Supporting Learners’ Digital Needs: Content-led Pedagogy – by Dr Victoria Goodyear (School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences)

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Digital technologies have been heralded as providing new opportunities to transform education, learning and teaching. For example, education can be delivered at mass scale, boosting recruitment, income generation and international reach; learning can be more mobile, accessible and personalised; autonomous and self-motivated forms of learning can be promoted; and digital and online learning are cost-effective forms of teaching and learning. Despite clear benefits – and as the last blog described – there have been persistent challenges, in terms of using, adopting, and embedding digital/online spaces within educational contexts. Limited evidence of effectiveness, a lack of CPD, alongside time, expense, and competence are reported as key resisting factors. Added to this, digital technologies or online spaces are often not used in a way that meets learners’ needs and demands, with many educators struggling to keep up with the sheer pace of technological advancement. What then is the solution?

For most of us, we cannot change the technological infrastructure that we work within. There are also clear challenges and benefits to any technological system or device, whether that be design, mobility, practicality, interface or legal and copyright issues. Focusing on the latest gizmos and gadgets, or becoming downhearted by the limitations of systems and devices is therefore not going to be helpful. What most of us can address, however, is pedagogy and CPD, and the ways in which we design, organise and support educational activities, as well as learn and develop our practice.

It is the intent of this blog to provide evidence-based insights into the pedagogy of digital/online environments that may be useful to others in terms of how educational activities are structured, organised and designed. The focus is on different forms of pedagogical content.

In our work within the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences we are focused on examining learners’ perspectives, experiences and forms of engagement with digital/online environments. Based on this learner-driven evidence, we have recently developed a ‘tentative’ conceptualisation of pedagogy focused on how content is formed from the reflexive relationship between: (i) learners’ needs and (ii) the functionalities of the technology (Goodyear et al., 2018). This conceptualisation of pedagogy provides a way of identifying different forms of content to structure and design digital/online spaces in ways that will meet learners’ needs and demands, and maximise learning and engagement.

In the following sub-sections different examples of content are identified and described. The first section – Current Learners – is based on the forms of content that we might suggest are engaging and attractive to our current learners. You can see from this section, that the forms of content are not ground-breaking findings, and perhaps anything different to what we already know about effective teaching in offline contexts. The second section – Potential Future Learners – is based on the forms of content that are engaging and attractive to young people (age 13-18) and therefore potential future higher education students. This second section aims to offer challenges to how we consider digital pedagogy in our current and future practice. For example, how might we embed algorithms, coding, endorsements, and peer interactions in new and innovative ways to shape and influence learning.

Current Learners – Pedagogical Content

Four forms of content were identified from research undertaken with 11,500 practitioners and professionals’ engagement with two MOOCs in the areas of Physical Education and Youth Sport Coaching. In addition, in-depth data were drawn from interviews with 110 online course learners, and undergraduate and postgraduate students and education leaders within the University of Birmingham:

    • Personalised Content refers to how learners’ engagement with digital/online environments is influenced by whether learners perceive that the information presented and their social interactions with other learners are tailored to their individual learning needs. Small study groups were identified as an effective context in which personalised content existed
    • Applied Content refers to how learners’ engagement and learning were influenced by the opportunities that were provided to transfer the knowledge formed in the digital/online environment to other settings. Tasks that included critical inquiry and peer group reflections where learners were held accountable for their contributions influenced the construction and generation of applied content
  • Accessible Content refers to how engagement was influenced by the presentation of information and the ability to interact occurring in an efficient and easy structure. A consistent format to learning within modules that included the same sequencing of tasks (video, reflection, discussion, and inquiry) supported the construction of applied content
  • Relevant Content refers to how engagement was influenced by the types of learning experiences that built on learners’ prior knowledge and experience. The importance of knowledgeable/competent educators and presenters was important in scaffolding and supporting the construction of relevant content. Case-based scenarios were furthermore impactful on engagement and learning.


(Goodyear & Griffiths, forthcoming)

Potential Future Learners – Pedagogical Content

Five forms of content were identified from research undertaken with 1346 young people aged 13-18. This research focused on young people’s perspectives and experiences of health-related social media, such as their interaction with information related to physical activity, diet/nutrition and body image on SnapChat or Instagram. Evidence-based videos of these forms of content can be accessed here:

  • Automatically Sourced Content refers to the influence of material that social media sites pre-select and promote. For example, Instagram pre-selects content that users see on the ‘Search and Explore’ feature based on a user’s likes, who that user follows and their followers’ likes, and automatically sourced accounts
  • Suggested Content refers to the processes whereby a person’s search for specific material result in social media sites then promoting vast amounts of partially related material to their accounts
  • Peer Content refers to the material that users create and how this is mobilised and engaged with in peer networks
  • Likes are positioned as a form of endorsement and had a strong influence over the material that is engaged with
  • Reputable Content refers to the influence of specific social media accounts. These types of accounts have a high number of followers and this provides a powerful platform to reach and impact knowledge and behaviours within and beyond peer networks.

(Goodyear, Armour & Wood, 2018)

It is the hope that these forms of content will encourage thought and consideration about current and future digital practice. For further information please contact Dr Victoria Goodyear: or she can be found on Twitter @VGoodyear

Supporting Material

Young People’s Engagement with Health-related social media: new perspectives

Evidence-based guidelines: young people and health-related social media

Case Based Videos on Young People and Social Media

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