Draft for Discussion

MSU’s Learning Design Strategy is meant to be a useful resource; it is designed to shape, advance and enrich the MSU community by ensuring that our learning environments put our values into practice. The institution is shaped by every decision we make and by how those decisions are made. This heuristic is meant to facilitate strategic decision-making across the university with regard to learning design – from developing programs to planning curricula, and from designing classroom assignments to assessing learning experiences.

We suggest a decision-making process that is focused, consistent, measured, future-oriented and informed by our institutional values. If we frame our decision-making in these ways, then over time, we cultivate habits that are consistent with our values and that produce outcomes that embody who we are: excellent, inclusive and connected.

To be useful, we offer two heuristics that can be deployed in tandem.

Heuristic 1

The first is a set of statements intended to serve as iterative touchstones to anchor our core values and institutional habits:

  1. If learning is not present in an environment, we will create a learning environment.
  2. If a commitment to and evidence of learning is present, we will make it authentic.
  3. If authentic learning is present, we will make it accessible, inclusive, excellent and/or otherwise aligned with MSU’s values.
  4. If aligned with our values and authentic learning is present, we will make it sustainable.

This four-point heuristic is concrete, but can scale to shape many different types of conversations about learning design.

Heuristic 2

The second related heuristic offers examples to help inspire, shape and guide thinking. And MSU has a number of examples of designed learning environments, expert teachers and intellectual tools that can serve as resources for thinking. Spend time with some of these examples. Some will inspire. Some will help shape thinking. Others might guide design processes in a productive direction.

If we put these ways of thinking together into a design process, we might get something like Figure 3.

Venn diagram displaying the learning design process for inspiring, shaping and guiding.
Click to Enlarge on Non-mobile Devices

Figure 3 represents a process ideally driven by MSU’s values, by our enactments of institutional habits, and by the centrality of learning and learners.  By providing examples below, we can see how this is working today at MSU.


Inspiring is the creative development of evidence-based educational experiences to empower Spartans. Inspirational roles: visionary, creative thinker, brainstormer


Professor Julie Funk interacts online with food safety studentsProfessor Julie Funk interacts online with food safety students.

Empowering active, engaged Spartans capable of learning throughout their lives.

Launched in fall 2002, the online Master’s of Science in Food Safety program has attracted mid-career professionals to advance their food safety knowledge while retaining their jobs and remaining in their home communities.

The program helps support working professionals to explore, experience and effectively manage the broad range of information essential to their continued professional success.

Instruction and direct experience working with cutting-edge topics and concerns related to food security, emerging foodborne pathogens, zoonotic disease and biotechnology help support these student professionals to thrive in an ever-changing workplace.


Shaping is a process by which we design sustainable practices that reflect our core values and engage our institutional habits. Shaping roles: designer, planner, architect


Student studying abroad in ChinaCollege of Arts & Letters Citizen Scholars program launched Fall 2016

Preparing the next generation of diverse, high-achieving and engaged citizen leaders.

In the Citizen Scholars program, students are encouraged to succeed academically while gaining experience in high-impact learning environments.

The three pillars of the program are aspiration, reward and higher expectations. Citizen Scholars can earn $5,000 in financial assistance for culturally enriching experiences like study abroad, internships and undergraduate research.

The Citizen Scholars program uses a digital badging system to help students track their accomplishments and keep a record of their progress and development. There are 4 themed badges that lead to the Citizen Scholar Comprehensive badge.


Guiding is a process by which we evaluate our success, align our vision, and reaffirm our commitment to inclusivity. Guiding roles: developer, maker, tester


Professor Stephen Thomas, facilitator and faculty of ISB 202Professor Stephen Thomas, facilitator and faculty of ISB 202

Including stakeholders – undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff – in practices, approaches and actions.

Winning a 2014 AT&T award for Best Fully Online Course, Stephen Thomas’ ISB202: Applications of Environmental and Organismal Biology was created for broad and massive participation and funded by the Gates Foundation.

Curriculum and content were developed by graduate students (23 graduate students from four colleges), faculty and staff from a range of MSU departments (IT Services, CAL, MSU Libraries, etc.). Novel, interdisciplinary approaches were adopted to meet student challenges. For example, ESL teaching techniques were incorporated to help train students to interpret scientific jargon.

The development of this course was designed to allow the MSU community to participate in and see the inner workings of a new educational model, the massive open online course (MOOC).

Comment and Share