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With the ever increasing reliance on IT in education, how courseware and instructional mediums are designed is vital if technology in education is to be used and implemented successfully. The aim of this issue of CDTL Brief is to examine some of the issues surrounding Instructional Systems Design.s.

May 2002, Vol. 5 No. 3 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Creating a Meaningful Learning Environment Using ICT
Dr Madhumita Bhattacharya
Instructional Science Academic Group, National Institute of Education (NIE), Nanyang Technological University

This article describes the process of creating a Meaningful Learning Environment (MLE) by going through a three-step cycle (i.e. activity-artefact-reflection) and recording the process of learning in the form of digital portfolios. The production of quality MLE and learning through MLE is assured by following an integrated method of feedback and evaluation, consisting of self-evaluation, peer review and teacher-feedback carried out through various activities [e.g. online (synchronous and asynchronous) discussion, classroom group discussion and presentation]. The methods explained below are based on my own practical experience of designing project-based activities for NIE students. Using Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the students create digital portfolios during the course of their studies in instructional technology; learning takes place individually and collaboratively as each student interacts with their team members and the teacher.

What is Meaningful Learning?

In order to effectively integrate technology into a meaningful learning experience, we must first have a clear understanding of what a meaningful learning experience is. Meaningful learning occurs when learners actively interpret their experience using internal, cognitive operations. Meaningful learning requires that teachers change their role from sage to guide. Since students learn from thinking about what they are doing, the teacher’s role becomes one of stimulating and supporting activities that engage learners in thinking. Teachers must also be comfortable that this thinking may transcend their own insights. Meaningful learning requires knowledge to be constructed by the learner, not transmitted from the teacher to the student (Jonassen, et al., 1999).

Attributes of Meaningful Learning

According to Jonassen, et al. (1999), meaningful learning is:

  • Active (manipulative): We interact with the environment manipulate the objects within it and observe the effects of our manipulations.

  • Constructive and reflective: Activity is essential but insufficient for meaningful learning. We must reflect on the activity and our observations, and interpret them in order to have a meaningful learning experience.

  • Intentional: Human behaviour is naturally goal-directed. When students actively try to achieve a learning goal that they have articulated, they think and learn more. For students to experience meaningful learning, they must be able to articulate their own learning goals and monitor their own progress.

  • Authentic (complex and contextual): Thoughts and ideas rely on the contexts in which they occur in order to have meaning. Presenting facts that are stripped from their contextual clues divorces knowledge from reality. Learning is meaningful, better understood and more likely to transfer to new situations when it occurs by engaging with real-life, complex problems.

  • Cooperative (collaborative and conversational): We live, work and learn in communities, naturally seeking ideas and assistance from each other, and negotiating about problems and how to solve them. It is in this context that we learn there are numerous ways to view the world and a variety of solutions to most problems. Meaningful learning, therefore, requires conversations and group experiences.

To experience meaningful learning, students need to do much more than access or seek information—they need to know how to examine, perceive, interpret and experience information.

Steps in Creating MLE

In the introductory courses in the Instructional Technology for Teacher Education Programme at NIE, the trainee teachers are assigned to create an MLE using ICT. Working in groups particularly in pairs, the trainee teachers experience the process of meaningful learning as they progress through the following steps of producing the MLE.

  1. Developing an Idea Map Using Mind-mapping Tools: Each group of trainee teachers decides on a topic and brainstorms on how to include various attributes of meaningful learning in the creation of a learning environment for their students. The trainee teachers then represent their ideas in a visual format using ‘mind-mapping tools’ (

    Next, two other groups of trainee teachers review each Idea Map. The feedback is provided to the creators online using the discussion forum ‘Blackboard’ delivery platform ( Based on the peer-review feedback received, each trainee teacher then makes changes and modifications. The trainee teachers also note down their reflections on how useful they have found these sets of activities.

  2. Creating a Flowchart of Activities*: Based on their own requirements for developing a student-centred learning environment, the trainee teachers organise the information and activities that they want their students to cover by following four basic steps:

    • divide the content into logical units;
    • establish a hierarchy of importance and generality;
    • use the hierarchy to structure relationships among chunks; and
    • analyse the functional and aesthetic success of the complete system.

    Next, the trainee teachers sequence the activities using flowchart techniques such as Grid, Web, Sequence and Hierarchy. After sequencing the activities the trainees start working towards the detailed design of the individual screen for display in the form of storyboard.

  3. Designing the Storyboard: A storyboard is a visual representation, or sketch, of what an interface (e.g. computer-based training, website, movie, book) is supposed to look like. The trainee teachers draft their storyboards based on the following three key considerations:

    • Navigation: What and where will it appear on each page? What technology will be used to implement it?
    • Identification Info: What type of identification information (e.g. title, menu link, home link) did each page need?
    • Content: What should be visible on a particular page?

    To help them create their respective storyboards, the trainees learn the techniques and strategies of searching information on the Internet and how to evaluate these resources. Then they search the Internet for relevant data to be incorporated into the chosen topic for their respective MLE projects.

  4. Creating the MLE Using PowerPoint: To actually create their respective MLEs, the trainee teachers learn and use the advanced features of the MS PowerPoint software as well as media selection for maximising learning effectiveness. When developing the MLE, the trainee teachers concentrate on three aspects:

    • Context: creating a real-life, complex and authentic scenario;
    • Activities: designing activities for collaboration, sharing, decision-making and knowledge construction; and
    • Tools: providing tools for searching, thinking, reflection and creativity.

    The trainee teachers make a workstation presentation of their final artefact of their respective MLE projects. Subsequently, peer evaluation is conducted and the feedback collected is used to modify each project before final submission.

Integrating the Learning of ICT in Education through Digital Portfolios

As they create their respective MLEs, the trainee teachers learn to use different learning technologies. At the same time, the trainee teachers have to maintain a learning portfolio on the Web that tracks their progress through a set of learning activities [i.e. designing and developing artefacts, taking part in online (synchronous and asynchronous) discussions, reflecting on various tasks] as they work towards completing the MLE project. The trainee teachers are evaluated based on different rubrics for different activities—a rubric to evaluate the trainee teachers’ reflections on various activities was also specially created (Bhattacharya, forthcoming).

For students to visualise the learning as a whole and not as bits and pieces of tasks to complete, it is vital that the students understand how the different activities that they perform are connected and integrated (Bhattacharya & Richards, 2001). Hence, the e-portfolio is used to assist the trainee teachers to better understand and articulate their learning as they developed their personal professional knowledge and skills about IT in education. This is because digital portfolios are capable of showing a more complete picture of student progress and achievement than traditional approaches to assessment. By developing digital portfolios, the trainee teachers are able to demonstrate a variety of competencies, take greater responsibility, and become skilled at self-evaluation.


Bhattacharya, M. (forthcoming). ‘Electronic Portfolios, Student Reflective Practices, and the Evaluation of Effective Learning’. Australian Association for Research in Education—2001 conference proceedings. Fremantle, Australia.

Bhattacharya, M. & Richards, C. (2001). ‘Innovative Course Design as Action Research: Instructional Technology for Teacher Education’. Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education—2001 conference proceedings. Orlando, Florida. 1052—1057.

Jonassen, D.H.; Peck, K.L.; & Wilson, B.G. (1999). Learning with Technology: A Constructivist Perspective . Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Publishing.


* Cognitive psychologists have known for decades that most people can only hold about four to seven discrete chunks of information in short-term memory. The goal of most organisational schemes is to keep the number of local variables the reader must keep in short-term memory to a minimum, using a combination of graphic design and layout conventions along with the editorial division of information into discrete units. The way people seek out and use information also suggests that smaller, discrete units of information are more functional and easier to navigate through than long, undifferentiated units.

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Inside this issue
e-Learning at Singapore Polytechnic: From Concept to Reality
Considerations for Web-Based Learning Design
Creating a Meaningful Learning Environment Using ICT
Understanding Strategies of Authoring Computer Courseware
Towards a Blended Design for e-Learning