Moving to Virtual Blog

Unified Learning Design Studio: Strategy, Tactics, and Responsive Planning

March 2, 2016 | Posted in Concepts of Unified Learning, eLearning Best Practices by icohere

on-demand-unified-learning-design-studio_Guest Contributor: Amanda D. Batson, Ph.D., Education Architect & Consultant, ADB Partners, LLC

In this lesson of the Unified Learning Design Studio, we provide an introduction to Strategy, Tactics, and Responsive Planning. 


Session One Recap:

Planning is very important to the development of a successful eLearning program. While it is a challenging process, it is the plan that ultimately becomes a living, breathing tool that we turn to every day.

In this session, we define the key terms used in planning Unified Learning.


Unified Learning

Unified Learning provides a seamless relationship between in-person events and our online experiences. Whether it’s our conferences, our workshops, or networking events, there is a clear relationship with our eLearning based on standards, competencies, and curriculum. If you have the right plan and the right platform, your eLearning will support your face-to-face components as well as provide a vibrant and dynamic digital environment.

There are four true characteristics of Unified Learning:

  • Integrated User Experience – Single sign on, moves across platforms and events in one setting.
  • Staff Efficiencies – Consistent administrative interfaces, training, and support make for a more cost-effective and widely usable professional learning platform.
  • Reusable Learning Assets – The assets created for the program continue to have value and can be used ongoing.
  • Cost Savings – A unified learning platform provides an all-in-one solution for webinars virtual conferences, LMS and communities offering a significant cost savings compared to purchasing each solution separately from multiple vendors.

Strategy & Tactics

Strategy and Tactics are the support steps of the planning process. The strategy is the overall approach we take to reach the goals of the plan. The tactics are the tools and resources we use each day to support the strategies.

It is common for people to begin with tactics, but don’t let tactics lead the program or occur without planning. As an example, consider an event where there is a keynote speaker. At the last moment, someone might suggest recording the speaker. This is a common tactic but there is planning required in order to use it successfully.

If we were to plan this tactic, we would need to consider what equipment to use, whether the speaker will be moving a lot during the process, how we are going to use this footage, if we need to outsource the recording to a professional firm, along with many other considerations. Without planning, implementing tactics can be costly and potentially counterproductive, even if they are well intended.

Figure 1 below shows the similarities between tactics and strategies, but it also shows how important it is to create strategies first and use them to guide the tactics.

Figure 1 - ULD Studio Blog 1

When we are developing our strategies, we begin by soliciting learner feedback (1) so that we can create a more learner-centered unified learning plan (2), design the eLearning experience to match participant priorities  (3), and then deliver (4) the program or services. Doing this, we ensure we are meeting learner needs.

On the tactical side it’s almost the opposite.  We begin by preparing for the event we designed (1), identifying the tactics for capturing content (2), delivering the content (3) and finally soliciting feedback (4) for improvement.  With tactics as the driver, we miss opportunities to meet our learners at the crossroads of their needs and eLearning.

Asset Reusability

One of the greatest benefits of an eLearning program is the ability to reuse learning assets for the long term. Organizations generate learning assets from both in-person and online programs.  For example, high quality content delivered during the online portion of a virtual conference can be quickly converted into courses, webinars and online community content.  Such re-purposed assets can generate incremental revenues for years to come. Based on these assets, discussion boards can be launched to further engage learners. In addition, face-to-face content can be used to create a large scale online conference, a webinar series, or other eLearning services.

Responsive Planning

Responsive planning takes into consideration changes in learner preferences, technology and other factors. Responsive planning means that in our learning environment, we are acting wisely. We incorporate feedback from our members and from this we revise our Unified Learning. Doing this helps us to better meet member needs.


While discussing responsive planning, we looked at two Planning Approaches used for Instructional Design.


As shared by, the ADDIE model (Figure 2 below) is the generic process traditionally used by instructional designers and training developers.

Figure 2 ADDIE

Figure 2: Five Phases of ADDIE

The five phases—Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation—represent a dynamic, flexible guideline for building effective training and performance support tools. While perhaps the most common design model, there are a number of weaknesses to the ADDIE model which have led to a number of spin-offs or variations. It tends to be inefficient because it is not applied as an iterative tool. Also, the linear approach tends to work well for static content but may be restrictive when dealing with user generated content or learning outcomes that do not have a predetermined end state.

When considering the ADDIE planning approach, we need to ask if it is as agile as it needs to be, especially when we strive for responsive planning.


SAM or the Successive Approximation Model, is considered a much more agile approach. As shared on, SAM addresses the performance need through iterations, repeated small steps, rather than with perfectly executed giant steps. SAM challenges the notion of moving through a linear process (like ADDIE) from Analysis to Evaluation as an effective strategy for designing learning events intending to produce greater performance.

The developers of SAM point out the four characteristics of a process that yields effective instructional design and learning. These characteristics require the process to be iterative, collaborative, efficient and effective, and manageable.

There are two levels of the SAM approach. SAM1, (see Figure 3 below), which is Evaluate, Design, Develop, Launch. It is somewhat iterative but not as agile as is needed for Unified Learning.

Figure 3 - ULD Studio Blog 1

Figure 3: SAM Basic

SAM2, (See Figure 4 below), is more complex but it leads to the best learning experience. With a responsive agile model like SAM2, that is iterative, it challenges the legacy ways we have always done things.  We begin with a preparation phase to gather information, and then move into iterative design with planning, developing a prototype, and evaluation. From here, we move to iterative development and roll it out in an alpha and beta test and if the program isn’t working well, we move back into design mode. We ensure it is just right before we actually do the big launch.

Figure 4 - ULD Studio Blog 1

Figure 4: SAM Extended

*Resource: Leaving ADDIE for SAM, by Michael Allen with Richard Sites, ATD


Learning Forward is an organization iCohere has been working with for eight years. It is the only professional association devoted exclusively to those who work in educator professional development. Their mission is to help members leverage the power of professional learning to effect positive and lasting change.

Learning Forward provides professional learning to educators. For many years, the learning format consisted of online in a semester format. Over the last two years, participants have given feedback sharing that they don’t have the time to commit to a set schedule as is used with a semester format. In response to this, Learning Forward is now creating self-paced courses for professional learning. The content focuses on video trainings on a self-paced basis.

Participants also shared in their feedback that they appreciate learning from each other. In response to this need, Learning Forward implemented discussion boards so that learners could continue to interact, network, and learn from each other.

In the future, they are considering adding live webinars to further increase the opportunity for collaboration.

The program developers at Learning Forward demonstrate they are responsive to their learners’ needs and changes in technology.


Lesson one included two tools that can be used to help with organizing and designing a Unified Learning program.

Learning Asset Inventory

In Unified Learning, frequently we have an abundance of assets that need to be organized in one useable form that we can update and use easily. This tool will help create an inventory of all the assets and keep them up to date.

*Resource: Template available for download in the iCohere Academy

Design Matrix

The Design Matrix causes us to think about what we are offering in our Unified Learning Programs. In this tool, we focus on content and the delivery system.

For a complete illustration on how to use these Unified Learning Design tools, please review the archived recording of Lesson One.

*Resource: Template available for download in the iCohere Academy


At the close of our lesson, we invited questions and/or comments from participants and provide responses to their questions below.

Question/Comment 1: We are just starting to plan Unified Learning. We have huge silo issues.

Question/Comment 2: Our biggest challenge is that various departments get territorial, want credit so they don’t necessarily want to share info.

Presenter Response:  Silos, like the ones in comments 1 and 2, within organizations can have minor and monumental impacts on effectiveness.  The 2015 book, The Silo Effect by Gillian Tett offers insights and rationale regarding silos and their impact which unfortunately can be devastating.  Starting the silo conversation with this reading as background could be helpful.   

Question/Comment 3: We don’t have a process… We’ve had to be more reactive than proactive over the past several years, so we are finally in a space where we are looking to outline an education strategic plan.

Question/Comment 4: Our organization has done both the in-person/live and recorded webinar well to date–but we know we need to jump ahead to take advantage of more current learning methodologies and learner expectations.

Question/Comment 5: We are trying to plan more. Working in an association whose volunteer leaders turnover each year, it can be difficult to plan and commit to the plan long term, since priorities change with the changes to leadership.

Presenter Response:  In all of these situations, planning is pivotal.  However, it can be hard, if not seemingly impossible. Keep the ultimate goal in mind:  an education strategic plan.  Such a plan is iterative and dynamic, especially when established under the auspices of the organization.  A board-approved plan lives beyond individual volunteers or staff.  When forces seem to be working for or against iterative plan design, a great place to start is the learning asset inventory.  The inventory will be useful when responsive planning begins and, in the meantime, useful for day-to-day operations. 

Amanda Batson, Ph.DAbout the Author:
Dr. Amanda Batson, education architect and consultant, founded ADB Partners in 2004 specializing in Education on Demand.  A major focus is quality hybrid learning and helping organizations achieve dynamic balance between face-to-face (f2f) and online experiences.  Her consultant services include organizational planning, education design, speaking, research, writing, and facilitation of both in-person and virtual events, communities and courses. She is the course instructor for Unified Learning Design Studio.

Written with Lance Simon and Jo Lynn Deal.

Register here for free to see Dr. Batson’s complete webinar on ‘Strategy, Tactics, & Responsive Planning’, and you also automatically gain access to the entire series of webinars, and all tools & templates.

After registration:
Logon to the ‘iCohere Academy
Select ‘ULD Studio’.
Select ‘ Session 1’
*You may have to download ‘WebEx’ to view this. Don’t worry, it is fast and free.

Join Lance Simon, EVP, of iCohere and me (Dr. Amanda Batson, ADB Partners, LLC) in Unified Learning Design Studio. Our free 10-part webinar series will expand your curriculum horizons and take your organization’s eLearning to even greater heights.  See you in ULD Studio!

This post first appeared on the Peak 8 Learning Blog on


Tags: ,

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Notify of