Learning Design and Leadership Program

Online Non-degree Courses, Certificates, Masters Degrees and Doctorates

At a Glance

  • What: innovative approaches to learning, with a focus on e-learning and technology-mediated knowledge communities.
  • Who: For educators and aspiring leaders in education at all levels, workplace trainers, human resource developers, community educators, ed-tech developers, education writers, curriculum resource developers, instructional designers... or anyone with a professional or personal interest in learning.
  • How: To inquire or enroll, visit the Learning Design and Leadership Program page at the College of Education website.

For more detailed information about the program and course syllabi, visit the program website.

Program Description

Learning Design and Leadership (LDL) addresses the theories and practices of learning in the context of digital media and learner diversity. Its focus is on innovative practices in a wide range of sites, including formal education from K-12 to higher education, workplace and community settings, and informal learning. The program offers an opportunity to learn how to design and implement purposeful, engaging learning environments, including the integration of new media, learning and assessment technologies. The program supports career advancement for current or aspiring teachers, college professors, instructional designers, learning resource developers, educational technology analysts, e-learning consultants, and anyone with a personal or professional interest in the future of education.

Signature Ideas

The Learning Design and Leadership program prepares participants to tackle challenging questions in the science and practice of learning, and to create more effective, innovative, indeed transformative learning environments. The program takes an expansive view of the discipline of education—it addresses the foundational question of coming-to-know, not just for children and adults in traditional institutions of education, but also in informal community, civic and workplace settings. We prepare educators with pedagogical repertoire of learning/teaching strategies to support the design and delivery of their subject matter and learning goals.

Although learning is a pervasive phenomenon across many creatures in the natural world, education is a peculiarly human capacity to nurture learning in a conscious way, and to create social contexts that have been specially designed for that purpose: the institutions of education. Everyday learning happens naturally, everywhere, pervasively and all the time. Education – encompassing institutions, curricula and consciously formulated pedagogies – is what we have termed “Learning by Design.” There is a science to education, which adds method and reflexivity to the everyday processes of learning and the intuitive art of teaching. This science asks and attempts to answer fundamental and searching questions. How does learning happen in everyday as well as formal educational contexts? How do we design learning environments so they are most effective?

The program is informed by several key ideas. One key interest is educational media, and in particular the ways in which digital technologies for the representation and communication of knowledge have the potential to transform learning. This arises from a phenomenon in contemporary communications environments that we have called “Multiliteracies.” The program takes a carefully considered approach to the role of technology in learning. While rhetoric pointing to the transformational power of technology in education is widespread, relationships of learning and processes of knowing have often not fundamentally changed. Even when new technologies are introduced, the changes sometimes seem insignificant and the results disappointing. Nevertheless, these technologies do have enormous potentials, even if these are often only partly realized. How do we design and implement technologies in support of learning? And how do we prepare learners for success in a world that is increasingly dominated by digital information flows, and tools for interaction in the workplace, public spaces and personal life? We have explored these ideas in what we have called the “affordances of e-learning ecologies.”

Another key idea is learner diversity across a broad range of dimensions, material (social class, locale and family); corporeal (age, race, sex and sexuality, physical and mental abilities); and symbolic (language, ethnos, communities of commitment and gender). The challenge for education we have called, how to nurture a “productive diversity.” How do we differentiate learning so it addresses to the needs and interests of a diverse community of learners? How does education build up and transform identities?

Education’s agendas are intellectually expansive and practically ambitious. It is learner-transformative, enabling productive workers, participating citizens and fulfilled persons. And it is world-transformative as we interrogate the human nature of learning and its role in imagining and enacting new ways of being human and living socially: shaping our identities, framing our ways of belonging, using technologies, representing meanings in new ways and through new media, building participatory spaces and collaborating to build and rebuild the world.

To stay connected with these ideas, please join our New Learning community in CGScholar, Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis’ blog.


Cope, Bill and Mary Kalantzis, eds. 2015. A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Learning by Design. London: Palgrave.

Cope, Bill and Mary Kalantzis, eds. 2016. E-Learning Ecologies: Principles for New Learning and Assessment. New York NY: Routledge.

Kalantzis, Mary and Bill Cope. 2012. New Learning: Elements of a Science of Education (Edn 2). Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.

Kalantzis, Mary and Bill Cope. 2016. "Learner Differences in Theory and Practice." Open Review of Educational Research 3(1):85–132.

Kalantzis, Mary, Bill Cope, Eveline Chan and Leanne Dalley-Trim. 2016. Literacies (Edn 2). Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.

Historical Background to the LDL Program and Our Research Agenda

The Learning Design and Leadership program is the outgrowth of two of the College of Education’s most successful online M.Ed. programs: New Learning and CTER (Curriculum, Technology, and Education Reform). The CTER program commenced in 1998 and was one of the first online education programs in the world. (Perhaps it was the first. Please tell us if you know of an older program, because we don't!) Since then, the program has grown and developed to include today tens of thousands of students taking MOOC versions of our courses. While school, college and university educators have been important members of our learning communities, program participants have also included many other professionals, such as developers of instructional software and materials, workplace learning and development professionals, museum professionals, NGO workers, and educational administrators.

The University of Illinois has a proud history of innovation in education. For over a century, the College of Education has been a world leader in educational research and thinking. As one of the top ranked education schools in the United States and the world, our graduate students have gone on to transform education on every continent.

It was at the University of Illinois that the world’s first e-learning system was invented, PLATO, in 1959. We continue this proud tradition of research and development with the CGScholar program, funded by the Institute of Educational Sciences, US Department of Education, the National Science Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In joining the Learning Design and Leadership Program, you will be working with professors and graduate students who are active education researchers and innovators in a leading “Research One” university.

We are inventing digital tools more appropriate for the human, creative, endeavors of learning. As we teach, we are also developing and testing the affordances of digital media. The LDL courses leverage a social learning platform, CGScholar. Developed colleagues in computer science and other disciplines across campus, students use this platform to access course materials, engage in discussions, create course deliverables, and review peers’ work. This continues to be a site of research and development as we search for ways to realize our values in the world of digitally mediated meanings. To learn more about CGScholar, see our CGScholar research page, the Getting Started in CGScholar learning module, and tutorial videos.

This research-based learning ecosystem also assesses your work and measures your participation as you progress through each LDL course, across a number of elements that are represented in an analytics tool, accessible to the instructor and the course participant. CGScholar's Analytics app tracks aspects of learning across three domains, Knowledge, Focus and Help—our courses value and reward collaboration, peer-to-peer feedback, and shared knowledge making.