At EdBooks, we believe that premium learning experiences are the result of four key elements: (1) exceptional instruction, (2) quality learning materials, (3) well-designed learning environments, (4) engaged students. We also believe that these four elements are interrelated and interdependent. In other words, any one of these elements cannot exist in its fullest potential without interaction from the other three. These beliefs guide our product design at EdBooks. They are why we use a unique process called Learning Environment Modeling (LEM) to design product frameworks that support the teaching preferences and specific course contexts of each instructor.

LEM is a visual tool for designing learning environments such as courses, workshops, and training programs. It uses visualization techniques to represent key information about the way learning environments are designed – much like architectural drawings for the construction of buildings. LEM also helps designers and instructors correlate specific design elements to learning results, and facilitates more effective communication throughout the design process.

We use LEM as a foundational tool for our content products and our work with faculty partners. LEM is pivotal in helping us understand the best ways to infuse learning design directly into our product models, and is invaluable in our efforts to ensure that our content design is optimized for specific learning contexts, including traditional, hybrid, and online courses. Among other benefits, LEM provides a visible framework for evaluating the efficacy of content and activities within our product designs.

The EdBooks Lesson Model

We begin product design work at EdBooks by defining our core learning environment model for our lessons. As shown in the learning environment model below, our baseline model establishes a progression through five different stages.

Image of a learning environment model progression using LEM

Contextualization – Without a basic framework in which to place lesson information, learners are slow to absorb or understand the content. That’s why our goal in this stage is to establish a context for lesson concepts before we begin transmitting them with full detail. We also refer to this as the first part of the “Why” question. In the contextualization stage, the question we want to help students answer is – “Why is this information important in the world?”

Elaboration – Once we create a clear context for the lesson information, we’re ready to share it fully with learners and elaborate our explanations with multiple forms of examples. Our goal in this stage is to answer the “What” question. “What are the specific concepts students need to understand so they can begin applying them?” It is important at this stage to provide a broad range of perspectives, both from expert sources as well as via community conversation.

Relevance – Our next goal is to transition learners from a basic understanding of lesson concepts to a sense of personal relevance. This stage is about helping students find motivation for internalizing and applying information in a way that will lead to actual mastery. In this stage, we want to help students explore both deeper and broader implications of lesson concepts. This is the second part of the “Why” question – “Why does this information matter to me personally?”

Agency – At this point in the lesson, we want learners to take personal ownership of lesson concepts and to begin applying the information in ways that are relevant to them. This stage is all about the specific, contextual application that is the beginning of concept mastery. With agency, then, we move from questions of “Why” and “What” to “How.”

Mastery – In the final stage of our model, we want to give learners an opportunity to demonstrate an applied synthesis of what they have studied. Out goal is to provide a place for students to show, through project work or summative assessment, what they have learned. Where possible, we also want to include discussion from the larger learning community as part of this stage. 

Image of a sample learning environment model for an EdBooks lesson

Using LEM to Work with Faculty Partners

LEM is easy to understand and use, and provides a common language that helps make invisible elements and assumptions related to the learning experience visible — and sharable — by everyone. LEM is particularly useful when we begin working with new faculty partners.

At the outset of a partnership, we use LEM in our learning design consultations to gain an understanding of the learning experience a faculty member wants to provide his or her students. We follow up this initial session by sharing a draft learning environment model based on our understanding of the faculty member’s vision. This step ensures that we have understood his or her course goals accurately before offering suggestions about content customization, activities, or additional resources.

Once we have a final, shared learning environment model, we work with the faculty partner to identify specific content needs or areas where the model might indicate a need for product customization or reframing. Once this step is complete, we have a clear set of goals and action items that will guide us in the delivery of the desired learning solution.

The learning environment models we create for faculty partners also serve as a foundation for other planning and activities. We use them to create rubrics for evaluating course efficacy or to measure the impact of specific content and activities. The model is also valuable as we help faculty partners work through course redesign processes.