Learning Design and the Biathlon

A biathlon is an amazing endurance event competed in winter climates. Originating from the real necessity of skiing in incredibly rugged terrain for long distances in order to hunt, the activity demands the athlete to be incredibly fit and strong, having to push the body through great strain and physical punishment, and to be able to ignore the screaming pain that floods the brain that wants it all to stop. Whilst under such duress, the athlete is then required to slow the heart rate sufficiently that they can compose their hand eye coordination and fire at a target from some distance. It’s certainly no easy feat.

Target shooting after skiing is like sprinting up 10 flights of stairs, then trying to thread a needle

It could be said the modern academic is faced with a similar type of challenge: their research and the inexorable struggle to remain prolific requires significant endurance, often usurping and consequently exhausting all other considerations, but it is in this state of exhaustion that yet another demand is placed on their shoulders: teaching. It is teaching that requires the slowing down of the race and the pace, the slowing down of the expectations of those around them. It may be a source of frustration to have to wait, to have to acknowledge that the student is a long way behind, cognitively, and to take the time to organize the delivery of content so that it hits the mark as efficiently as possible, but there are few things of greater importance to a society.

It is this very act of taking the time to pass on what is known to the next generation that characterizes a great culture. It is providing this opportunity for the next generation to stand on the shoulders of giants that after all propels the evolvement of society, that lays the foundation for enlightenment. It is undoubtedly what has afforded the academic/researcher themselves to be in the position they currently find themselves in.

Fortunately in some universities, many academics are assigned as specialist teachers, not having to produce research to maintain their positions, but tasked with leading in teaching excellence. At my university, there are some fabulous instructors who are very much paving the aforementioned future. However, there are a great deal more who would benefit from some assistance in being able to deliver an exceptional learning experience to their students.



This is where the learning designer adds significant value. The learning designer is able to work in partnership with the academic researcher to ensure that the necessary teaching of content and transfer of knowledge is able to happen as efficiently as possible. The learning designer considers the learning spaces, the arrangement of curriculum, the alignment of curriculum, the use of asynchronous learning, and a host of other factors that affect the efficiency of student learning, most of which the academic does not have time to do. The learning designer is very much guided by the latest evidenced pedagogical expertise that the academic also hasn’t had time to source in making educational decisions, and sufficiently supports and inspires the academic so that when they walk into the lecture theatre, or deliver a lecture video, they are confident that they are doing so in a way that will maximize the learning for students.

It is such a condition that facilitates the next generation of giants.

It is when this partnership is respected and valued, that the researcher’s race in the biathlon becomes a successful one.

I’m Paul Moss, and I manage the Learning Design and Capability team in the Learning Enhancement and Innovation unit at the University of Adelaide. You can follow me on Twitter @edmerger


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