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Apr 17, 2014 Phylise Banner

The Pedagogy of Learning Design: A Translation of Pedagogies

Learning Pathway to Brain

This is the first post in a series titled The Pedagogy of Learning Design by Phylise H. Banner.

A successful learning journey relies on informed design and practice. Let's explore how theory and research translate into a designed approach to instruction.

The Journey

When I think about every online experience I have had, the word that comes to mind is “navigation." Every web site I encounter provides me with opportunities to explore – to find my way through the information. The best online experiences I have had involve a clear pathway through that information, and often times a guide to lead me on my journey.

Every learning event is a journey with a starting place, a pathway and a destination. With available technologies it becomes easier and easier to throw content together and label it “training” or “learning." But will our participants be able to navigate the course and purposefully arrive at their destination without getting lost along the way?

Critical to a successful learning journey is the work that happens in advance, such as the content layout/navigation and the selection of activities for engagement and assessment. In essence, we take a designed approach to instruction and lay out a map for the learner’s journey.

The Translation of Pedagogy

In the realm of education, the word pedagogy is used when talking about this designed approach to instruction and the alignment of learning elements such as objectives, content, activities, and assessments. As an instructional strategist in higher education, I work with my clients to translate their pedagogies into rich teaching and learning environments. I take what they know, explore their engagement strategies, and work with them to define and develop methods and approaches to assessing their learners.

My approach to this “translation of pedagogies” has evolved through the review and application of research in learning theories which focus on three key elements in effective e-learning: social presence, teaching presence, and cognitive presence. In this series of blog posts we will explore each of these presences in-depth, along with effective practices on how to recognize, model, and measure social, teaching, and cognitive presence in our own training and learning events.

A Quick Primer

Social presence focuses on creating a welcoming setting that is open and inviting so that our learners will want to engage with each other, the facilitator, and the learning content. Think about your first moments in any new group environment – a new job, networking event, client meeting, or a professional development workshop. You (and your clients/colleagues) may feel a bit out of place, or unsure about how to start the conversation. Social presence is fostered by activities, methods, or approaches put in place to break the ice, build trust, and facilitate interaction with those around you.

Teaching presence focuses on three major functions that we take on as training and learning professionals: design, facilitation, and direction of the learning experience. We build teaching presence by designing learning events that guide participants through learning materials, reinforce key concepts, foster critical thinking skills, provide opportunities for formative feedback and support, and evaluate progress throughout the learning experience.

When we talk about critical thinking skills, we are touching on cognitive presence. We want our learners to be active learners – to be actively integrating key concepts into their own worlds, exploring related resources, and adding new ideas and new knowledge. Cognitive presence is, in essence, the scaffolding of learning -- as we move from the initial stages of knowledge and comprehension toward the critical learning stages of application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

Guiding the Way

These three presences (social presence, teaching presence, and cognitive presence) work together in support of training and learning spaces that cultivate engagement, and foster vibrant knowledge communities. They overlap and depend on each other in a cozy Venn diagram. And, more significantly, they can effectively help you map out your own personal pedagogy – your approach to learning design.

I welcome this opportunity to share my approach with you, and explore how social, teaching, and cognitive presence can facilitate the design of effective learning spaces, guide our participants through these spaces, and help them approach and reach the waypoints we have mapped out on their journeys.


The three presences (social, teaching and cognitive) are the foundations of the Community of Inquiry framework, which informs methodologies and approaches to learning design and delivery. Based on social constructivist education theory and research, the Community of Inquiry research community continually explores these methodologies and conducts empirical studies to validate associated research. You can read more online at

Stay tuned! We'll continue exploring social, teaching, and cognitive presence, and highlight ways to exemplify each presence in these upcoming blog articles:

  • Creating Learning Communities with Social Presence
  • Designing Intention with Teaching Presence
  • Climbing the Learning Ladder with Cognitive Presence

Published by Phylise Banner April 17, 2014
Phylise Banner