Roads, Bridges, and Roadmaps – Building Courses on Learn

Map of Scotland from 1573
Image Credit: Original: Title: Scotiae tabula, Creator: Ortelius, Abraham, University of Edinburgh Collections Catalogue No. 0043455. Remix by Joe Arton

In this Spotlight on Learn Foundations post, Triin Sulengo an undergraduate philosophy student describes the experience of successfully training staff on the use of Learn, the University’s Virtual Learning Environment as analogous to the principles of effective urban planning and cartography design…


When I first moved to Edinburgh, Nicholson Street confused me. Or well rather, the fact that it changes names every little while defied all common sense. I told myself there must be some method to this madness, but I can’t deny that it did make being already late to everything even more stressful. Now, I admit having got used to it (finally!), it does have its charm. The labyrinthine character of closes, bridges and odd naming conventions adds to the fairy tale land of Edinburgh. But I’m not sure I’d be as forgiving to a modern city-planned place.

Learn can sometimes feel like trying to navigate Edinburgh, except you don’t have Google Maps to help you out; nor the scenery to make the journey more pleasant. What you do have however, in abundance, is the stress of trying to uphold that new academic year’s resolution of being on top of my courses this time around. And then you come to the six-way junction of streets all named ‘Essay.’

I’ve been working on Learn Foundations for a bit over a year now, and the last three months of that have been assisting with Learn training sessions. I’ve had my fair share of epiphanies while training staff. ‘Oh so that’s what my Course Organiser was trying to do!’ However, it does make me wonder where that disconnect happens. I see lecturers trying very hard to get their wealth of knowledge across to students, and from a student point of view it does feel like we put effort into trying to get the most of what they’re offering (at least most of us). Yet somehow, everyone ends up frustrated.

The more I work on Learn Foundations, the more I realise that education is a two way street. But as a trainer it does sometimes feel like it is two separate streets struggling to connect. I’ve come to view building a Learn course, as well as using it as a student, as trying to build a road through a forest. Imagine two people trying to build a road that’s supposed to meet in the middle. Both need to start constructing from where they are in the direction they think the other person is. Now if they’re lucky, they might actually find each other. But in most cases they both end up feeling betrayed in the middle of the woods. It’s true, with enough effort you could fight your way through the thicket to the other person, provided you don’t lose faith half way through. Yet after a while you might come to question whether it’s really worth it.

This is where road maps can come in handy. Making sure that both sides know what they’re doing and have clear instructions and guidelines as to what is going on and where to go next. We can’t really expect staff to perfectly predict how each individual student will use Learn, but on the other hand it does seem discouraging for students to be left confused when trying to at least access their course materials. There’s a reason we like to talk about good practice all the time. It really does make a difference and frankly, gives a straightforward way to start unravelling the puzzle that is Learn. And besides, if students keep seeing the same course structure across their courses, maybe they’ll finally remember what ‘Submit your assignment here’ actually means!


photograph of the authorTriin Sulengo

Triin Sulengo is an undergraduate philosophy student. Triin has been interning with Learn Foundations for over a year now with the last three months focusing on the Learn training aspect.


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