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The 5 Ds: A Collaborative Model for Learning Design (Part 1)

The EvoLLLution | The 5 Ds: A Collaborative Model for Learning Design (Part 1)
Strong program design and development relies on participatory collaboration between multiple parties, and a model to support that collaboration is critical to its overall success.

In Daniel Christian’s recent article, “Specialists Central to High-Quality, Engaging Online Programming,” the author names two challenges to his own recommendations for embedding instructional designers (aka learning designers or LDs) in course teams for the production of excellent online courses. First, he suggests that course teams can often be unwieldy and inefficient, becoming “a bottleneck to the organization.”[1] Second, he wonders whether faculty members will accept the contributions of LDs (or others) in the creation of learning experiences. To be sure, these challenges are real and experienced in many institutions of higher education engaged in the work of offering online and blended programming. Faculty are often reticent to invite people outside their discipline to participate in their curriculum and course development efforts, and in cases where course design teams are in place, inefficiencies can become commonplace.

Here in the Teaching and Learning Lab (TLL) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), we have adopted a particularly collaborative process we call the 5 Ds:

1. Discovery

2. Design

3. Development

4. Delivery

5. Debrief

When communicated and managed effectively, this framework can yield tremendous efficiencies and foster trusting partnerships between faculty, LDs, and other stakeholders.

What About ADDIE?

When applied specifically to a learning design project, the 5 Ds enhance the well known ADDIE model (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation).

ADDIE emerged from corporate and military contexts where instruction must be developed consistently and at scale, and it is often used to explain the work of designers. Entire books have been written about how to perform and strengthen competencies around each step of the model.[2] While there is value in breaking down the phases of the design process in this systematic way, the ADDIE approach is primarily effective for designers who work independently with materials from a subject matter expert (SME). Taken out of that context, this model tends to overstate the direct role of the designer while failing to address the constraints and cross-functional nature of the work inherent in other LD positions, such as those in academia.

By contrast, the 5 Ds depend on a collaborative approach, and are applied to every project we undertake in the TLL, from researching emerging technologies and producing multimedia case studies to creating full-scale learning experiences and dynamic resources for supporting classroom instruction. Herein lies one of the most significant lessons for those who have made their career in learning design: We need not be excellent at everything; we must leverage the expertise and contributions of stakeholders at every step of the way and seek out unexpected opportunities for collaboration. An effective, team-based approach reveals efficiencies, promotes faculty buy-in, and leads to the creation of excellent learning experiences that Christian wrote about.

Over the course of this two-part series, I will outline how this plays itself out in the daily work of our learning designers in the TLL.


Every project begins with a thoughtful, inquiry-based process of discovery in which the needs and opportunities around a particular project are outlined. At HGSE, the discovery phase often engages the media, technology, and design teams within the TLL along with faculty, students, program directors, professionals from finance and marketing, and administrators. Together, we ask questions such as:


  • Who are we trying to reach?
  • What are their needs in this area?
  • How does an online learning experience fit into their lives? How can we reach them with this opportunity?


  • What will it cost to offer the optimal learning experience?
  • What people, skills, and other resources would be needed?
  • What is the expected return?


  • What skills and concepts will have the most relevant and powerful effect on the field?
  • What instructional topics would, if adopted by a large group of learners, have a significant impact on the education profession?


  • What platforms, tools, and technologies might be leveraged for this learning experience?
  • What are the constraints and barriers associated with each?

These questions are similar to the “Analysis” step of the ADDIE framework, though they reveal a particular emphasis on a holistic effort to include multiple partners and stakeholders. While the LD’s contribution to this phase may certainly include an in-depth task and needs analysis, it is further extended to include expertise in the learning sciences and emerging trends that may inform the project plans.

These contributions are held in tandem with all the other aspects of determining the feasibility and priority of the project. With some collective thinking around these questions, an informed decision is made about whether and how to proceed with the project. If it is to be pursued, the team moves into the design phase.


Though we have “designer” in our title, LDs are hardly the sole source of ideas when it comes to the creation of online learning experiences. The best designs depend on a tight collaborative relationship between LDs, faculty, students and others. In addition to coaching the team to craft clear and measurable goals for understanding and performance, and to align these goals with activities and assessments throughout the experience, the LD helps the team consider the following questions:


  • What prior learning and experiences will most benefit their success in the planned course?
  • What will we need to provide to orient them to this course?
  • What readings or other materials will need to be made available to them in this course?

Affect and Values:

  • How do we want learners to feel as they approach this experience?
  • How do we want them to feel throughout the experience and as a result of completing it?
  • What are our values and priorities for this experience regarding video production, look and feel, interactivity, community building and other elements?

Strategies and Technologies:

  • What instructional strategies will most effectively meet the intended goals and outcomes?
  • What tools and technologies identified in discovery can be leveraged to enhance these strategies?


  • Who will be involved in teaching the course and what qualifications do they need/have?
  • What are the primary goals of the facilitation?
  • What are the expectations for time investment, level of feedback, and number of people/teams per facilitator?

Cadence and Scheduling:

  • How does this course flow from beginning to end?
  • What are the common milestones or consistent themes or actions from session to session?
  • When do they each start, end, and have activities due or feedback provided?

Evaluation and Research:

  • When, and how, will the course be evaluated?
  • What are the criteria for success and how will these instruments be administered?
  • What research goals can be served by the resulting data?
  • Who will be responsible for collecting, analyzing and reporting on the evaluation results?

 This is the first of a two-part series by Bonnie Anderson sharing her insights on the 5 D’s Framework to support collaboration. In the final installment, she will outline the remaining 3 Ds: Development, Delivery and Debrief.

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[1] Christian,D. “Specialists Central to High-Quality, Engaging Online Programming.”The Evolllution. June 20, 2016.

2 Bozarth, Jane. From Analysis to Evaluation: Tools, Tips, and Techniques for Trainers. John Wiley & Sons, 2008; Chaplowe, Scott G. and J. Bradley Cousins. Monitoring and Evaluation Training: A Systematic Approach. SAGE Publications, 2015; Jonassen, David H., Martin Tessmer, and Wallace H. Hannum. Task Analysis Methods for Instructional Design. Routledge, 1998.

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