Rich visualizations and costing in SOLE 3.5

As promised this version of the SOLE Toolkit, 3.5, remain a free, unprotected and macro-free Excel workbook with rich functionality to serve the learning designer. Version 3.5 has two significant enhancements.

Rich visualization of the learning spaces and tools: that students are to engage with in their learning. This provides an alternative, fine-grain, view of the students modes of engagement in their learning. It permits the designer to plan not only for a balance of learning engagement but also a balance of environments and tools. This should allow designers to identify where ‘tool-boredom’ or ‘tool-weariness’ is possibly a danger to learner motivation and to ensure that a range of tools and environments allow students to develop based on their own learning preferences.

Faculty-time calculations in design and facilitating: based on the learning spaces and tools to be used there is now a function to allow programme designers and administrators, as well as designers themselves, to calculate the amount of time they are likely to need to design materials and facilitate learning around those materials.

This builds on newly designed functionality release in September 2014 in version 3 of the toolkit, namely;

  • Predicated Workload – the amount of time the designer anticipates students will spend is on activities charted.
  • Sequencing activities – the ability to suggest the order in which activities should be tackled. It remains an open approach and so the numbering system (letters, Roman, multiple instances of the same item) is open. It is considered important in the SOLE Model that students should take responsibility for the learning process as so the sequence should  be suggestive or advised.
  • Completion Record – a column has been added to allow students to record whether an activity has been completed alongside indicating the amount of time was actually spent on any given activity.
  • Objectives Met Record – an area is included to allow students to indicate that they believe they have met the objectives for each individual topic/week.

At its core the toolkit serves to implement a model of learning based on the SOLE Model itself and it is worth reminding yourself how the model is designed to work.

Further Details:

Here are two short videos that detail the significant enhancement made in Version 3.5 of the Tookit.

Visualisation of Learning spaces

Calculating Faculty-Time in Design and Facilitation

Version 3.0 SOLE Toolkit Released

I’m delighted to be able to release version 3.0 of the SOLE Toolkit. Changes have been made to strengthen the way students might make use of the toolkit as an advanced organiser. These changes include:

  • Active Verbs – the terms used to describe the elements of the SOLE Model now uses active verbs to describe each of the elements. This is intended to make them easier for students to understand. So for example ‘Assessment’ becomes ‘Assess’, ‘Personal Context’ becomes ‘Personalize’ and so on. Further explanation of the elements is available here.
  • Predicated Workload – the amount of time the designer anticipates students will spend is now charted.
  • Sequencing activities – the ability to suggest the order in which activities should be tackled. It remains an open approach and so the numbering system (letters, Roman, multiple instances of the same item) is open. It is considered important in the SOLE Model that students should take responsibility for the learning process as so the sequence should  be suggestive or advised.
  • Completion Record – a column has been added to allow students to record whether an activity has been completed alongside indicating the amount of time was actually spent on any given activity.
  • Objectives Met Record – an area is included to allow students to indicate that they believe they have met the objectives for each individual topic/week.

You can download the toolkit from this website here. It is free to use but as always I would appreciate feedback from users as to changes they make and the usage they make of the work.

Models of Distance and ‘Blended’ Learning

It is always a privilege to be listed with others whose work one admires. I was pointed recently to a page produced by Laura Heap at the London Metropolitan University in May 2014 on their eLearning Matrix pages. On a page where Laura outlines possible answers to the question “What models are there for blended and distance online learning delivery?” she has chosen to include my work here on the SOLE Model alongside some people that I deeply admire.

LondonMet Reference
LondonMet elearning Website

Laura lists four different models (references on the London Met webpage) which each, in very different ways, seek to clarify dimensions of the challenge presented by distance and blended learning scenarios (something I have already written about on my personal blog). Professor Terry Anderson at Athabasca University (Canada), alongside Randy Garrison, whilst at the University of Calgary back in the late 1990s and 2000s, developed a “community of inquiry model” as an instructional design model for e-learning. It seeks to acknowledge the impact of the mutual interdependence of student and teacher through three overlapping ‘domains’ of the social presence, cognitive presence and the teaching presence.

Her second inclusion is the ‘5 stage model’ originated by Professor Gilly Salmon, now at Swinburne University (Australia). This model, from memory, originated from Gilly’s PhD work at the Open University Business School in the early 1990s and I have been a critic of its simplistic adoption by many others. The original premise was similar to that of Anderson and Garrison’s work that learners needed to be socialised into a learning ‘community’ in order to operate as effective learners. Originally somewhat limited by the world of CMC (Computer Mediated Conferencing) this model has been extended by others.

Laura Heap’s fourth ‘model’ (I’m third so will come back to that) is by Professor Diana Laurillard, now at the the Institute of Education (London) referred to as the ‘Conversational Framework’. This work also dates from Diana’s time at the Open University late 1990s and early 2000s and has been adapted and developed by a great many others since. Essentially I would describe it as a reinterpretation of dialogic learning, notably in its form advocated by Mikhail Bakhtin (Bakhtin, 1981) who argued that meaning is a co-construction that results in processes of reflection, dialogue, between people. Laurillard builds a simple model that encourages teachers to structure, and plan, that dialogue into their teaching design.

The inclusion of the SOLE Model is flattering and does fit rather well. I tried to incorporate meta-theory into the development of a toolkit which would support learning designers and teachers to create ‘communities of inquiry’ whilst recognising the ‘social’ dimension and the the cultural differences which students live through every day. Borrowing particularly from Professor John Biggs’s work on the SOLO taxonomy (Biggs and Collis, 1982). I also sought to encourage , after Bakhatin and Laurillard, to embed a conversation between the learner, learning activity and the learning objectives.

What is clear is that to have a theoretical framework for effective on-line learning design is essential. I may have deviated from Anderson and Garrison’s separation from the social and cognitive processes, and from Salmon’s stress for human socialisation but the SOLE Model does allow for the personal, communitarian and societal dimension to learning. In fact I see the principle difference is the focus on the student’s immediate ‘campus’ environment and to place a greater stress on the student’s real and diverse life ‘outside’ the control of the learning provider. I also differ from Laurillard’s sequenced activity designs that result from the conversational framework into a more ‘freeform’ learning design at the theoretical level, but the toolkit development will hopefully include further structural aspects in the near future. Learning and teaching online (distance or ‘blended’) presents unique challenges for teachers and students alike. Personally I advocate transparency to design for the student by sharing the design as an advanced organiser (SOLE Toolkit) in order to express clarity of the learning process (dialogue) and to encourage interaction and feedback leading to enhancement. Whichever way you look at it, it is privilege to find the SOLE Model included in such illustrious company.

SOLE Model at London Met
SOLE Model at London Met


Bakhtin, M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Biggs, J., & Collis, K. F. (1982). Evaluating the Quality of Learning: Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome Taxonomy. New York: Academic Press Inc.

Universal application of the SOLE toolkit

I am very pleased that the model and the toolkit continue to attract attention despite the relative neglect that I have subjected it to.

There have recently been to academic enquiries that give me some calls to think that the model and toolkit continues to have significant value. One was a request to use the illustration of the model in an upcoming chapter on blended learning, which was the challenge which prompted the models development in the first place. And the second an invitation to translate the SOLE toolkit into Spanish. This second request is itself particularly interesting since I believe the fundamental concepts to be universally applicable. Some of the early writings around the SOLE model explored the ways in which it might be applied in indigenous educational contexts and so the opportunity to translate into another language community internationally is very exciting.

I hope that in the not too distant future there may be Spanish resources available here to share and this will give an impetus for the further development of the toolkit.

Evolving faculty roles and emerging learning spaces

I’ve been looking recently at a range of new builds in Universities and colleges in the UK and have been struck by the relative lack of any learning theory behind the designs. Beyond, that is, the Vice-Chancellor’s evident pride at being able to point to the new coffee franchise and padded benches and say wisely “students’ like to learn in these informal spaces you know”. Today, ahead of some planned workshops in July, I published a short working paper entitled “Re-visioning Learning Spaces: Evolving faculty roles and emerging learning spaces“.

The paper recognises that new build and refurbishments of educational spaces can be significant financial commitments and often represent ‘flagship’ investments for many universities. It questions whether they are really supporting effective learning. This paper advocates that truly effective spaces need to be more closely associated with the particular learning contexts one is seeking to enrich. Re-visioning our learning spaces requires universities to create and engage with a conceptual model of the learner and faculty, to develop not just new spaces but support for new roles within those spaces. The SOLE model is presented as a conceptual framework through which new spaces and new faculty roles are considered.

Paper can be downloaded at or direct from BPP University College pages (ISBN – 9781 4453 5457 6 / Publication Date: May 2013)

Reflected Glory: Sugata Mitra’s SOLE Toolkit

I’ve been surprised this week to find a sudden increase in my blog visitors. As these peeks happen occasionally I just put this down to some MOOC out there stumbling across my SOLE model and deciding it was worthy of sharing. Always pleasing in itself, but not surprising perhaps. This was a sudden and unexpected peek, so one digs a little deeper into the stats and yes, lots of people seemed to be searching for the ‘SOLE Toolkit’. Excellent finally the traction  the critical mass, I have been….. ah.

Merely reflected glory it seems, for when I also do the ‘SOLE Toolkit’ search I find that the remarkable Sugata Mitra, currently at Newcastle University (UK), has been awarded the 2013 TED Prize  for his work to ‘Build an School in the Cloud‘ and part of his contribution is something also called the SOLE Toolkit. His ‘Self-Organized Learning Environment ‘ toolkit is an amazing read and well worth getting hold of. I actually think there may be more similarities to these two namesakes than is apparent at first. I contend that any effective environment should allow for each of the nine elements of the ‘Student Owned Learning Engagement’ model and Mitra’s ‘SOLE Mindset’.

When I developed the SOLE model in early 2010 I was most concerned with the notion that teaching staff found it difficult to draw the balance between maintaining an instructivist identity, the expert role, and the facilitation of independent and thoughtful self-discovery amongst learners. The Student-Owned Learning Engagement model was envisaged as a professional development instrument primarily, to engage teachers in deconstructing the learning experience and to see their role in the process from a different perspective. It’s a privilege to share the name with Mitra’s different but similar aspiration.

The Value of Advanced Organisers

The value of the advanced organiser dimension of the SOLE model is being evaluated based on its use in a short postgraduate module in January-June 2012. Whilst the toolkit proved invaluable in the module design process, the maintenance of the excel based tool as an advanced organiser for students appears to have been less successful. A fresh project begins in October 2012 to refine the editing tool to allow for more dynamic maintenance. 

Version 2.4: Weekly Objectives

Version 2.3 of the SOLE toolkit (August 2011) introduced a ‘dashboard’ allowing the course designer to see the distribution of student workload across all the weeks, or learning units. Version 2.4 (October 2011) sees the incorporation of a ‘Weekly Objectives’ view, drawing together the weekly objectives set against the module outcomes for the first time. Each iteration is designed to provide staff and student with a greater transparency to the learning design intention.  Version 2.4 is also distributed as a fully populated exemplar, rather than a blank template to aid its deconstruction and usage.

Modes of Engagement: Version 2.3 of Toolkit released

Can one know too much about the learning we design? Why is it we appear to know so little? It’s hard to share what you can’t articulate. This is an attempt to make the learning expectations, aspirations and intentions we have of learners as transparent as possible. The desire to produce a useable, intuitive (or at least helpful) toolkit to implement the SOLE model of learning design has seen several small incremental updates in 2011.

Version 2.3 of the SOLE toolkit is released today 5th September and introduces a ‘modes of engagement’ schematic to a new ‘dashboard’ sheet within the toolkit workbook. The toolkit remains a standard Microsoft Excel workbook, without macros or protected cells that any user can customise and adapt.

Download the toolkit and explore.

Dashboard: Recognising Faculty-Student Contact Time

Dashboard in Version 2.3 Beta

Following the presentation of the SOLE model and toolkit at Madison-Wisconsin in August 2011, a number of conversations about the ‘diagnostic’ function of the SOLE  toolkit have taken place.

One of the concerns of faculty and students is contact time. How much contact time am I being offered (versus how much I take advantage of), what other opportunities for facilitated guidance do I have. Why indeed, do I as the student not recognise the ‘directed’ learning I have been pointed to, and in the case of the SOLE approach, the entire toolkit forms an advanced organiser that demonstrates the consideration faculty have given to my learning time as a student.

The version of the Toolkit presented at the 27th Distance Education Conference at Madison Wisconsin broke down the learning engagements students were being asked to complete under the 9 elements of the model into 5 areas, or modes, of engagement. These are exploring the notions of learning engagement as reflective, introspective, social, facilitated and directed. In the next version of the toolkit I’m exploring a ‘dashboard’.

The Dashboard is a separate sheet that simply presents an overview, to faculty and potentially students, of the modes of learning being designed for the student. It shows at a glance, alongside the full profile of activities for each week or unit, a schematic that illustrates how much of the activity is facilitated, directed, and so on.