Design online learning to support a sustainable future

Photo credit: Kevin Yudhistira Alloni, Unsplash CC0

In this post, Lizzy Garner-Foy, shares an easy three-step guide for creating online learning materials that support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Lizzy is an Instructional Designer in the Online Course Production (OCP) team within Educational Design and Engagement (EDE). This post is part of November and December’s Hot Topic Theme: COP26 and embedding the climate emergency in our teaching.

This resource provides practical guidance on how to create online learning materials that support the United Nations’ Global Goals. In three steps, you’ll learn how to plan, design, and develop open, accessible digital resources that contribute towards a better future for everyone.

At the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development agenda are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or Global Goals, which are an urgent call for action to end poverty, improve health and education, and reduce inequality, whilst also tackling the climate crisis. The University of Edinburgh strives to contribute towards achieving these global aims.

One of the areas we’re committed to doing this is with our short online course portfolio, which contains over 80 courses, and we have 4 million online learners worldwide. The portfolio is delivered across three free, open digital platforms: Coursera, FutureLearn and EdX.

The following three steps provide an overview of our course design process, downloadable quick tips and guides to use when creating your own online materials, and how-to videos for creating educational media.

Step 1: Plan a course that champions the Global Goals

We work with teams across the University to develop short online courses that support the Global Goals. For example, we have developed courses such as ‘Mental Health: A Global Priority’, ‘Climate Solutions’ and ‘Learning for a Sustainable Future’.

By reviewing the aims of the SDGs, selecting topic areas that align with them, and carrying out market research to find out what is currently on offer on digital learning platforms, you can find out if there is a gap that could be filled with your area of expertise!

It’s also a good idea to consider resources available to you – youth groups, key leaders, networks – with whom you could collaborate to create learning materials that offer unique and valuable insights into a topic.

Step 2: Design your course – make it collaborative, inclusive and diverse

We support academic teams to use the ABC Learning Design method to design courses in a collaborative way. Try to gather a diverse course team so that your course design is more likely to offer an inclusive perspective on the subject.

The ABC method pulls together 100 years of teaching and learning research and condenses it into a conversational framework of six learning types that are intuitive to use, and provide a shared terminology to discuss ideas.

Once you have a clear set of learning outcomes, you can devise the structure and content of your course – all in 90 minutes! The aim is to build learning sequences of manageable bitesize chunks, so that your learners are not overloaded with information, can develop skills steadily, and remain active and engaged throughout the course.

Step 3: Develop open, accessible materials

 Offering open, accessible digital materials promotes lifelong learning and minimises barriers to education. Online courses on sustainability-related issues gives people of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to thrive and adapt to a changing world, and contribute to creating a sustainable future.

There are lots of fantastic collections of open-source materials available to use, reuse and adapt. Have a look at our Open Education Resource (OER) Channels and Top 10 Accessibility Tips guides to support you when creating your own materials.

When thinking about media production for education, it can be difficult to know where to start or how best to approach the process. Have a look at our How to Make Video Content playlist for tutorials on scripting, storyboarding, filming, and more.

We also have a Content Writing Cheat Sheet which aligns with the six learning types used in ABC Learning Design, and Plain English Guide to support you when writing content. Adhering to these simple design principles will make your content much more engaging and palatable to a global audience.

To summarise, we know that there are huge crises happening around the world that need to be addressed urgently – climate change, mental health, food security and more. The more people that have the opportunity to learn about these issues, the more likely it is that we can combat them. The fourth SDG pertains to ‘Quality Education’ and aims to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’- with open, accessible learning, we can all contribute towards achieving this.

If you would like to know more, the University of Edinburgh offers a new short course How to Create an Online Course that expands on the resources provided here. The course focuses on four key areas: target audience, active learning and narrative, learner engagement, and digital tools. It is available to join now and complete at your own pace.

Photo of the authorLizzy Garner-Foy

Lizzy is an Instructional Designer in the Online Course Production (OCP) team within Educational Design and Engagement (EDE). Her background is in academic writing, editing, and media production, and she is passionate about creative approaches to learning and teaching. Lizzy works closely with academic teams to design, develop and build online courses.

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