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May 28, 2022


Unlimited Duration


This course includes:

Unlimited Duration

Badge on Completion

Certificate of completion

Unlimited Duration


As a teacher, educator or trainer, do you often think, I just don’t understand why they don’t understand?

Learning should be transformative, and this course will unlock your full potential, using a practice-based learning tool to help identify the barriers in students' understanding.

This free course, Teaching and learning tricky topics, has a course structure that builds upon understanding you have developed during the previous week’s study. You should expect to spend 3 hours per week studying (a total of 24 hours).

Through the first three weeks you will be focusing on the background to tricky topics and how to apply the process to your practice. Weeks 4–5 will focus on the role of learning design and how to use this approach with tricky topics, and the final three weeks will help you to look at the wider picture of using tricky topics and learning design to help innovate, assess and embed your understanding with others. Moreover, it will be outlined how you can become a champion for these processes.

Enrolling on the course will give you the opportunity to earn an Open University digital badge. Badges are not accredited by The Open University but they're a great way to demonstrate your interest in the subject and commitment to your career, and to provide evidence of continuing professional development.

Once you are signed in, you can manage your digital badges online from My OpenLearn. In addition, you can download and print your OpenLearn statement of participation  - which also displays your Open University badge.

The Open University would really appreciate a few minutes of your time to tell us about yourself and your expectations for the course before you begin, in our optional start-of-course survey   . Once you complete the course we would also value your feedback and suggestions for future improvement, in our optional end-of-course survey   . Participation will be completely confidential and we will not pass on your details to others.

This course is endorsed by the CPD Standards Office  .  It can be used to provide evidence of continuing professional development but is not accredited learning. We are unable to provide formal learner verification services for participation in our open online courses, which are provided freely by The Open University as self-directed CPD.

Anyone wishing to provide evidence of their enrolment on this course is able to do so by sharing their Activity Record on their OpenLearn Profile, which is available before completion of the course and earning of the Statement of Participation.

Earn this free Open University digital badge if you complete this course! The badge can be displayed, shared and downloaded as a marker of your achievement. The badge is awarded for completing the course and passing the quizzes.

Course learning outcomes

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • Understand the background to tricky topics and how they relate to the subject area
  • Apply the tricky topic process to support identifying student learning barriers and why they occur
  • Understand how learning design activities can help to identify the ‘student voice’
  • Apply student and activity profiles and discover how they can inform a tricky topics intervention
  • Understand why and how to develop a targeted tricky topic intervention, as well as how to assess student learning of a tricky topic.

Course Curriculum

  • Introduction and guidance 00:20:00
  • What is a badged course? 00:15:00
  • How to get a badge 00:10:00
    • Introduction 00:10:00
    • Why don’t they understand? 00:15:00
    • Why do misunderstandings occur in threshold concepts? 00:25:00
    • Identify threshold concepts in your subject 00:20:00
    • Reflect on your personal experience of threshold concepts 00:05:00
    • Tricky topics as a practice-based application of threshold concepts 00:25:00
    • Identify your tricky topics 00:30:00
    • Summary of Week 1 00:10:00
    • Introduction 00:20:00
    • What are tricky topics again? 00:30:00
    • What is it that students don’t understand? 00:10:00
    • Using a needs analysis to identify misunderstandings 00:20:00
    • Preparing a needs analysis 00:20:00
    • Planning an effective needs analysis activity 00:05:00
    • Structuring to capture students’ thoughts 00:15:00
    • WEEK 3 WEEK 4 WEEK 5 WEEK 6 WEEK 7 WEEK 8 Recording students’ thoughts 00:15:00
    • Analysing thoughts 00:25:00
    • Categorising trickiness in tricky topics 00:20:00
    • Why are tricky topics tricky? 00:30:00
    • Problem distiller 00:30:00
    • Identifying stumbling blocks 00:20:00
    • Summary of Week 2 00:15:00
    • Introduction 00:10:00
    • Stumbling blocks and problem examples 00:10:00
    • Tricky topic of project planning 00:20:00
    • Atomic structure theory 00:15:00
    • The tricky topics process 00:20:00
    • Structuring tricky topics 00:15:00
    • From mind maps to structured mapping diagram 00:20:00
    • States of matter tricky topic 00:25:00
    • Different ways of conducting the tricky topics process 00:30:00
    • Summary of Week 3 00:10:00
    • Introduction 00:15:00
    • OU learning design 00:15:00
    • Hearing the student voice 00:10:00
    • Word wheel 00:20:00
    • Describing learning experiences 00:25:00
    • Student profiles 00:05:00
    • Creating a student profile 00:25:00
    • Tricky topic intervention 00:10:00
    • How to use a student profile 00:15:00
    • Summary of Week 4 00:10:00
    • Introduction 00:12:00
    • To the classroom 00:15:00
    • Why is learning design required? 00:10:00
    • Learning design classification 00:30:00
    • Activity profiles 00:15:00
    • Using activity types to plan interventions 00:20:00
    • Benefits of the activity type approach 00:15:00
    • Learning design applied to tricky topic interventions 00:20:00
    • Summary of Week 5 00:10:00
    • Introduction 00:10:00
    • Innovating pedagogies 00:10:00
    • Targeted learning interventions 00:12:00
    • Digital storytelling 00:10:00
    • The digital story-telling intervention 00:40:00
    • Creative video making 00:10:00
    • The Creative video making intervention 00:15:00
    • Example 1 High ability group 00:10:00
    • Example 2 Low ability group 00:25:00
    • Games-based learning 00:15:00
    • Game-based learning intervention 00:15:00
    • The child interviewing simulator 00:25:00
    • Face-to-face storytelling 00:40:00
    • Planning an intervention 00:15:00
    • Summary of Week 6 00:12:00
    • Introduction 00:10:00
    • What are tricky topic quizzes and assessment? 00:15:00
    • Creating a tricky topic quiz 00:20:00
    • Creating a question 00:20:00
    • Wording your question 00:20:00
    • Using the quiz 00:20:00
    • Appropriate mark schemes 00:15:00
    • Creating the charts 00:20:00
    • Reviewing your findings 00:07:00
    • Summary of Week 7 00:15:00
    • Introduction 00:12:00
    • Developing yourself and your organisation 00:25:00
    • Cultivating communities 00:20:00
    • Tricky topics theories 00:10:00
    • Sharing relevant theory and research 00:10:00
    • The tricky topic process 00:20:00
    • Sharing what works 00:15:00
    • Learning design 00:20:00
    • Learning innovations 00:20:00
    • Summary of Week 8 15:00:00
    • End-of-course round up 00:15:00

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