An illustration of a black pot filled with gold coins surrounded by education related artefacts such as pens, pencils and books.

Open Education and the Pot of Gold.

Ever since I participated in the UKOER programme I have promoted the use of open education and open licensing as a way to increase access to learning and education, so it has always felt natural for me to openly license my own work. The real value of openly licensing a framework like SPaM and releasing it into the wilds of the world wide web is that when you come across someone else using it or writing about it then it’s often a nice surprise and you get a nice warm feeling of satisfaction.

Some people I have worked with are of the opinion that giving my work away with an open license means I won’t get credit for the work, and yes in some ways that’s true, but I’ve never been one for chasing citation numbers and I’d rather not line the coffers of academic journal publishers with my ideas and research, and in fact in most cases people do credit me for the framework, I just don’t necessarily find out about it.

Recently I was using Microsoft Co-pilot to ask it to suggest ways in which the SPaM framework might be used in designing a learning experience for corporate training and development. One of the nice features of co-pilot is that it uses a combination of ChatGPT and Bing to provide links to resources it finds on the web, one of which contained a blog that made reference to SPaM as part of a wider blog about blended learning from the perspective of learning design.

Using Thomson’s framework, the blended learning designer can identify the subject pedagogy to be used, the subject modality and the pedagogy modality. Using these overlapping domains is a powerful and elegantly simple way to view and design flexible learning provision.

Simon Whittemore , 6 October 2023

So, in this case I just happened to come across this post through the very fact I was doing some other work relating to SPaM and I really like the experience of finding out how SPaM is being used and referred to in this ad-hoc manner, much more than I do chasing down citations or h-index value. There’s something wonderfully joyful about just happening upon your work in this way as you navigate the web, knowing that it’s free for others to access and use regardless of their role or circumstance.

So, in 2024 I urge more of you put your work into the public domain under a creative commons license, where you can reasonably do so. It’s not necessarily a route to fame or fortune, but there is something uniquely satisfying about knowing that whilst you retain the copyright to the work, it is free and available to anyone who wishes to make use of it and that when you stumble across others using or talking about it, you’ll get a warm and fuzzy feeling, like you’ve just found a little pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

working in a group

SPaM Framework in Action

I love hearing how people are making use of the SPaM framework and the various contexts within which it is being used. I’m often asked to comment on, or support the use of SPaM and regularly I’m asked the questions:

“How do we make best use of SPaM?” or “How does SPaM fit in with our existing curriculum design model?”

I nearly always answer “There’s no right or wrong way to use it”, but there are of course some suggestions for how to use it, so here we go:

Firstly, it works best as a framework for informing and supporting curriculum design, especially where you know students will be accessing learning through two or more modes. Secondly, it can (and usually should) be used alongside curriculum design models as part of a structured process. Thirdly, it works best at a course/programme level but can also be used at a unit/module level. Ultimately it’s value is in making sure that discussions about “modality” are equally considered alongside pedagogy and subject, what I have come to call “conscious modality“.

So, now that you’ve decided to make use of it, what should you be looking for in each domain? Well, these domains are designed to get colleagues asking questions and making decisions based on the answers they arrive at.

There are three fundamental questions to be asked, one for each domain plus some example additional questions which really help get to the details:

  1. Subject: What do you want the students to learn?
    • What are the aims and objectives of the programme/module
    • What key themes/topics will be covered
    • What are the learning outcomes
    • What skills/knowledge are the students expected to evidence
  2. Pedagogy: What teaching methods/approaches will you use to enable this?
    • What learning and teaching approaches will be used (flipped classroom/problem based learning/active learning etc.)
    • What assessment types will students be expected to undertake
    • What curriculum design approaches will be used (e.g. ABC)
    • What instructional design approaches will be used (e.g. ADDIE)
  3. What teaching modes will be most effective for this (or have already been determined)?
    • What modes will student learning be faciliatated
      • In Person (On Campus)
      • In Person (Off Campus)
      • Online Synchronous
      • Online Asynchronous
      • Hybrid/Hyflex/Dual Mode

Questions relating to Subject and Pedagogy are commonplace in most curriculum design approaches, but the questions about Modality are specific to this framework and integral to ensuring that the Subject, Pedagogy and Modality are aligned. For example, an assessment designed for on campus students may not be as effective for online students and vice versa, this is where the modality influences the pedagogic approaches being taken. Additionally, where a subject might want students to understand and experience some practical skills (e.g. lab skills) the approach taken for on campus students (in person lab sessions) will be very different to online students (such as 3D lab simulations). In this way each domain influences and informs the decisions that will ultimately be made.

The extent to which SPaM is visible to stakeholders is entirely up to you. At a low level you might just use it to inform your own curriculum design, drawing upon it to structure a quality enhancement process but not make it visible to other stakeholders. Or you might decided to make SPaM very visible and centre it as a core component of your design process (the latter works well where you are designing blended and hybrid programmes).

Over the coming months I will start to collate some case study examples of where SPaM is being used (that I know of) and so if you have made use of SPaM then please get in touch as I’d love to hear how, so I can add it to the case study collection.

cairn stones and body of water in distance

Towards Conscious Modality

Through the development of the SPaM framework I have placed “modality” as a core domain in the design of mixed-modal education, emphasising how important our consideration of the teaching/learning mode is in the context of curriculum and instructional design.

As this research develops through conversations with designers, academics and learners we can begin to understand the “value” of each mode and determine the most appropriate mode for learning in a range of contexts. Through a deeper understanding of modality and the value attributed to each mode we can therefore more consciously make decisions about which mode to use and why/when it is best to do so. This move towards “Conscious Modality” means that the mode becomes an important topic for discussion during curriculum design activity, alongside conversations around the subject being taught and the approaches to teaching and assessment.

When we think about the value of modes we can categories these into four main areas:

Value CategoryDescriptionExample
Learning & TeachingThis is where a particular mode has a specific value relating to learning and teaching activity. This might be connected with having access to specialist equipment or to undertake specific types of learning or for access to certain teaching experiences.The “In Person On Campus” learning mode might be particularly suited to lab work or access to specialist equipment. For “In Person Off Campus” the learning experience might be a field trip or experiential. In both these cases the value of being physically present for learning can be clearly identified and articulated.
Social & WellbeingIn some cases the mode may have some social element, building a sense of belonging and cohort cohesion for learners beyond just the learning experience. These social interactions may be designed to help with student wellbeing and mental health.Online Asynchronous and Synchronous activities can be used to provide opportunities for students to introduce themselves and get to know each other. This can then be enhanced through an In Person On Campus session which builds upon this. In each case the mode being used is done so consciously as a whole.
Accessibility & AvailabilityIn some cases a choice of mode may well be determined based accessibility. In these cases a mode might be chosen to ensure maximum access to all students. Understanding your student cohort can really help here.As an example, if you know that you have a lot of students who are carers but your “lecture” slot has been scheduled for 9am and you anticipate poor attendance then you might consider moving some (if not all) of those lectures to being Online Synchronous to increase access to the learning for more students. In another example you may want to include overseas guest lectures to increase diversity, in which case Online Synchronous facilitates this.
Administrative & OperationalIn some cases there may be operational and administrative reasons for selecting a mode. Whether it relates to student numbers, room availability or some other operational reason sometimes the decision to choose a particular mode might be more administrative in nature.An example of this might be where the largest lecture theatre only holds 100 students but you have recruited 150 on to the programme. You could either hold it in the 100 seater and hope that some students don’t come, run the session twice (with the additional staff hours required for this) or move it to being online synchronous so that all 150 students can join at once.
Table 1: Value Categories for Modality

In the table above we can begin to see how the mode through which we teach, and students learn, might be decided upon some value proposition associated with it. When we more consciously consider modality we then begin to make a decision about which mode is most appropriate, bearing in mind that a choice of mode will have benefits and pitfalls associated with it. What is key though is that we are conscious of those benefits (and pitfalls) and are able to articulate these to our students. It is important that students understand why we have made a decision to use to particular mode, including when that might have a negative impact on some learners so that we are able to put in place some measures to minimise any negative impact.

This “Conscious Modality” requires that we think more deeply and purposefully about the modes we use for education, the contexts within which we undertake that learning and

Also cross-posted here:

My Edtech Review of the year?

So, I asked ChatGPT to write me an “Edtech Review of the Year” and this is what it came up with:

It has been a groundbreaking year for edtech. New technologies and platforms have emerged that are transforming the way we teach and learn. Online learning platforms such as Khan Academy and Coursera have continued to grow in popularity, offering a wide range of courses and educational resources. Meanwhile, virtual and augmented reality technologies have begun to make their way into the classroom, providing new opportunities for immersive and interactive learning.

One of the most significant developments in edtech this year has been the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) in education. AI-powered platforms such as OpenAI's Assistant and Google Classroom are making it easier for teachers to personalize instruction and provide individualized support to students. These tools are also helping to automate administrative tasks, freeing up teachers' time to focus on teaching.

Another major trend in edtech this year has been the increased use of mobile devices in the classroom. More and more schools are embracing the use of tablets and smartphones as learning tools, providing students with access to a wealth of information and educational resources at their fingertips. This shift towards mobile learning has also been facilitated by the development of new educational apps and online platforms that are specifically designed for use on mobile devices.

Overall, it has been an exciting year for edtech, and the future looks bright. As new technologies continue to emerge and evolve, we can expect to see even more innovative and effective tools for teaching and learning in the years to come.

What’s notable here are the lack of specifics. It’s pretty good at a generalised summary but very poor at providing the specifics. However, it certainly provides a similar quality of opinion commentary that you sometimes see in online mass article publication platforms so I can certainly see a lot more online opinion pieces being written in this way.

But as Martin Weller notes in his own (human-written?) end of year piece on AI generated content, the threat to the ‘essay’ as an established assessment type is real and something that all levels of education that use essays as an assessment will need to grapple with.

Mmmmm, I wonder how many more blog posts I can write this year using ChatGPT?

white paper in gray typewriter

ChatGPT – article on mixed-modal teaching and hybrid education.

So, I asked ChapGPT to “write an article about mixed-modal teaching and hybrid education”. This is what it came up with:

Mixed-modal teaching and hybrid education are two educational approaches that have gained popularity in recent years. These methods combine traditional face-to-face instruction with online learning, allowing students to benefit from the best of both worlds.

Mixed-modal teaching involves using a combination of in-person and online instruction in the classroom. This can include using technology such as video conferencing, online discussion forums, and virtual learning environments to supplement traditional face-to-face teaching. This allows teachers to use a wider range of teaching methods and materials, and gives students more flexibility in how they learn.

Hybrid education, on the other hand, refers to educational programs that combine online and in-person instruction. This can include programs where students spend part of their time in a physical classroom and part of their time learning online, as well as programs that are entirely online but include in-person components such as workshops or group projects.

Both mixed-modal teaching and hybrid education have a number of benefits. For students, these approaches offer more flexibility and allow them to learn at their own pace. They also allow students to access a wider range of educational resources and experiences, and can make learning more engaging and interactive. For teachers, these approaches can make it easier to personalize instruction and support students’ individual learning needs.

One of the key advantages of mixed-modal teaching and hybrid education is that they can help to bridge the digital divide. By providing students with access to online learning opportunities, these approaches can help to level the playing field and give students from underserved communities the same opportunities as their peers.

Overall, mixed-modal teaching and hybrid education are promising approaches that can help to improve the effectiveness and accessibility of education. As technology continues to evolve, we can expect to see more and more schools and educators adopting these methods.

Dinner Party Design

Have you ever held a dinner party where everyone brings a different component to the dinner? A bit like a bring and share type of event but one which is a bit more structured and planned? Aren’t they just the best kind of dinner party? Here’s ten benefits I think this kind of dinner party has going for it:

  1. One person hosts/coordinates but does not have to take on the entire workload of providing everything.
  2. All attendees to the party get to contribute something.
  3. People can make things they are good at making or even bring pre-made things that fit well into the menu.
  4. The process of planning and bring together the menu helps everyone to see what the overall meal plan is.
  5. The variety of dishes means that everyone will have something they can eat, perhaps something new they can try and things they can choose not to eat.
  6. The conversations around the table are enriched by discussions about the food people have brought with them.
  7. With coordinated planning there will be a balance of starters, mains, desserts etc so that the balance of the meal feel right.
  8. People’s dietary requirements can be easily taken into account.
  9. The accompanying drinks and refreshments can also be a shared activity and linked to the foods being eaten.
  10. There’s a good excuse for people to go back to the hosts house at a later date to collect their cleaned dishes and have a catch-up.

I’m hoping by now that some of you have started to see some potential links here with the dinner party and curriculum design – if you haven’t then don’t worry as I’m going to set out the analogy for you below.

A key component of both the dinner party and curriculum design is that there is a person(s) who take on the responsibility of leading/co-ordinating the activity. In the case of the dinner party this will almost certainly be the host, in a curriculum sense this will be the course leader / programme director. The important consideration is that this person is the glue who sticks it all together and makes sure that the experience is coherent. After all, who wants to turn up to a dinner party where there is poppadoms and pickles for a starter and then wild mushroom risotto for the main?

Whilst the host may coordinate the event, it is the shared process of each bringing a dish to the table that enhances the experience, the same is true in course design. Each person can bring something to the table, whether that be a module they have designed, a pedagogic approach they know will work, or an understanding of the way in which different modes of learning influences the ways in which we teach, it is the collective endeavours of each person that will make the course experience the best it can be. Therefore it’s important that the right people have a seat at the table. The SPaM framework can help you identify who needs to be invited and who will be bringing which ingredients/dishes to the party. Below I have started to map some examples of the types of roles who it might be useful to bring to your curriculum design table.

Academic Staff (subject expert)
Subject Librarian
External Examiner
Academic Staff (learning & teaching)
Educational Developer (pedagogy)
Instructional Designer
Academic Developer
Learning Technologist
Educational Developer (digital)
Instructional Designer
Content Developer

Clearly, this list isn’t exhaustive and the roles are fluid across domains and your specific context will influence the roles you have available to include in the process, but the point here is that for hybrid education it is vital to ensure that you have the right expertise and perspectives at the table and that we make the most of individuals’ specialisms. The SPaM framework can help you consider who brings what to the discussion and whilst there may be some individuals who can bring all three to the table, having a mix of voices will help ensure that a single insular view is not the one to dominate the design and in most cases these individuals will have a specialism weighted in one area more than the other.

What is critical in both the curriculum design and the dinner party is that each component will influence and inform the other. Making changes to the modality (dessert) may impact on the experience of the pedagogy (main) and the subject (starter) and so the programme director (host) must maintain oversight of the curriculum design process.

So, if we revisit our list of ten dinner party benefits they also align quite well in a curriculum design sense:

  1. One person hosts/coordinates but does not have to take on the entire workload of providing everything.
  2. All attendees to the party curriculum design process get to contribute something.
  3. People can make things they are good at making make use of their expertise and even bring pre-made pre-tested things that fit well into the menu course/programme.
  4. The process of planning and bring together the menu course/programme helps everyone to see what the overall meal plan course structure will be.
  5. The variety of dishes voices means that everyone will have something they can eat contribute, perhaps something new they can try and things they can choose not to eat can agree might not work.
  6. The conversations around the table are enriched by discussions about the food modules/assessments/modality/experiences people have brought with them.
  7. With coordinated planning there will be a balance of starters, mains, desserts approaches and activities etc so that the balance of the meal learning feels right.
  8. People’s dietary teaching requirements can be easily holistically taken into account.
  9. The accompanying drinks and refreshments discussions on teaching activities and assessments can also be a shared activity and linked to the foods being eaten a more holistic approach to teaching.
  10. There’s a good excuse for people to go back to the hosts house course director at a later date to collect their cleaned dishes and have follow-up discussions and a catch-up.

Now, admittedly some of these are more tenuous than others, but you get the idea. The SPaM framework doesn’t seek to define the dishes or the ingredients, but acts as a framework to structure the menu and to make sure all the dishes offer a coherent and high quality experience.

Now, the ultimate approach would be to have the curriculum design workshop run as a dinner party – anyone up for that?

monochrome photo of hybrid car charging

Hybrid – Defining in the context of SP@M.

I refer to the SPaM framework as being in support of the development of Hybrid Education/Learning and one of the queries I get is why use the term hybrid over blended, what’s the difference?

In the context of SPaM I will attempt to set out why I have chosen to use the term hybrid over and above any other term, but in all honesty no matter the terminology, SPaM is still useful as reference point for fully on campus / blended / hybrid / fully online course development as fundamentally it is about consciously thinking about and making decisions around each of the framework domains.

(Oh and as side note I have also heard people question why I use “in-person” in reference to just on campus teaching because after all isn’t online synchronous also in-person? Well the main reason is because that is what the dictionary definition is, so I hope we can agree on that one at least!



(of an activity or event) taking place with people physically present together in the same place, not on the internet or by phone or video link

So with that out of the way, let’s down to the slightly more complex discussion about defining “hybrid”. What I’d like to do is start with why I’m not using the term blended. Part of the reason for this is because we just haven’t really ever managed to get to an agreed definition of what we mean by that either (and I suspect the same will be the case for hybrid), but I do think Sue Beckingham’s work (as seen in the modality section) is really helping to clarify those differences of opinion in relation to terminology and at least starting to get to a consensus of definition, even if some won’t always agree.

modes of learning in higher education presented in six boxes one for each mode. in-person / hybrid / distance / blended / self-directed
Modes of Learning – (Sue Beckingham, 2021)

As you will see from that model Beckingham has provided a definition for both blended and hybrid, both of which I am pretty comfortable with, but not everyone will be. The basic premise is that ‘blended’ is a mode that is predicated around an on campus setting, using digital tools and platforms to support that experience, whereas ‘hybrid’ is predicated on learning experiences where students have aspects of their learning taking place on campus and online.

Now on the surface of it some may think that that sounds pretty much the same, but the key difference for me is that in hybrid education the curriculum is specifically designed for each mode, that means decisions about the pedagogy (including assessment design, learning activities, feedback methods etc) are all specific to the mode (this is exactly what SPaM encourages).

Also personally when I think of blended I visualise lots of ingredients in a food processor being whizzed round together – and I wanted something that represented a more structured approach.

The best analogy I have relates to a hybrid vehicle. A hybrid vehicle has both a combustion engine and electric motors. For some journeys the combustion engine is the most suitable, usually for travelling long distance or at high speed for long periods. For other journeys the electric motor will be most effective, usually those shorter runs, in urban areas and where maximum efficiency can be gained. There is also an intrinsic link between the combustion engine and the electric motor, with the former charging the batteries for the other and conversely the electric engine providing extra horse power for when the combustion engine needs it. Ultimately what we have here is a system designed for maximum flexibility, combining the benefits of both.

So, if we apply that same concept of ‘hybrid’ to education, what we should be doing is thinking about the student learning journey and designing the curriculum using different modes for different elements of that learning journey, making decisions about which mode is best for which elements of learning. At a programme level it may be that certain modules are best for certain modes, or within a module certain topics/activities are best for a certain mode. These are not decisions for me, but for those charged with the design of the programme/module, using SPaM as a point of reference for these discussions and decisions.

So, that’s the rationale for why I am using the term ‘hybrid’ – not everyone will agree with it, but firstly it is based on established use of the term, albeit outside of the education sector which in my opinion makes it less likely to be misunderstood and secondly this definition has gained traction (in the UK at least) over the past few years as we rethink our approaches to learning and teaching in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

I have no doubt that the term ‘hybrid’ will continue to be debated for many years, as we have seen with the definition of blended learning and this is to be expected as both technology, pedagogy and the scholarship of learning and teaching evolve.

All we can do is seek to clarify these terms in the context of our own work so that those who engage with this framework and it’s use understand the framing of the terminology around which it was developed. So, whether you agree with this definition or not (and I’m happy to debate it), at least you have a better sense of what it means in the context of the SPaM framework and why I am using it.

What’s in a name? Maybe you need MaPS?

A couple of people have commented that the acronym ‘SPaM’ may not go down well in some circles. However, the structure of the acronym is purposeful and as such I am intending to keep it in this format.

Whilst the three domains should be considered equally the reality is that nearly all of the course design or curriculum development activities I have been involved with, either as a course director or as an educational developer, have almost always started with a discussion about “what” is going to be in the course, i.e. the “subject knowledge”.

That’s not to say that “content is king” as subject knowledge is more than just content, but it is very often the starting point for the curriculum design process and strongly informs learning outcomes and structure of programmes. For this reason ‘S’ for Subject is the first letter in the acronym.

Additionally both Subject & Pedagogy are already established elements of the TPACK framework (although ‘subject’ is referred to as Content Knowledge) so it makes sense to have these as the first two letters whilst the domain. Additionally, conversations about “how” a course/programme will be taught often follow on from “what” will be taught. Finally, the component which I have added into the framework is Modality, the domain which is likely to be least familiar and as such become the focus of the conversation later on in the process (hence having ‘M’ at the end of the acronym).

However, I wouldn’t want an acronym to stand in the way of a useful framework being used and so on the rare occasion where someone may object to SPaM then please feel free to use the alternative – MaPS.

We have lift off…………………..

Over the past few days/weeks I’ve been consolidating my thinking on a framework for Hybrid Education. You may be asking why we need a framework, after all stuff still happens with or without the framework.

Since 2014 I have been making use of the TPACK framework as part of my research into academic staff experiences of digital skills development. If you have read the Introduction section of this site you will have already noted that TPACK is the basis for the SPaM framework also.

During this research a number of benefits arose from having a framework to support the digital skills development of academic staff and these same benefits apply to this framework in a similar context. Those benefits include:

  • A single reference point for joining up discussions and sharing experiences across (and beyond) and organisation.
  • Identification of the key domains necessary for any successful hybrid/blended programme.
  • Recognition of the way in which these domains influence and are affected by each other.
  • A framework through which to guide curriculum design in the context of blended courses.
  • A framework through which to identify and plan staff development needs in relation to academic development.
  • To be adapted for both staff and student facing needs so as to connect students with the curriculum design process and make it more visible to them.
  • To support course/programme approval and re-approval activity by having three core areas for discussion.
  • A framework that encourages collaboration and holistic development by identifying what different experts bring to the curriculum design table.
  • Supporting a high quality student experience by ensuring that the key considerations of their learning experience are identified.
  • A framework which helps to connect the “what” (subject materials) with the “why” (pedagogy and modality). The “how” sits somewhere amongst all three domains and is heavily influenced by the “what”.

The list is not exhaustive and is drawn from interview data of participants with regards to their experience of TPACK. Additionally one of the key messages from this data is that the simplicity of the framework is it’s strength and as such SPaM does not seek to extend the TPACK framework beyond it’s original three core domains, but seeks to adapt it in such a way as to make it more suitable for use in a world of hybrid education.

Please do take a look at the framework introduction to start with and feel free to get in touch with any further suggestions or considerations via the contact form.