Digital learning by design: the future

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As a result of the unstructured provision of learning online by virtue of the pandemic, it is now trite that digital learning should be by design rather than necessity. The L & D community has learnt a lot of lessons from the last 18 months, one of which is that there can be no ‘one size fits all’ approach to instruction that takes place in a virtual environment. If design-led learning is now the baseline, education providers need to ensure their programmes are individualised and supported by data to be truly effective, to properly support and imbed deep life-long learning in this medium.

The difficulties faced during the pandemic have made it clear that all organisations would be sensible to adopt more agile and personal approaches to learning in order to improve performance, and embrace educational systems that meet the opportunities and challenges of the adjusted world we now live in.

One of the many dilemmas faced by L & D is figuring out how to use recent advances in technology as a means of engaging learners. Harvard Professor Chris Dede, who I recently had the pleasure of interviewing for Legal Cheek’s LegalEdCon 2021, has long been a believer in the power of technology to transform instruction, and his work in understanding the promise of augmented and virtual realities and other innovations in learning is leading the field in this area: “I look at problems in education that are persistent and challenging and work my way back to the kinds of pedagogy, content, assessment, professional development, and other variables involved to see if there might be a way that technology could make a difference.” Professor Dede is also clear that the rush to emergency online learning as a result of the pandemic did learners no favours. A “desperation” instructional format is unsustainable, not least because further closure of face-to-face learning remain a possibility. “We know that teaching by telling and learning by listening is a really weak form of learning,” Dede says. “We know effective learning involves learning by doing, collaboration, mentoring, and coaching.”


So it is abundantly clear that digital elements of programmes need to be built from the ground up, designed specifically for this method of delivery, rather than being reactive to the circumstances and necessity of the past 18 months. But design-led learning on its own is only one part of the puzzle. The gold standard of digital learning is to provide a truly personalised learning journey for each individual learner. This can only be achieved by deep experience and understanding of the individual assessment being prepared for, and the assimilation of multiple data points to refine design. And Artificial Intelligence can play a part too – more on that later.

At BARBRI we are fortunate that innovation and technology have always been an integral part of our DNA and are not coming at our programmes from a standing start in terms of investment in technology – it has always been at the heart of our pedagogy. But it is important that programme design goes beyond this. Key to this is the support of an enormous wealth of technological infrastructure, data and learning science from preparing students for national licensing exams such as the US bar and Qualified Lawyer Transfer Scheme, and most recently from the data we are already acquiring as a result of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) programmes.

As the SQE transitions to become the sole route to qualification, there is going to be even greater emphasis on data from technology and how that can drive enhancements in course design and student experience. We are already using technology to merge data and learning and analysing multiple data points from our learning platform to drive and refine improvements toward the goal of a personalized learning experience. Using 50+ years of experience and data from our technology means that we are able to effectively balance sequence, time, efficacy, and prior knowledge in our course design.


In addition to the data, we are seeing the increased use of AI and algorithms to determine a student’s journey.  As an example, BARBRI uses ISAAC, the Intuitive Study Assistant and Coach, which has been developed to be agile to an individual learner’s journey to maximise effectiveness, performance and retention without increasing workload or compromising on wellbeing.  ISAAC combines AI with real-world exam intelligence to produce programmes that are uniquely tailored to each individual. Throughout the programmes, ISAAC monitors which topics a learner is mastering, and which topics are more of a struggle. It then adjusts the learning path to shore up strengths and remediate weaknesses. ISAAC uses each learner’s performance to guide further acquisition, application and assessment.

So what is the upshot of data analytics and AI on design-led digital learning? We are already seeing that understanding and interpretation of the wealth of data available through technology is resulting in improved pass rates, deeper embedded knowledge and life-long learning. The future is bright!

Victoria Cromwell is currently the Senior Director of Business Development at BARBRI. She is an English qualified solicitor with over 12 years’ experience in practice at Addleshaw Goddard and Linklaters, and as a professional support lawyer at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. After private practice, Victoria taught postgraduate law for Kaplan and BPP, and was the course designer and subject matter expert for the contract law and business law modules of BARBRI Global’s QLTS Prep course and led the development of BARBRI’s SQE Prep courses as the Director of UK Programmes. Victoria is co-vice chair of the International Bar Association’s Academic and Professional Development Committee and sits on the Education and Training Committee of the Law Society of England & Wales.

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