ACAD: Activity-Centred Analysis and Design

What the ACAD framework offers

The most recent explanation of ACAD is in this paper from ETR&D:

Goodyear, P., Carvalho, L., & Yeoman, P. (2021). Activity-Centred Analysis and Design (ACAD): core purposes, distinctive qualities and current developments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 69(2), 445-464.

This paper provides a summary account of Activity-Centred Analysis and Design (ACAD). ACAD offers a practical approach to analysing complex learning situations, in a way that can generate knowledge that is reusable in subsequent (re)design work. ACAD has been developed over the last two decades. It has been tested and refined through collaborative analyses of a large number of complex learning situations and through research studies involving experienced and inexperienced design teams. The paper offers a definition and high level description of ACAD and goes on to explain the underlying motivation. The paper also provides an overview of two current areas of development in ACAD: the creation of explicit design rationales and the ACAD toolkit for collaborative design meetings. As well as providing some ideas that can help teachers, design teams and others discuss and agree on their working methods, ACAD has implications for some broader issues in educational technology research and development. It questions some deep assumptions about the framing of research and design thinking, in the hope that fresh ideas may be useful to people involved in leadership and advocacy roles in the field.

The following definition and explanation comes from p446 of the ETR&D paper.

Activity-Centred Analysis and Design (ACAD) is a meta-theoretical framework for understanding and improving local, complex, learning situations.

Explaining what this means requires some shared terminology. (Emphasis added.)

We use the term ‘activity’ to mean ‘what students are actually doing’ – mentally, physically and emotionally – during a period of time in which they are meant to be learning something (a learning episode or ‘at learn-time’). For better or worse, what students actually do may differ considerably from what their teachers think they are doing or what their teachers intend them to do (Goodyear 2000; Ellis and Goodyear 2010; Elen 2020; Koh and Kan 2020).

We use the term ‘learning situation’ to underscore the point that students’ learning activity is always situated (Lave and Wenger 1991; Yeoman and Wilson 2019). As we explain later on, we take this to mean that learning activity is (at a minimum) physically, socially and epistemically situated. The more familiar term ‘learning environment’ does not reliably evoke all aspects of what makes learning activity situated.

We use the term ‘local’ because we also see educational work as situated (Pink 2012; Simonsen et al. 2014). It is done by real teachers in concrete situations. ACAD helps a teacher or team of teachers, with or without the help of a specialist educational designer or evaluator, to understand a learning situation in which they have a stake – where they have professional responsibility for students’ learning, some power to change aspects of the design of the learning situation, a need to understand how their students’ learning activity unfolds, and why it unfolds in the way that it does. Teachers’ work is usually cyclical. Although this is not universally the case, it is common to teach a course once a year, to analyse what is working well and why, and decide what needs changing and what can be left as it is. ACAD can help with brand new designs, but it has greater power when embedded in cycles of incremental improvement (Goodyear and Dimitriadis 2013).

We use the term ‘complex’ to indicate that teachers do not need an analysis and design methodology to diagnose simple problems and prescribe simple remedies (Ellis and Goodyear 2019). ACAD has a dual focus – analysing and understanding what exists and (re) designing for the future. This means ACAD also has a dual ontology, insofar as an actual instance of a learning activity and a design for future instances of similar learning activities are not the same kinds of thing. A map is not the territory. We see ACAD as meta-theoretical in that it does not insist on any one theory of learning. Indeed, it is agnostic about the kinds of theoretical explanations that are used in analysing learning situations and the kinds of design rationales expressed in designing for future learning. However, ACAD does highlight the need for credible explanations of local phenomena and for persuasive arguments in making design decisions.

The ACAD Video

Colleagues in the Sydney Business School and Copenhagen Business School made this short (3 minute) video about ACAD.

Other papers about ACAD and its associated ideas

Here are some pdf copies of papers and chapters on design for learning etc. They are all relevant to, but may not directly name, ‘ACAD’

Teaching as design (Goodyear 2015)

In medias res: reframing design for learning (Goodyear & Dimitriadis 2013)

Forward-oriented design for learning: illustrating the approach (Dimitriadis & Goodyear 2013)

Teaching-as-design and the ecology of university learning (Ellis & Goodyear 2010)

Learning, technology and design (Goodyear & Retalis 2010)

Patterns and pattern languages in educational design (Goodyear & Yang 2009)

Educational design and networked learning: Patterns, pattern languages and design practice (Goodyear 2005)

Seeing learning as work: implications for analysis and design (Goodyear, 2000)

Pedagogical frameworks and action learning in ODL (Goodyear 1999)

Also strongly recommended:

Carvalho, L., & Goodyear, P. (Eds.). (2014). The architecture of productive learning networks. New York: Routledge.

Carvalho, L., & Yeoman, P. (2018). Framing learning entanglement in innovative learning spaces: connecting theory, design and practice. British Educational Research Journal, 44(6), 1120–1137. doi:doi:10.1002/berj.3483

Goodyear, P., & Carvalho, L. (2016). Activity centred analysis and design in the evolution of learning networks. Paper presented at the Tenth International Conference on Networked Learning, Lancaster UK. 

Goodyear, P., Carvalho, L., & Dohn, N. B. (2016). Artefacts and activities in the analysis of learning networks. In T. Ryberg, C. Sinclair, S. Bayne, & M. de Laat (Eds.), Research, Boundaries and Policy in Networked Learning (pp. 93-110). New York: Springer.

Goodyear, P., & Carvalho, L. (2019). The analysis of complex learning environments. In H. Beetham & R. Sharpe (Eds.), Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: principles and practices of design (3rd ed., pp. 49-65). Abingdon: RoutledgeFalmer.

Goodyear, P., Carvalho, L., Yeoman, P., Castañeda, L., & Adell, J. (2020). Una herramienta tangible para facilitar procesos de diseño y análisis didáctico: Traducción y adaptación transcultural del toolkit ACAD. (A tangible tool to facilitate learning design and analysis discussions: Translation and cross-cultural adaptation of the ACAD toolkit). Revista de Medios y Educación

Goodyear, P., Thompson, K., Ashe, D., Pinto, A., Carvalho, L., Parisio, M., . . . Yeoman, P. (2015). Analysing the structural properties of learning networks: architectural insights into buildable forms. In B. Craft, Y. Mor, & M. Maina (Eds.), The art and science of learning design (pp. 15-29). Rotterdam: Sense.

Sun, S. Y. H., & Goodyear, P. (2019). Social co-configuration in online language learning. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 36(2), 13-26. doi:

Yeoman, P., & Ashmore, N. (2018). Moving from pedagogical challenge to ergonomic challenge: Translating epistemology into the built environment for learning. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 34(6), 1-16. doi:10.14742/ajet.4502

Yeoman, P., & Carvalho, L. (2019). Moving between material and conceptual structure—developing a card-based method to support design for learning. Design Studies, 64, 64-89. 

Yeoman, P., & Wilson, S. (2019). Designing for situated learning: Understanding the relations between material properties, designed form and emergent learning activity. British Journal of Educational Technology, 50(5), 2090-2108. 

ACAD talks/slide decks etc

A pre-recorded 20 minute talk for the 2020 AECT conference, related to the ACAD paper in ETR&D and AECT’s Distinguished Development award to Peter Goodyear. Slides etc for the AECT talk.

ACAD tools

The ACAD cards and wireframe are described in the Yeoman & Carvalho (2019) Design Studies paper mentioned above and in the 2021 ETR&D ACAD paper.

A digital implementation (in Spanish) of the cards/wireframe is under development by Linda Castañeda & colleagues – see the Goodyear, Carvalho, Yeoman, Castañeda & Adell (2020) paper mentioned above.

ACAD Cards in use: see Goodyear, Carvalho & Yeoman (2021) ETR&D paper.

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