Inclusive Design Tool

I.N.C.L.U.S.I.V.E Learning Design

Mari Cruz García Vallejo, Digital Education Consultant

Digital education consultant Mari Cruz García Vallejo shares her collaboration with Educational developer Virna Rossi aimed at evaluating the learning design tool ‘Inclusive‘.

I.n.c.l.u.s.i.v.e is a learning design tool created by Virna Rossi (University of Ravensbourne) that I have had the opportunity to test recently. The acronym stands for:

  • Intentionally equitable.
  • Nurturing.
  • Co-created.
  • Liberating
  • User-friendly.
  • Socially-responsible.
  • Integrative.
  • Values-based.
  • Ecological.

Which are the values that drive the learning design tool. Inclusive provides the beautiful metaphor of considering learning design as a tree whose apparent stillness and holistic-ness is expressed in the synergy of all its elements: leaves, branches, trunk and roots. Inclusive represents an approach to learning design that is upfolding, flexible and resilient at the same time, just like a tree. 

The Inclusive learning design workshops are usually delivered over two sessions to give participants space to mull over the different elements of the “tree-design” and how to identify those elements in their own courses. The first workshop is focused on a holistic approach to course design or -in own Virna´s words- “the whole picture”. and the second workshop focuses on the students´ journey, in particular assessment and feedback.

C:\Users\vrossi\OneDrive\virnas stuff\roots-branch3.jpg
  The “Inclusive” Learning Design Tree

The learning design journey starts when participants are invited to “draw their own tree” starting by the “roots” or values upon which they want to set up the foundations of their course, programme or curriculum. Once the roots/values have been established, the first workshop explores the “branch/element” of setup and engagement (the context) looking at aspects such as:

  • How is going to be the setup of the physical and/or digital space of the course?
  • How orientation and induction will take place.
  • The needs for analysis and diagnostics within the course/programme and how data will be collected throughout the course.

The second workshop covers two important “branches” of learning design:

  • Input and practice, including both content and content delivery and with special emphasis on accessibility.
  • Output (Assessment) and feedback

In the second workshop the participants learn how to map their courses into thresholds conceptsIn this context, a concept can be defined as ‘a unit of thought or element of knowledge that allows us to organize experience’ (Donald 2001). Threshold concepts are akin to portals, liminal spaces that “open the door” to the learner to a new or previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. In this second workshop, participants are invited to define the threshold concepts of their course or programme: the key concepts or gateways that students need to apprehend in order to transform their current knowledge into something new.

How can we identify those threshold concepts in course design?… This is the most difficult task-at least for me-of the Inclusive learning tool. Threshold concepts are transformative points in the student’s learning experience. They cannot be mistaken with learning objectives and reduced to simplistic sentences such as “by the end of the course the learner will be able to…”. A threshold key concept is a pivotal point that encapsulates the knowledge transformation that the learner goes through. 

Identifying and articulating threshold concepts is challenging for instructors and is a threshold concept for instructors themselves as it requires shifting from a ‘learning outcomes’ to a ‘big ideas’ mindset when it comes to learning design.To illustrate the difference between a threshold concept and a learning outcome, let’s consider, for example,  a course about academic integrity and plagiarism. 

Possible learning outcomes for the course could be:

  • Students are able to identify plagiarism in their own work and others’.
  • Students are able to correctly acknowledge others’ work.
  • Students are able to create new knowledge based on others’ work.

While possible threshold key concepts for the course could be:

  • Using others’ work without acknowledgment is academic dishonesty.
  • Using and acknowledging others’ work to develop one’s work is not a sign of academic weakness.

Those actions can be seen as ‘transformative points’ in a student’s learning experience, hence they are ‘threshold concepts’.

Yet threshold concepts are not the only “leaves” of the Inclusive learning design tree. In order to help participants, to identify the different elements/leaves of the ‘Input and Practice’ and ‘Output and feedback’ branches, the learning design tool employs a design template in which each element is represented as a card of a particular colour: 

Design template used by the Inclusive tool
  • Input (green) card is used to identify content types, learning activities, delivery modes (e.g. blended, online, etc.) as well as study modes (e.g. group work, self -study, peer-to-peer interaction). Guest speakers are also represented as input green cards.
  • Timing (blue) card serves to identify when, in the course or programme timeline, the different cards elements will be introduced: for example, in which day or in which week a particular input or key concept will be introduced.
  • Assessment and feedback (orange) card is used to map the different assessment and feedback methods included in the course/programme that is being designed.
  • Evaluation (also blue) card: Evaluation must not be confused with assessing students’ knowledge. Evaluation cards are used to identify the evaluation methods to compile students’ feedback in a way that can be acted up as well as to evaluate academic standards.

The Inclusive design template is used in the second workshop where participants are divided into breakout groups and invited to design a course using the template in Jamboard. This is a real example of how participants complete the Jamboard template during the workshop:

Participants are given the choice of working on a Jamboard slide as part of the breakout group -because the group synergy helps participants to share challenges and identify solutions- or alone (some participants may prefer that). The breakout groups are made up of people with a variety of roles and perspectives: alumni, colleagues, library staff and other stakeholders. At the end of the session, participants have the opportunity to share their group or individual Jamboard templates with all the groups.

After taking part in those workshops, I can conclude that the Inclusive learning design tool is an  intuitive and creative resource: participants enjoy the tree metaphor as it helps them to visually identify the core values of their course as well as to map the different elements that will support those values.

Inclusive learning design is definitively a tool that I would recommend to academic developers, learning designers as well as tutors and facilitators of postgraduate certificates in learning and teaching. The learning design tool is also part of a wider project that Virna is leading: the publication of a book on inclusive learning design, by Routledge, due in Spring 2022. You can get in touch with Virna by Twitter -@VirnaRossi- or emailing her at:


Donald, Janet. (2002). Learning to Think: Disciplinary Perspectives.[]/?t2000=024710/(100).

Mari Cruz García Vallejo is an expert in digital education and a former international telecom consultant. Working for Telefónica Móviles International, she was the founder of the Interconnection Department at the start-up company Group 3G-Quam (Germany). In the United Kingdom, she has worked in three top-ranked universities and was part of the initial team that started the Kuwait Scotland eHealth Innovation Network (KSeHIN), an educational partnership between the Dundee Medical School and the Dasman Diabetes Institute. She is a Senior Fellow at Advance HE and currently works at Heriot-Watt University (Scotland). 

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