The Concept of Learning Management

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By Richard Smith and David Lynch   [Rethinking Teacher Education: Teacher Education in the Knowledge Age.   pp.75 to 111]


In earlier work[i], the concept of learning management was defined as the capacity to achieve learning outcomes in all learners and was based on the notion of design with intent. The design with intent notion signalled the belief that every teacher required the personal expert knowledge and skill capacity to achieve what are normally predefined learning outcomes in all learners. This entailed a common language of instruction. This formulation includes not only the transmission of facts and knowledge components but also how, when and where students use that knowledge in everyday social and practical settings. The Dimensions of Learning approach makes this abundantly clear[ii].

We are keen to emphasise that what teachers need to learn and, in turn, their students need to learn, is based on a conception of the expert knowledge that underlies knowledge work in today’s economy developed for the BLM. As we note in Chapters One and Four of this book, knowledge workers apply their expertise in social settings, using a repertoire of technologically advanced tools in addition to working with pencils, paper, markers and whiteboards. As Sawyer[iii] puts it:

In the knowledge economy, memorisation of facts and procedures is not enough for success. Educated graduates need a deep conceptual understanding of complex concepts, and the ability to work with them creatively to generate new ideas, new theories, new products, and new knowledge. They need to be able to critically evaluate what they read, to be able to express themselves clearly both verbally and in writing, and to be able to understand scientific and mathematical thinking. They need to learn integrated and usable knowledge, rather than the sets of compartmentalized and decontextualised facts…

There are two essential elements to the learning management approach. First, there is the technique known as the learning design process (or the 8 Learning Management Questions)[iv] that organises the curriculum design process required of teachers for successful sequencing and pacing of curriculum material for individual learners. This is a necessary step of professional responsibility irrespective of whether the setting is face-to-face teaching or internet-based. Second, there is the non-negotiable insistence that learning managers (the term given to the practitioner of learning management) have the skill set to implement systematic pedagogical strategies and practices that result in students reaching the learning outcomes required of them. The Dimensions of Learning[v] framework was used to provide the mechanism for converting the curriculum design process into research-based pedagogical practice.

The learning management concept represented a rethink of teaching, schooling and teacher education on a number of strategic grounds because of its emphasis on the following three characteristics.

First, it emphasized the need for design principles and a common language of instruction for the knowledge workers called teachers. Second, it espoused as a principle the obligation of teachers, administrators and teacher educators to give up pedagogical strategies justified by personal preferences in favour of research-based techniques that deliver a wider curriculum agenda and the deep understanding that underlies knowledge work. Third, it enunciated a renewed responsibility on the part of teachers, learning institutions and teacher educators for the outcomes of pedagogical practice.

In short, the theory of learning management was aimed at what we saw as filling significant voids in the understanding of pedagogy and pedagogical practice in standard schools and schooling and in university-based teacher education. Of particular interest to our concern with the efficacy of education for all students was the idea that the current dominant pedagogical practices of schooling and teacher education are a major contributor both to the failure of schools to fulfil their promise for many students and their families, and to the knowing-doing gap that policy makers struggle with in their attempts to adjust education for social change[vi] in a knowledge economy.

The Context of Pedagogical Talk in Teacher Education

Knowledge, both theoretical and procedural, in a most general sense of the term, is the end product of learning. Knowledge is the, “forms of things that people have in mind, their models for perceiving, relating, and otherwise interpreting them”[vii]. In addition, because meaningful knowledge is applied, a knowing person uses tools and relates to other people in the environment as knowledge is realized in actions. It not just a static mental structure inside the learner’s head. This is another way of saying that different cultural systems or models provide ways of understanding and operating on the world; that they create for their performers an order of relevance and social relations.

This is an important way of understanding how occupational groups do what they do. Taking teachers as an example, they come to learn their social roles through the process of cultural communication over many years. We are all socialized into schooling and its folklore as children while we participate in schooling for 12 years or so.

In the formal training sense, teachers undertake a lengthy pre-service preparation that connects them with both teacher educators—predominately former teachers—and teachers in school workplaces. During this process and in the early years of work, they are progressively incorporated into teacher cultures in areas like demeanour, dress, language and social relations. These teacher cultures contain ideals and specific knowledge about how to be a teacher, and how to behave and to present as a teacher to stakeholders such as other teachers, parents and university supervisors.

We can see how the criteria for perceiving, relating and otherwise interpreting teaching regulate the selection and organisation of what counts as proper teacher talk and action. In particular, and of great interest to us, is the translation of these criteria into preferred teaching performances. A deep-seated element of such teaching cultures is the idea that every teacher has their own unique ways of teaching and that teaching prowess as judged by professional colleagues is an individual accomplishment.

We can understand how this process of identity and image building comes about. For a start, a teacher’s own socialising experiences through school as a child have a significant impact on how these future teachers perceive and undertake their work once they are qualified. This is despite the endeavours of the teacher training system to inculcate new ways[viii].

Also, when a student teacher interacts with a teacher while on a practicum this form of social relation has a selective effect on what is said, when it is said and how it is said. Allen provides a good example from a pre-service student teacher, Helen, talking about school experience:

You had to make sure you did what the teacher did, not what you were taught at uni. When the teacher was away I could try some things, generally what we’d learned, although a lot of what I did was emulating the teachers. Yes, it is usually what the teacher does[ix].

Helen exemplifies the form that the social relations between student teacher, teacher and teacher educator takes as selective talk and actions are transmitted and reinforced in the standard schooling model. More generally, the experience of teachers is given shape, meaning and relevance by the criteria used in the contexts of teaching. The criteria are a consequence of the ways schooling is structured that, in turn, have effects on the wider social structure as a corollary of the outcomes of schooling. Of course, it is not difficult to see that some of these elements constitute a formidable barrier to change from the point of view of teacher educators, teachers, employers, students and policy makers seeking to adapt schooling to new social realities.

This is an important point for models that require close university and industry collaboration like the Bachelor of Learning Management (BLM)[x]. The immediate customers of teacher education are only going to lead in the direction in which they want to go and for which their occupational cultures provide support. For learning management and the BLM, the school teacher and teacher education cultures alone would have delivered the same product as before, despite changes in the accreditation details like re-naming subjects and rearranging their sequence. This in-built resistance to renewal and change would never have led to disruptive innovation if left to its own devices.

It was fortunate for the BLM, as a new teacher education program intent on changing the standard Bachelor of Education (BEd) product, that it attracted a new set of customers. Some were marginalized by the conventional model because it failed to deliver desired outcomes such as workplace readiness. Others were feeling the pressures of change from new students and the economic environment and were concerned about what teaching jobs were becoming. Still others, as administrators, realized that their own policy challenges required a teacher education program that would both prepare different graduate teachers and up-skill the profession. The BLM, rather than the obsolete BEd, was developed around learning management assumptions from the beginning, with strong input from a raft of stakeholders including the university. To survive, the BLM had to prove true for the business models across employers and the university as well as engaging the collaboration of teachers. The Ingvarsen et al. evaluation of the BLM[xi] was a test of the underlying assumptions of learning management and found that they were robust and delivered an effective program with better outcomes than the BEd programs with which it was in direct competition.

Teaching then can be understood as a performance that is realised as a function of teacher culture acting through social relationships in specific contexts[xii]. It is important to realise though that cultural criteria are not pre-determined in the sense of guaranteeing particular behaviours. They describe the potentiality of a cultural pool, and in this sense teacher performances are the actually realized examples of what is conceivable within a particular cultural framework. An implication of great consequence is that if the performances of teaching are to change, then there needs to be a different set of cultural tools and resources in place that legitimize new ways of behaving. Changing cultures and behaviours is an especially difficult assignment in education because the institution is so embedded in social structures and expectations[xiii].

An example of teacher culture that seems impervious to change but has special significance for teacher education is that of pedagogical approach. It seems that there is widespread acclamation for the idea that there are as many teaching approaches as there are teachers and that it is desirable that every teacher is expected to develop a repertoire of unique pedagogical practices that are anchored in their own subjective preferences. As we pointed out in the previous chapter, an important variation of these ideas is that teachers are ‘born’ to the vocation.

However, this form of heroic individualism is not without its difficulties in the education sector. Education outcomes for most people in the community have far-reaching implications for life-chances and are historically skewed by the class structure. Education has always held out the promise of social mobility but only if the student is successful in their school career. Faced with the evidence that a significant proportion of students fail to reap the benefits of education in every system, individualism on the part of teachers in this context looks more like self-indulgence than professional service.

Pragmatically, the sign of a mature profession is its use of a common and explicit knowledge and practice base. This base defines and organizes professional service. We argue much of what is taught at teacher education faculties today is easily recognized by a layperson because what constitutes the theory and practice of professional teaching is composed of subjective preferences anchored in the traditions of schooling. Everyone has experienced such schooling as a child and consequently to an outsider it all appears to be logical, because the profession is recognizable by what it does. To use the example of medicine and teaching, the contrast is obvious.

 In addition, there are grounds for arguing that for a profession seeking to be professional, the individualized, subjective preference approach to pedagogical work runs counter to the best interests of the teacher work force and their clients, especially in a knowledge dominated world. There are five areas that contribute to this situation and we explore each in specific detail.

First, there is ample evidence that schools are unable to achieve acceptable outcomes in every student and that there is significant variation in academic outcomes amongst schools. This true for the standard curriculum – leaving aside the urgent new knowledge economy agendas faced by schools that now include climate change in all of its manifestations. It has been fashionable to explain away such variation with class, race and gender-based assumptions about educability. Yet contemporary research indicates that effective schools and teachers can have a profound effect on individual student achievement; that differences in schools and teachers contribute to differences in student achievement and that school leadership characteristics have a definite impact on student academic outcomes[xiv]. The usual alibis that depict teachers as helpless in the face of irretrievable socio-cultural disadvantages ring hollow when faced by these empirical findings, despite the ideological protestations about the home background of students from teachers’ unions and teacher representatives seeking better industrial conditions.

Second, it is difficult to fathom how and why the proliferation of pedagogies is desirable. Taking the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission[xv] definition of a profession, teaching seems to fall well short in crucial areas:

“A disciplined group of individuals who adhere to high ethical standards and uphold themselves to, and are accepted by, the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised, organised body of learning derived from education and training at a high level, and who are prepared to exercise this knowledge and these skills in the interest of others. 

Inherent in this definition is the concept that the responsibility for the welfare, health and safety of the community shall take precedence over other considerations.”

Clearly, where there are as many approaches to teaching as there are teachers, there is no, “widely recognised, organised body of learning” that anybody much agrees on and in turn, no, “special knowledge and skills” that can be demonstrated to have efficacy in the sense of, ”responsibility for the welfare, health and safety of the community”. Taking Indigenous education as a pertinent example, a recent MACER report notes:

…it seems there is an underlying assumption that Indigenous underachievement is somehow ‘normal’ or ‘given’. Disturbingly, there has been little outrage from within the system about dramatic and continuing levels of underachievement[xvi].

Third, some argue that such enormous variation in pedagogical approach offers greater chances of progress towards successful practice because of the potential for mutation[xvii]. The paralleling of a biological variation argument in which variability provides resources for pedagogical adaptation appears attractive, but it contains fallacies. For example, in biological parlance, populations rather than individuals evolve and adapt. This means that adaptation is a consequence of selection amongst populations rather than amongst individuals.

Moreover, individual selection is likely to oppose population-wide increases in variability. That is, the generation of new variation will not be selectively favoured on its own merits within a population. A ‘variability allele’ may well cause more new beneficial variants to arise, but recombination will dissociate it from these variants and keep it from spreading in a population. In this way, it will therefore not be favoured by natural selection[xviii]. Given the lack of variation in the Bachelor of Education (the standard teacher education program in Australia) ‘genome’ and in pedagogical approaches across formal education settings, Sniegowski and Murphy’s argument has face validity for the education sector when it comes to evaluating the proliferation and fragmentation of pedagogical practice.

Fourth, the claim that individuals, as individuals, have a right to exercise their autonomy as teachers is phantasmagorical. In fact, this kind of claim is an indicator of the loss of status and prestige mirrored in the recruitment of teachers and the status of teacher education. In recent decades, increasing de-professionalisation as decision-making power over curriculum and teaching goals have shifted elsewhere have had an impact on the teaching profession and teacher education.

The fragmentation of the professional teaching knowledge-base and the inability of schooling and teacher education to adapt to rampant social change have undermined the credibility of the profession itself. Neither the teaching force, their unions nor teacher education have grasped the need for a new set of pedagogical principles in tune with education for all, and the need to provide teachers with an intellectual context for understanding the knowledge/creative society and its workplace implications. There are clear signs that the professional teacher is one who can produce desired learning outcomes using research-based knowledge and skill and who has wide social networking capacities across diverse communities and cultures. The credibility of the profession will depend on these elements.

Fifth, there is a predominant belief in teacher cultures that the individual learner and his or her internal developmental processes are the proper concern of teaching and teachers. Progress is signalled by competence in undertaking appropriate developmental tasks. This approach is in contrast to placing primary emphasis on the knowledge that students can demonstrate by performances judged according to criteria derived beyond the individual student. These competence and performance indicators respectively provide quite different assumptions for a teaching approach[xix]. All pedagogical models lie on this competence and performance continuum.

The emphasis on the individual, on the internal processes of the learner, and on the person rather than what is to be learned either formally transmitted or in other modes, confounds the difference between the pedagogic consequences of a teaching episode and a pedagogic relation between the teacher and the taught. The evaluation of performances with external criteria suggests a more active, directive role by a teacher, while fostering internal biological processes suggests an approach that creates an environment in which students can grow and develop.

The learning management approach clearly favours an active role on the part of the teacher and is quite deliberately differentiated from discovery learning, problem-based learning, inquiry learning, experiential learning and constructivist learning[xx]. Nevertheless, it contains assumptions about the developmental patterns in learners exemplified by the learning design process and Dimensions 1 and 5 in Dimensions of Learning. The learning management focus is on achieving learning outcomes that matter by putting into play definitive pedagogical strategies that have an empirical basis.

It cannot be expected that all pedagogic experiences have learning outcomes, irrespective of their potential. It is also apparent that experiences involving a teacher and student always have learning potential and that not all experiences are pedagogically generated. Again, learning may take place by example in contexts where neither the student nor the teacher is aware that communication is occurring.

Similarly, cultural areas such as TV, magazines, the Internet, newspapers and so on transmit communications that have the potential to be educative but there is little control over the context or the motivation of the receivers, and there are minimal social relationships involved in the transaction. All of these variations involve what might be called pedagogic work and learning potential but in the learning management concept, we want to be more explicit about what we mean by learning management, especially when it comes to formal learning settings like schools. We are especially sceptical of approaches that advocate a belief that learners will learn really useful knowledge by being left to their own devices either in traditional classrooms or on the Internet[xxi]. This is not to deny creativity and serendipitous informal learning or the experiences of experts with already extensive background knowledge, but it does take a stance on the ideas that formal learning carries responsibilities for teachers and that not all experiences are pedagogically efficacious.

The term transgressive, encountered in BLM coursework, has a particular meaning for learning management. Following Nowotny, the presupposition is that in times of fundamental social change, teaching and learning contexts encountered in the knowledge/creative society compel educators to respond to questions that they have not necessarily chosen – in contrast to, for example, the well-ordered research activity of university academics. Consequently, educators in recent years have been and will be into the future constantly forced to transgress the limits of both their own competence and that of colleagues. These processes include the boundaries of traditional disciplines and the constraints of individual and collective professional limits, especially in the teaching and education fields. They need not only to interpret the world in various ways, but to change it.

Expertise in learning management then is transgressive in two senses. First, it needs to account for those issues and practices such as structures and procedures that have new or emerging contexts with new consequences for clients and the learning industries. The links between what goes on in universities and schools, the IT communications industries, institutions such as the school, training and university education providers and very diverse professional, union, parent, school principal and political networks need to be recognized, analysed and acted on for the teaching profession and the learning industries to prosper and make a contribution.

Second, learning industry expertise is transgressive because it deals with audiences that are never just fellow-experts in the school, the VET provider or the academy. There is a wide range of demands and expectations in the experience of mixed audiences. This inherent transgressiveness of expertise increases its vulnerability to contestation and opposition. Having a higher degree, citing research evidence or theory, or seeking to exclude the non-initiated from decision-making do not guarantee immunity against contestation.  Indeed, Nowotny makes the point that the:

“complexities of the social and political world demand the contrary: a widening of scientific–technical expertise, exercises in comparative judgement and the ability to move back and forth, that is, to transgress the boundaries between specialised knowledge and its multiple, many-layered (and often unforeseeable) context of implication”[xxii] .

Following Bernstein, and with Nowotny’s advice in mind, learning management can be explained as the explicit, purposeful intention to initiate, modify, develop or change knowledge, conduct or practice by someone or something which already possesses or has access to the necessary resources and the means of evaluating the acquisition[xxiii]. Learning management makes use of specialised knowledge to package content and devise an effective means of delivery where there is an intention that learners will reach a future state of knowledge, conduct or practice. The learner may not necessarily accept what is to be acquired or indeed see it as legitimate. However, to reiterate, learning management is fundamentally an explicit and purposeful intention to undertake knowledge age change through designed learning and the means of evaluating the acquisitions of such changes.

We draw these threads together in Table 3.1 that shows cultural principles regulating the selection and organization of pedagogic approaches. This Table draws relatively stark comparisons between what we intend by using ‘learning management’ and what we believe is standard practice in today’s schools and teacher education. This depiction certainly does not imply that people’s behaviour in one or the other category means that they cannot operate in the other. It does suggest however, that where the context is sympathetic with the listed characteristics, where there is cultural support, then the combinational package is likely to operate.

Table 3.1: Pedagogical Cultures[xxiv]

Learning Management[xxv]

Extant Pedagogical Practices

Elaborated language of instruction that makes explicit the subjective intent of pedagogical work

Restricted language of instruction that is unable to makes explicit the subjective intent of pedagogical work

Complex planning of pedagogical strategies that transcends the present, the local, the concrete, and the experience of others

Concentration on ‘how now’ fast, fluid, preparation with limited articulation clues, beyond the particular and local

Unique meaning of the person verbally explicit

Unique meaning of the person verbally implicit

Interested in causality for the present and future and how to overcome categorical problems

Less interested in causality or the future in the search for a better present

Identification with expert capability in using knowledge and skills in a widely recognised, organised body of learning

Closely shared identifications, common assumptions and shared expectations about a taken for granted skill-set

Seeks professional autonomy in professing knowledge and skills in a widely recognised, organised body of learning by emphasizing the ‘I’ over ‘we’

Celebrates  ‘we’ above the ‘I’ in resisting transgressive[xxvi] knowledge and skills

Interest in renewing the professional culture

Interested in controlling so that the transmission of teaching culture can be accomplished

Interested in applying individual experience and expertise on different tasks with others to achieve agreed ends irrespective of different values and interests. Seeks reliance on other expert contributors and complementarities to perform specific programs and tasks.



Most comfortable with likeness and similarities among work place colleagues, dependence on common rituals and routines of custom and obligation with repressive sanctions, that reaffirm traditional values. The status of the individual is determined by kinship in the group such that autonomous individualism is undeveloped


Reinforces the need to create speech and action that uniquely fits the intentions of teaching

Reinforces the form of the social relation of teaching

Person orientated: sharp boundary between self and others

Status or positional orientated: sharp gap between the sharers and non-sharers

Differentiated other

Generalised other

Interested in individuals acquiring knowledge evidenced by performance

Interested in growth of the student patterns evidenced by competence in developmental tasks

Visible pedagogical practices used to generate student academic performances

Invisible pedagogical practices used to stimulate student competence with developmental processes


In summary, the introduction of the learning management concept and the Bachelor of Learning Management program have conceptual antecedents; they were not mere capriciousness as some would claim. Moreover, the Bachelor of Learning Management program, as outlined in a previous text by the authors[xxvii], was meant to be stimulatingly disruptive. It set out to be a breakthrough innovation in teacher education by using design thinking and a focus on student learning, socio-cultural change and employer customers for teaching staff. It had an entrepreneurial dimension to it in so far as it attempted to develop new business processes and models in the university and in schools[xxviii] in order to create a different kind of customer experience centred around learning management.




[i] Smith, R. (2002) Learning Management: the idea itself: Prepared for the BLM Program Review November; unpublished document; Smith, R., Lynch, D. and Mienczakowski, J. (2003), The Bachelor of Learning Management (BLM) and Capability: Why We Do Not Prepare Teachers Anymore, Change: Transformations in Education, Volume 6, Number 2, November pp. 23- 37; Smith, R., Moore, T. (2006) The Learning Management Concept.  In Smith, R., and Lynch, D. The Rise of the Learning Manager: changing teacher education. Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education Australia. pp. 9-23.

[ii]  See McREL at

[iii] Sawyer, R. K. (2008) p. 49.

[iv] The Learning Design Process was developed by David Lynch in 2001. See Smith, R. and Lynch, D.  (2006), The Rise of the Learning Manager: Changing Teacher Education, Pearson Education, Frenchs Forest pp. 53-67.

[v] Marzano, R. J. (1992)

[vi] See for example the critique of teacher education in Smith, R. (2000) pp. 7-28.

[vii] Goodenough, W. H. p. 27.

[viii] Walls, R., Nardi, A., Minden, A. & Hoffman, N. (2002) pp 39-45.

[ix] Allen, J. (2008) p. 246.

[x] In 2001 Central Queensland University launched a new teacher education program, the Bachelor of Learning Management, built on the premise of learning management. The outcomes of this program are contained in Ingvarson, L., Beavis, A., Danielson, C., Ellis, L. and Elliott, A. (2005).

[xi] Ingvarson, L., Beavis, A., Danielson, C., Ellis, L. and Elliott, A. (2005).

[xii] Bernstein, B. (1971) pp. 165-192.

[xiii] See for example, Rist, R. (1974) pp. 26-30.

[xiv] Marzano, R. J. (2003)


[xvi] Ministerial Advisory Committee for Educational Renewal (2004) p. 4.

[xvii] This point was argued for at the 2008 Australian Teacher Education Association conference.

[xviii] Sniegowski, P. D., Murphy, H. A. (2006) pp.  R831-R834.

[xix] Bernstein, B. (1975, 1977, 1991) pp. 116-145.

[xx] Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., Clark, R. E. (2006) pp. 83–84.

[xxi] See Johnson, R. (1979). The idea of “really useful knowledge” refers to forms of critical understanding of self and society that are of direct relevance to the struggle for social justice. It includes knowledge that enables people to escape poverty, oppression, force of custom and circumstance.

[xxii] Nowotny, H. (2003) Dilemma of expertise: Democratising expertise and socially robust knowledge. Science and Public Policy, 30 : 3, p. 152.

[xxiii] Bernstein, B., & Solomon, J. (1999). 'Pedagogy, identity and the construction of a theory of symbolic control': Basil Bernstein questioned by Joseph Solomon. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 20, 265-279.

[xxiv] Based on Bernstein, B. (1971) pp. 165-192.

[xxv] Ibid. pp165-192.

[xxvi] The term ‘transgressive’ has a particular meaning for us. Following Nowotny, we define teacher education and the learning contexts of the knowledge/creative society as a situation in which we are compelled to respond to questions that we have not necessarily chosen, in contrast to for example, research activity. Consequently, in such fields, we are constantly forced to transgress the limits of both own competence and that of colleagues, the boundaries of our disciplines and the constraints of our own limits, especially our shared histories in education. Expertise in learning management then is transgressive in two senses. First, it confronts issues, practices with consequences that have to be analysed and assessed and special local matters like teacher education structures and procedures that have a societal context have to be accounted for. We have to understand the links between what goes on in universities and schools, the IT communications industries, institutions such as the school, training and university education providers and very diverse professional, union, parent, school principal and political networks. Second, learning industry expertise is transgressive because it deals with audiences that are never just fellow-experts in the academy. There is a wide range of demands and expectations in the experience of mixed audiences. This inherent transgressiveness of expertise increases its vulnerability to contestation and opposition. Having a higher degree, citing research evidence or theory or seeking to exclude the non-initiated from decision-making do not guarantee immunity against contestation.  Indeed, Nowtony makes the point that the “complexities of the social and political world demand the contrary: a widening of scientific–technical expertise, exercises in comparative judgement and the ability to move back and forth, that is, to transgress the boundaries between specialised knowledge and its multiple, many-layered (and often unforeseeable) context of implication”. Nowotny, H. (2003) p. 152.

[xxvii] Smith, R. and Lynch, D.  (2006)

[xxviii] The Teaching School model, for example, requires a shift in management priorities in the host school.