I describe the case study of the Digital Learning Design Unit (DLDU) based in Dublin City University (DCU) as an example of learning design and the work of learning designers during the time of Covid-19.

The Digital Learning Design Unit (DLDU) was formed swiftly in 2020 as part of DCU’s response to the pandemic. The unit was tasked with helping as many staff, modules and programmes to prepare for online delivery as possible in advance of the start of the academic year at the end of September 2020. With approximately five weeks to achieve this goal, the team developed a scrum approach to learning design combined with the ABC learning design model, which we called our rapid design approach.



The DLDU rapid design approach was a collaborative process which entailed four, two hour sessions over a two-day sprint which dedicated time for academic staff to explore and learn the pedagogical and technological approaches to effectively engage with hybrid learning. The sprints focused on hands-on tailored professional learning in a small group environment.



By the end of April 2021, the DLDU had worked with 442 DCU academic colleagues. In acknowledgement of the positive feedback and impact of the unit, a permanent learning design service has been created in DCU, incorporating the ethos, approach and people from the Digital Learning Design Unit.


Lessons Learned

In some respects, the pandemic was an enabler for higher education transformation. The pivot online, forced many educators to engage with online pedagogy, learning design and teaching, learning and assessment supported by digital tools. In this case study, the pandemic prompted a strategic approach to learning design for online blended and hybrid education. This strategic approach began as a temporary proactive measure to keep teaching and learning going but has now been cemented into a permanent strategy for online blended and hybrid education at our institution which will continue in the post pandemic environment.


Read the full article:

Farrell, O. (2022). Learning Design in the Time of COVID-19: The Digital Learning Design Unit Story. Open Praxis, 14(2), 162–171. DOI:

Listen to a Podcast about the article:

Episode 11 of Lets Talk Education Research


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