Design Education Research

Learning Design Process Flow Maps

The role of learning designer is poorly understood. In practice, learning designers within universities are often given jobs associated with learning technology (“can you please just put this up on the learning management system for me?”, etc.) In theory, though, learning designers are supposed to be concerned with the practice of designing for learning.

As Steven Kickbusch (2022) describes in his thesis on the topic of How learning designers work with teachers, learning designers need to be good at designing for learning (what activities need to be designed to make desired learning happen?), facilitating a co-design process (how can I work with a subject matter expert to ensure a good outcome from our design work together?), and also mentoring/coaching teachers (how can I ensure that the capabilities of my organisation to design for learning improve over time through my doing my job?).

I had the good fortune to work with Steven in developing a paper about ways to represent the process of designing for learning (Kickbusch & Kelly, 2021). Steven came up with the notion of Learning design process flow maps (LDPFMs) that capture the progression-over-time of the design for learning process.

The figure below (following Kickbusch & Kelly, 2021) shows an example of a LDPFM. I really like these figures as they show how a learning designer, teacher, or anyone else engaged in design for learning is proceeding with their process. The headings represent important aspects of a design for learning. LDPFMs are simple to create and obvious once you see one which is a good sign that they are helpful. They are very useful for understanding what’s going on in the design process when designing for learning.

Are the designers considering objectives before jumping into activities? The order in which things happen really matter and become visible through these figures.

I feel like there are many uses for these types of figures and I do hope that further research is conducted by Kickbusch and others to better understand the practice of learning design and the nature of expertise in design for learning.


Goodyear, P. (2023). An education in educational technology. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology39(3), 1-14.

Kickbusch, S. (2022). How Learning Designers Work with Teachers, PhD Thesis, QUT.

Kickbusch, S. and Kelly, N. (2021). Representing teacher coaching sessions: understanding coaching that develops teachers’ capability to design for learning, International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 418-434.

Design Media Articles Research

Which threatened plants and animals live in your electorate?

This is an article that I wrote with Gareth Kindler and James Watson for The Conversation, details below. Tim Carden (Digital Wando) was the developer and designer working with the project.

Gouldian finch. Shutterstock

Gareth Kindler, The University of Queensland; James Watson, The University of Queensland, and Nick Kelly, Queensland University of Technology

More than 1,800 Australian plants and animals are considered at-risk of extinction, and yet protecting threatened species is almost entirely absent from the current election campaign.

We’ve developed a web app, which launches today, that lets Australians learn which threatened plants and animals live in their federal electorate.

For example, we found the electorate with the most threatened species is Durack in Western Australia, held currently by the Liberal party’s Melissa Price. Some 61 threatened animals and 198 threatened plants live or used to live within its boundaries, such as the Numbat, Gouldian finch and the Western underground orchid.

Our goal is to help users engage with their elected representatives and put imperilled species on the political agenda this election and beyond. We urgently need to convince federal politicians to act, for they hold the keys to saving these species. So what can they do to help their plight?

black-breasted buttonquail
The black-breasted buttonquail is an endangered and declining species found in southern Queensland. It used to be found in northern NSW. To be saved from extinction it needs members from around 29 electorates to work together and champion its recovery. Patrick Webster, Author provided

Threatened species in your neighbourhood

Our new app, called Threatened Australians, uses federal government data to introduce you to the threatened species living in your neighbourhood.

By entering a post code, users can learn what the species looks like, where they can be found (in relation to their electorate), and what’s threatening them. Importantly, users can learn about their incumbent elected representative, and the democratic actions that work towards making a difference.

For example, entering the postcode 2060 – the seat of North Sydney, held currently by the Liberal Party’s Trent Zimmerman – tells us there are 23 threatened animals and 14 threatened plants that live or used to live there.

This includes the koala which, among many others, have seen devastating losses in their populations in recent decades due to habitat destruction.

We’ve also put together data dividing the number of threatened species that live or used to live across each party’s electorates, as shown in the chart below. Labor-held seats are home to 775 of the 1,800-plus threatened species, while Liberal-held seats have 1,168.

A seriously neglected issue

The good news is we know how to avert the extinction crisis. Innumerable reports and peer-reviewed studies have detailed why the crisis is occurring, including a major independent review of Australia’s environment laws which outlined the necessary federal reforms for changing this trajectory.

The bad news is these comprehensive reforms, like almost all the previous calls to action on the threatened species crisis, have been largely ignored.

Predictions show the situation will drastically worsen for threatened species over the next two decades if nothing changes.

golden shouldered parrot
The golden shouldered parrot is only found in Queensland. Its entire population is found in the seat of Leichardt and its population has been declining dramatically over the past two decades. The long-term MP for Leichhardt is the Hon Warren Entsch. Patrick Webster, Author provided

Yet, environmental issues rarely play key roles in federal elections, despite the connection Australians share with the environment and our wildlife.

The health of the environment continually ranks among the top issues Australians care about, and nature tourists in Australia spend over $23 billion per year.

So how can we address this mismatch of widespread public desire for environmental action yet political candidates are focused on other issues?

What can local MPs actually do about it?

For change to occur, communities must effectively persuade elected representatives to act. There are a few ways they can exercise their democratic powers to make a difference.

Federal MPs often champion and advocate important issues such as developing new hospitals, schools and car parks in their electorate. By speaking out and advocating for their electorate in parliament and with the media, they can garner the support, such as funding and reform, to deliver change for their electorate.

The numbat has disappeared across much of the continent in the last two hundred years. Now over 80% of its range now occurs in the electorate of O’Connor in Western Australia. The MP for O’Connor is Mr Rick Wilson. Shutterstock

Local MPs can help protect threatened species by instigating and voting for improved policy.

Let’s say, for instance, legislation for approving a new mine was before parliament, and the development overlapped with the habitat of a threatened animal. If protecting a certain plant or animal was on an MPs agenda thanks to the efforts of their community, it would help determine whether the MP votes for such legislation.

This has broader applications, too. Making the threatened species crisis a priority for an MP would determine the lengths they would go to for conservation in their electorate and Australia wide.

Threatened species desperately need the required funding alongside the appropriate policy and legislative reform. The current policies are responsible for the threats causing many species to go endangered in the first place.

The app in action. Threatened Australia, Author provided

Our app can help users engage with the current sitting MP in their electorate with the click of a button, as it helps users write an email to them. It’s time federal representatives were asked about their policies on threatened species and what they plan to do for them in their electoral backyards.

While climate change has, for decades, unfathomably been the subject of fierce debate in the Australian parliament, threatened species can be a cause of unity across the political divide.

We need an honest and urgent dialogue between local communities and their representatives about how to deal with the challenge these species face and what each prospective candidate intends to do about it.

Gareth Kindler, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland; James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland, and Nick Kelly, Senior Lecturer in Interaction Design, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Design Research

Interaction Design (IXD): How should we define it?

How should we define interaction design? There have been plenty of attempts to do this in the literature, most notably by Jon Kolko in his 2010 book Thoughts on Interaction Design. Defining IXD is difficult because it means different things to different people.

I have taught a subject, DXB110, Principles of Interaction Design for four years. With two of my fellow teachers–Sam Hobson and Jess Greentree–we have thought long and hard about this question of definition. A definition needs to work for describing the industry (“what interaction designers do”) as well as the academic domain (the study of designing for interactions). It needs to be relevant for the past and the future as well as for today. It’s a tricky problem.

We have come up with some criteria for what a definition of IXD should do, analyzed a number of definitions of interaction design, and proposed our own definition. All of that is described in a journal paper that is still under review. I look forward to sharing that once it’s published.

We’ve developed a very short version of that work to use in our teaching that is much more accessible. It addresses the question: how should we define IXD?


  • Kelly, N., Hobson, S., & Greentree, J. (Under review). Interaction Design (IXD): An invitation for a definition, IXD&A
  • Kolko, J. (2010). Thoughts on interaction design. Morgan Kaufmann.

Creativity Design Research

An artwork that changes the meaning of text

I have recently published an artwork that changes the meaning of any text that you put into it. Please read the associated conversation article for further information.

The artwork was featured in the Kyogle Writers’ Festival, in the Roxy Gallery.

Design Education Research

How to design online courses for student engagement

I had the great pleasure of working with Neil Martin over a number of years, during his project investigating the way that the principles of Self-Determination Theory (SDT) can be applied for designing engaging online courses.

I’m forever grateful to Neil for getting me to read deeply about positive psychology–the branch of psychology trying to understand the conditions under which humans flourish.

In particular, I find the work of Richard Ryan and Edward Deci to be extremely elegant, putting this research into human flourishing (or, as it’s referred to, eudaimonia) on solid scientific ground. I thoroughly recommend this paper for anyone wanting a scholarly introduction to the idea of why not all kinds of motivation are equal, regardless of behavioural outcomes.

This post aims to give a brief overview of a paper that Neil led–and very kindly invited me to be a part of–describing the work from his PhD thesis  in developing a MOOC in which every part of the design was informed by thinking about intrinsic motivation from the perspective of SDT.

I feel like the resulting paper (Martin, Kelly, & Terry, 2018) really has a lot in it, and may well be of help to anyone who is doing work designing an online course and wants students to be more engaged.

(It is also worth mentioning that I quite  enjoyed the fact that all three authors have last names that are also first names. It makes me feel like I have at least one thing in common with Elton John,  George Michael and Buddy Holly)

Principles for designing engaging online courses

Some principles for designing engaging online courses can be distilled.

The essential principle of self-determination theory, when applied to motivating people to doing a task, is that human intrinsic motivation has three elements:

  1. Competence. People tend to feel intrinsically motivated for a task if they feel like they have the ability needed to successfully complete the task. In other words, people like the feeling of being good at something.
  2. Relatedness. People tend to feel more intrinsically motivated for a task if they feel that completing the task will, in some way (either direct or indirect), help to connect them with other human beings. In short, people like feeling as though they are developing a relationship with other people.
  3. Autonomy. Autonomy is about giving people the freedom to complete a task in a way that is in harmony with their beliefs about the world, to do things in a way that makes sense to them and fits in with their life.

This is, of course, a gross oversimplification of what is a deep theory with decades of research  behind it (see for a nicely curated website about SDT).

Neil’s work (his PhD is available here and well worth a read for anyone wanting to go much deeper) demonstrated that these principles–of achieving intrinsic motivation of students through support for relatedness, autonomy, and competence–can be applied directly to learning design for online courses.

He found fairly convincing evidence in his work that the students were more engaged with the course, and more likely to complete the course, once it had been redesigned based upon these principles–and as anyone who has tried to make a MOOC knows, getting students to begin the course is one thing, but getting them to complete it is much more challenging!

The figure below is from Martin et al. (2018) and is a summary of what I would call a model for designing engaging online courses. The premise is that if students have their basic psychological needs met, then they will be more engaged with the learning.

designing for engaging online learning

The paper (freely available thanks to the excellent online journal AJET) goes into detail about what all of these things mean and describes this model in detail. It makes a bridge between these three basic psychological needs and what this means in practice when designing for online learning. Some examples:


  • Not having deadlines and reducing pressure
  • Letting participants set their own pace
  • Giving participants meaningful choices wherever possible


  • Making sure that challenges are optimal (i.e., are within the zone of proximal development)
  • Giving clear rationale for any task
  • Providing constructive feedback on tasks


  • Making sure that the text and interface design of the online course is warm and friendly
  • Making sure that participants have an opportunity to connect with each other
  • This can be done by learning designers by making use of personas (refer to Martin 2017 for more details on this)

I’m writing this post now because I’m finding this to be a big help in some course redesign work that I am doing with La Trobe university, in their MTEACH course.

Hopefully the result will be lots of engaged students!


Martin, Neil; Kelly, Nick; Terry, Peter.  (2018).  A framework for self-determination in massive open online courses: Design for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, v. 34, n. 2. Available at:
Date accessed: 02 nov. 2018.