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.

Program Pathways: A Ladder of Learning

Learning Design and Leadership courses are shared across the following graduate programs, each with its own requirements:

Strands within the LDL Program

Concentrations involve a coherent cluster of courses that constitute an area of expertise that will be listed on your transcript. There are four elective strands within the Learning Design and Leadership Program, as follows. Program requirements are the same for each strand, and courses are shared.

  1. New and Innovative Learning Environments: Designed to support advanced approaches to the development of more engaging learning environments for students and to integrate new media and technologies into formal and informal educational settings. Focuses on ways in which students use digital media to enhance the ways in which they learn. It also addresses the challenge of differentiating instruction to meet the needs of diverse learners. Any courses in the LDL program can be selected to meet this requirement.
  2. Technology Specialist: Designed for students interested in developing competencies in instructional technology to enhance learning experiences and communications. This can include workforce development, public policy, and educational technology development outside of formal education settings in addition to K-12 Institutions. Students interested in performance technology, instructional design, information access and instructional development should also consider this concentration. Recommended courses are marked with a * in the listing at section 5.
  3. Foundations of e-Learning in Higher Education: Designed to enable understanding of the design, development, evaluation, and management of e-Learning programs and systems in universities and colleges. Students will be able to gain both theoretical and practical knowledge and skills in the context of teaching and learning in higher education. Topics include: digital game-based learning, immersive learning technology, evidence-driven learning technology evaluation, mobile learning systems, and more. Any courses in the LDL program can be selected to meet this requirement, however it will be expected that course participants will focus their work on higher education.

LDL Course Descriptions

General Format of Courses

Each course involves weekly synchronous sessions, weekly comments on instructor “updates,” weekly updates by participants on nominated topics, and two peer reviewed projects—further details in course syllabi.

EPOL 481 / EPS 431: New Learning

Education is in a state of flux – transitioning from traditional architectures and practices to new ecologies of teaching and learning influenced by the tremendous social and technological changes of our times. What changes are afoot today in workplaces, civic life and everyday community life? What are their implications for education? What are the possible impacts of contemporary social transformations on teaching and learning - including in the areas of technology, media, globalization, diversity, changing forms of work in the “knowledge society”, and, in these contexts, changing learner needs and sensibilities? This course explores three pedagogical paradigms: “didactic”, “authentic” and “transformative” learning. It takes an historical perspective in order to define the contemporary dimensions of what we term “new learning”. It prepares participants to make purposeful choices and link particular theories/instructional approaches to individual and group learning goals.

EPOL 580 / EPS 506: Ubiquitous Learning

This course explores the dynamics of learning using mobile computing devices, broadly defined to range from mobile phones, tablets and laptops to interesting new possibilities raised by emerging technologies such as wearable devices and a potentially pervasive “internet of things”. Our journey will take us through museums, galleries and parks - real and virtual. We will visit new media and gaming spaces in which either incidental or explicit learning is taking place. We will look at sites of informal as well as formal learning - extraordinary classrooms offering blended learning opportunities, as well as new forms and modes of out-of-school and self-directed learning.

EPOL 534 / EPS 535: Assessment for Learning

For several decades now, assessment has become an increasingly pressing educational priority. Teacher and school accountability systems have come to be based on analysis of large-scale, standardized summative assessments. As a consequence, assessment now dominates most conversations about reform, particularly as a measure of teacher and school accountability for learner performance. Behind the often heated and at times ideologically gridlocked debate is a genuine challenge to address gaps in achievement between different demographically identifiable groups of students. There is an urgent need to lift whole communities and cohorts of students out of cycles of underachievement. For better or for worse, testing and public reporting of achievement is seen to be one of the few tools capable of clearly informing public policy makers and communities alike about how their resources are being used to expand the life opportunities. This course is an overview of current debates about testing, and analyses the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of approaches to assessment. The course also focuses on the use of assessment technologies in learning. It will explore recent advances in computer adaptive and diagnostic testing, the use of natural language processing technologies in assessments, and embedded formative assessments in digital and online curricula. Other topics include the use of data mining and learning analytics in learning management systems and educational technology platforms. Participants will be required to consider issues of data access, privacy and the challenges raised by ‘big data’ including data persistency and student profiling. The course also addresses processes of educational evaluation.

EPOL 581 / EPS 532: Knowledge, Learning & Pedagogy

Investigates a variety of pedagogical paradigms, including didactic, authentic, functional and critical pedagogies. Develops the concept of a pedagogical repertoire, as a means to interpret the ways in which learners engage in a variety of “knowledge processes” or task types. The course focuses for its examples on approaches literacy and academic literacy teaching and learning, but participants can address parallel examples from other discipline areas and across all levels of education including school, higher education, and workplace learning. As a counterpoint, the course also reflects on the practicalities of learning knowledge-making in informal as well as consciously designed learning environments.

EPOL 582 / EPS 554: New Media and Literacies

This course is designed to address issues of language and literacy, not only for language arts teachers, but all educators in all disciplines and at all levels, where students are required to read and represent their knowledge in writing as well as other media. It will introduce the “Multiliteracies” theory of literacy learning which recognizes that the contemporary communications environment is increasingly multimodal. Written language today is more closely connected with oral, visual, gestural, tactile and spatial modes. To remain relevant, effective pedagogy needs to connect with the new communications media, and to explore their underlying processes. The course focuses on current trends in literacy instruction, not only in language arts or composition classes, but academic literacies across all curriculum areas. The course also investigates the implications of new media of language and literacy and explore the implications of developments in the contemporary media, particularly digital media. This reflects an expansive view of literacy in which reading and writing includes media objects such as embedded video, datasets, infographics, digital story boards etc. The course investigates the implications of new media and technology-mediated learning for teaching methods and pedagogical designs.

EPSY 408 LDL: Learning & Human Development with Educational Technologies

Sets out to provide an understanding of theories of learning and development and how these theories relate to educational technology. It has two components. The first is theoretical, in which we attempt to develop an overall frame of reference, locating approaches to the psychology of learning in terms of large paradigm shifts, from ‘behaviorism’ to ‘brain developmentalism’ to ‘social cognitivism’. The second component is practical, in which we will use these theoretical concepts to ‘parse’ a technology-mediated learning environment for its underlying presuppositions.

EPSY 559 LDL: Advanced Learning Technology (formerly EPSY 556)

In this course participants identify and justify the implementation of advanced learning technologies in the overall environment of learning. They investigate the ways in which advanced technologies influence the design process and how the design process may be enhanced. Areas addressed include: learning management systems, intelligent tutors, computer adaptive testing, gamification, simulations, learning in and through social media and peer interaction, universal design for learning, differentiated instruction systems, big data and learning analytics, attention monitoring, and affect-aware systems. Participants will explore the processes for selection and implementation of suitable technologies, the design of electronic learning resources, design and application of digital media in teaching and learning, familiarization with web usability and accessibility, and critical analysis of the benefits of technologies in education.

EPSY 560 LDL: Technology and Educational Change (formerly HRD 472)

Today’s wave of educational technologies foreshadow what may be a second great education revolution, after the rise of mass-institutional education in the nineteenth century. This has the potential to transform the characteristic communication artifacts of classrooms, teacher lecture, classroom discourse and textbooks. This course explores the possibilities for educational technologies to influence educational change. However, with a critical eye, we also raise the concerns - we can use digital media to prolong the life of old ways of learning, for instance, where the video-lecturing teacher, the monovocal e-textbook or the bullet-pointed PowerPoint presentation transmit facts and concepts. How can we use the affordances of networked digital media to do something different? Can we imagine learning where the knowledge that learners bring to the table is valued, where learners' knowledge repertoires are extended as they actively make new knowledge, and which build collaborative knowledge cultures?

EPOL 583 / HRD 572 LDL: e-Learning Ecologies

An examination of emerging environments of e-learning, some setting out to emulate the heritage social relationships and discourses of the classroom, others attempting to create new forms of learning. Aims to push the imaginative boundaries of what might be possible in e-learning environments. Explores the ways in which assessments can be constructed and implemented which are integral to the learning process, with the assistance of today's new media, ‘big data’ and other information technologies.

SPED 413: New Media & Learner Differences

An investigation of the dimensions of learner diversity: material (class, locale), corporeal (age, race, sex and sexuality, and physical and mental characteristics) and symbolic (culture, language, gender, family, affinity and persona). Examines social-cultural theories of difference, as well as considering alternative responses to these differences in educational settings - ranging from broad, institutional responses to specific pedagogical responses within classes of students. The course also focuses on the application of learning technologies and new media to meet the needs of diverse populations of learners. Its main practical question is, how do we use educational technologies to create learning environments in which learning experiences can be customized and calibrated to meet the precise needs of particular learners? Topics include: universal design for learning, differentiated instruction systems, and adaptive and personalized learning environments.

EPS 590 / EPOL 590: Meaning Patterns: An Introduction to Semiotics and the Interpretation of Meanings in Education and the Social Sciences (Interpretative Methods Course)

This course addresses the ways in which knowledge is represented, with special reference to the knowledge representations of teachers and learners. Its interdisciplinary bases are functional linguistics, semiotics, philosophy, history of ideas, media/communication studies, and ontology in computer science. The focal point of the course is the five questions about meaning posed by Cope and Kalantzis in their transpositional grammar: “what is this about?” (reference); “who or what is doing this?” (agency); “what holds this together?” (structure); “how does this fit with its surroundings?” (context); and “what is this for?” (interest). Along these lines of inquiry, a transpositional grammar addresses language, image, embodied action, object and space. “Transposition” refers to the movement across these various forms of meaning, intensified in the era of pervasively multimodal, digitally-mediated communications. Applied to education, not only does this provide a valuable heuristic to reframe literacy teaching and learning (the original impulse for the development of this grammar). It also offers an integrated account of meaning-to-learn across all subject areas, including pedagogical content knowledge and learner knowledge representations. Conceived in the broader terms of social-scientific research methods, transpositional grammar is an attempt to overcome the narrowness and logocentrism of “the language turn” which dominated social sciences in the twentieth century. In a practical sense, semiotics of the kind explored in this course also provides tools for reading and interpreting multimodal texts and research data.

The Six Course Exam-Dissertation Sequence

Course 1: EPOL 586: General Field Research Seminar

This is one of three dissertation research-based courses that will be taken after all coursework is completed for the EdD., prior to dissertation proposal seminar (EPOL 591). It is designed to guide students as they develop the research foundations and design frameworks in their general field of study, upon which they will form their dissertation proposal and doctoral dissertation. The primary focus of this course is to develop the general field literature review of the dissertation. Students will use advanced research strategies, read, and become familiar with the literature in order to identify relevant research and theory related to their general fields as well as critique the gaps in the literature. Their major research paper will meet the doctoral milestone of the general field examination and lay an integral foundation to their dissertations. Students will continue to be part of a community of researchers, willing and able to support each other in the development of research plans as peer scholars.

Course 2: EPOL 587: Special Field Research Seminar

This course is designed to guide students as they develop the research foundations and design frameworks in their specialized field of study, upon which they will form their dissertation proposal and doctoral dissertation. The primary focus of this course is to develop the special field literature review of the dissertation. Students will use advanced research strategies, search appropriate databases, read, and become familiar with the literature in order to identify relevant research and theory related to a specific topic as well as critique the gaps in the literature. Their major research paper will meet the doctoral milestone of the special field examination and lay an integral foundation to their dissertations. Students will continue to be part of a community of researchers, willing and able to support each other in the development of research plans as the group moves through the degree program.

Course 3A: EPOL 588: Methodology Research Seminar

This course is designed to guide students as they develop the research foundations and design frameworks in their research methodology, upon which they will form their dissertation proposal and doctoral dissertation. In a structured classroom format, students will analyze and develop their chosen research methodologies for their dissertation studies. This endeavor will not just be a description of the mechanics of their approach. Rather, students should demonstrate a critical awareness that all such methods are partial and must show that they are adopting a particular methodology with a keen awareness of the arguments of its critics. The major research paper will meet the doctoral milestone of the research methodology examination and lay an integral foundation to the dissertation. Students will continue to be part of a community of researchers, willing and able to support each other in the development of research plans as peer scholars.

Course 3B: EPS 595 (Independent Study): Early Research Project

This course is a requirement for PhD candidates only. Typically, this is a pilot implementation of the dissertation research (EPS 595: Independent Study). The course involves: 1) developing a pilot project proposal; 2) implementing the pilot; 3) evaluating outcomes and developing conclusions that will determine the shape of a full implementation.

Course 4: EPOL 591: Thesis Seminar

Designed to take students through the entire process of proposal development, this course is intended for doctoral students who are ready to prepare a thesis or dissertation proposal for preliminary examination. This will involve drafting early chapters of the dissertation, including introduction, literature review, and methodology chapters, as well as a 15-minute oral presentation to the dissertation committee.

Course 5: EPOL 599: Thesis Research (1)

Thesis research and writing. Completion of a full draft for peer presentation and review.

Course 6: EPOL 599: Thesis Research (2)

Thesis research and writing, culminating in oral presentation and defense.

LDL Program Leaders

Bill Cope is a Professor in the Department of Education Policy, Organization & Leadership, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His research interests include theories and practices of pedagogy, cultural and linguistic diversity, and new technologies of representation and communication. His and Mary Kalantzis’ recent research has focused on the development of digital writing and assessment technologies, with the support of a number of major grants from the US Department of Education, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Science Foundation. The result has been the CGScholar multimodal writing and assessment environment.


Mary Kalantzis was from 2006 to 2016 Dean of the College of Education at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Before this, she was Dean of the Faculty of Education, Language and Community Services at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, and President of the Australian Council of Deans of Education. With Bill Cope, she has co-authored or co-edited: New Learning: Elements of a Science of Education, Cambridge University Press, 2008 (2nd edition, 2012); Ubiquitous Learning, University of Illinois Press, 2009; Towards a Semantic Web: Connecting Knowledge in Academic Research, Elsevier, 2009; Literacies, Cambridge University Press 2012 (2nd edition, 2016); A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies, Palgrave, 2016; and e-Learning Ecologies, Routledge, 2017.