A Model to ‘Create’ Capability: during a Crisis and Beyond

four people climbing mountain at daytime

For Australia’s university sector the advent of Covid-19 means 21,000 jobs and $23bn in international student income are on the line. In response, universities have risen valiantly to take on Goliath, the task of translating face-to-face course offerings to fully online learning experiences.

Unfortunately, translating teaching practices from the face-to-face to the online is not a simple job for Google Translate. Delivering engaging lectures, facilitating interactive tutorials and building rapport with students in the digital space require a completely different set of knowledge, skills and tools (Beetham & Sharpe, 2013). Consider the example of a face-to-face lecture: One very common strategy to generate student discussion is Think-Pair-Share. As the name suggests, students first think about a response to a question on their own. Then, they exchange these thoughts with a partner, and finally the pair share their collective response with the class. Now, imagine this being facilitated online with a class of 40 students. Both lecturer and students will need to learn a new set of norms (Earnshaw, 2017). The activity’s success  will depend on the lecturer, students, tools available, internet connectivity, and the disciplinary nature of the subject amongst a host of other factors. Throw in the uniqueness of the Person mish-mashed with the anxieties and uncertainties associated with the current crisis, and the challenges multiply – exponentially.

Even as institutions scurry to disseminate strategy after strategy there is this ironical danger that academic development may fall short of putting into practice the learner-centeredness that is preached. One approach to academic development that ensures academics remain in the center of their learning while guided by evidence-informed pivoting strategies is the CREATE model by Rock (2011).

CREATE comprises three phases: Identifying participants’ specific challenges within their Current Realities, Exploring Alternatives to resolve those challenges and Tapping Energy to win the commitment of participants’ in resolving those challenges. Each phase builds on the previous phase. The role of the facilitator is to scaffold participants’ journey from their current realities to new lessons using the ‘dance of insight’ (Rock, 2011). This ‘dance’ involves using Placement and Questioning as pedagogical techniques.  Placement seeks to formatively evaluate participants’ knowledge ‘on-the-fly’ with a view to establishing their zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978). Through probing and clarifying questions, facilitators stimulate participants’ thinking and encourage dialogue to help them reach new levels of understanding.

Phase 1: Current RealityPhase 2: Explore AlternativesPhase 3: Tap Energy
How are you currently delivering an online lecture?What are some of the challenges you face? What would you say is the difference between a good and not-so-good online lecture?Based on our shared understanding of a good lecture, what changes would you like to make? What are the possible paths you can pursue to make these changes?Which path would you like pursue? What is the very next step you would like to take?How will you know if you are successful with this next step?What support do you need to put into practice your learnings?
Table 1: Example of the Three-Phase CREATE Model for Academic Coaching

In a poignant reflection on the lessons learnt from leading a university-wide PD Initiative, Dr Suneeti Rekhari urges institutions to consider four dimensions in the design and delivery of PD initiatives: empathy & compassion, flexibility, dialogue and the Story. Covid-19 and beyond, everyone is fighting a battle only people closest to them know or may not know. Empathy and compassion require facilitators to listen with non-judgmental inquisitiveness, setting aside self-focus to understand the learning perspectives of participants from their shoes. One size rarely fits all, and the flexibility of this approach recognises the value of responding appropriately and sensitively to the knowledge, background, experiences and emotions of participants. Facilitators cannot be-all and know-all, but facilitators can follow the advice of ‘vulnerability advocate’, Dr Brené Brown to reflect authenticity by showing up and being real (Brown, 2010). Finally, it is useful to keep in mind that the instance of the PD is only but a leaf from The Story our participants are authoring – the story of being and becoming the best version of themselves.

Anselm Paul is a qualified secondary school teacher with 18 years’ experience in education, Anselm is currently working as an Academic Developer advocating for contemporary evidence-based pedagogical practices at RMIT University. His recent experience includes leading multidisciplinary teams in the conceptualisation, design, development and delivery of courses and PD modules at various higher education institutions. His research interests include Personal Epistemology, Programme Evaluation and the technology integration (and non-integration) practices of university academics.


Beetham, H., & Sharpe, H. (2013). Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: designing for 21st century learning Abingdon. UK: Routledge.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Hazelden Publishing.
Earnshaw, Y. (2017). Navigating Turn-Taking and Conversational Repair in an Online Synchronous Course. Online Learning Journal, 21(4).
Rock, D. (2011). Quiet leadership: Six steps to transforming performance at work. Harper Collins Publishers.

7 responses to “A Model to ‘Create’ Capability: during a Crisis and Beyond”

  1. Well said and beautifully written Ans. I’ve been wanting to comment on our current world of learning design, academic development and program transformation during COVID19 but haven’t found the time or the will. Now there is no need, youself and Suneeti have put much of what I thought into more eloquent words than I. Congratulations.

  2. I’m sorry, but “risen valiantly to take on Goliath” has motivated me to comment.
    Your post strongly suggests that the current pandemic has generated a need to translate face-to-face course offerings to online learning.
    I believe that the need to move from traditional classroom delivery and harness the capability of digital technologies was identified at least two decades ago. If I was the Vice-Chancellor, I would be asking why the university has spent millions on learning designers who have managed to do very little other than talk for the last two decades.
    In my view, the current reality has shown that neither central learning design teams or faculty-based learning design teams have managed, over the last two decades, to do much more than create e-pubs and online repositories.
    As for ‘exploring alternatives’, maybe we should be looking at alternative ways to support faculties given that the ‘current reality’ has shown us that the university has a minimal online learning presence, despite decades of costly projects focussed on creating online learning environments.
    As for ‘tapping energy’ to win commitment, given the lackluster (to say the least) results of the last two decades, good luck!

    • Thanks for your comment, Ryan. You and I seem to have different views / experiences on a) the nature of work entailed and b) the extent of collaboration required to re-design a course for a FULLY online learning experience. A larger conversation perhaps, and possibly one that is outside the scope of this article.

      I will offer one important point of clarification, though: the CREATE model is not about the “We” or “Them”. It is about the ‘specific’ you in your specific context, in a specific time, facing a specific challenge and in need of a specific resolution.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experiences and the CREATE model Anselm. I was slightly surprised at the passionate response it prompted.
    Ryan, would I be right to assume that you haven’t had many interactions with learning designers (and their ilk) in recent years? While you seem pretty well versed in the nature of the HE ecosystem – understanding that there are central and faculty units – your description of the work they (we) do certainly doesn’t gel with mine. (I have worked in these kinds of roles for 17 years)

    Do you sincerely believe that essentially nothing has happened in TEL in HE for the last two decades beyond ePubs and repositories? Maybe you do work in a dept/faculty/institution that hasn’t embraced online learning and are frustrated at the missed opportunities. I get that. As support staff, we are very much the people leading the horse to the water. Actual decisions about using technology for learning and teaching tend largely to be made by academics and management.

    Can I suggest though, taking a look through our growing library of webinars from learning designers, education technologists and academic developers over the last few years that outline just some of the things we have done in this space beyond ePubs and online repositories.


  4. Anselm, in my view, you have sidestepped my main argument and motivation to comment.
    In 2001, at the 7th OECD/Japan Seminar, a representative of Higher Education
    Division of the Australian Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA) presented a paper titled “E-learning in Australia: universities and the new distance education.” The paper included DETYA’s view of how Australian universities were building on their distance education expertise and exploiting the opportunities offered by e-learning.
    So here you are, some 19 years later, trying to convince the sector that the recent pandemic has generated a need to transform traditional teaching environments to fully online learning environments.
    Are you suggesting that the CREATE model will be used by learning designers to coach academics into action? Or are you ‘re-interpreting’ and ‘re-purposing’ an academic’s coaching model?

    Colin, are you implying that webinars are a transformative digital learning experience?
    This article succinctly highlights the main concerns that have surfaced during the COVID crisis.

    • Ryan, what in your view is “traditional”? I never used that term in my article. The mistake would be to think one form is superior to another, if that is what you are suggesting?

      All these 19-odd years or so, if universities had retained elements of the face-to-face, these would have been deliberate decisions. Consider the spontaneous, rich and varied interactions – verbal and non-verbal that engage learners and teaching staff alike in the classroom. How comparable is dragging, dropping and clicking around in a virtual lab to the actual holding, manipulating and moving of apparatuses in a physical lab? As a learning designer, how would you partner academics to re-design for learning in way that preserves the intangible value of being in the same place at the same time as another person? As an academic, what changes would you have to make to your practice to build rapport with your students, to ask a follow-up question or ‘see’ if they are getting it? What about that field trip you planned months ago? Is experiential learning experiential if it is now virtual? I can go on… and share real examples from personal experience.

      The recent pandemic has forced universities to move FULLY online. This means having to make significant adjustments and perhaps even losing things that might have worked well – or only worked in the face-to-face and yes, in a very short time.

      This has been a challenge. I stand by what I wrote.

      Going back to CREATE: To better support students who are affected by the pandemic, universities have had to put together policies, strategies and in the context of this article, capability development initiatives to better support the pivot. Within the 700 or so words I’ve been offered, my suggestion was for those of us who are in the Third Space to be fully aware of these strategies but to begin the journey with the academic and their immediate challenges. I offer David Rock’s CREATE Model as a framework to guide the resolution of these challenges. In some cases, the resolution might just be to put an activity on hold and hope.

  5. Looking over Anselm’s opening paragraph, I can see (I guess) how it could be possible to interpret it as saying that HE institutions have just discovered eLearning as a response to COVID-19. But really, it surprises me a little that anyone might choose to take it that way instead of what I would assume to be the intended point relating to a dramatic forced uptick in online learning and teaching caused by the pandemic.

    I can’t think of anyone in this community whose bread and butter for the last 10 or 20+ years hasn’t been technology enhanced learning. Maybe this sits in the category of assumed knowledge, maybe the intro could have been worded differently but it appears to be something you feel strongly about Ryan. (Or you’re a troll that has found a particularly niche corner of the Internet to play in but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt).

    Given your passion for the topic, we’d love to hear more from you. Please write us a post letting us know what you think works or doesn’t work or is overlooked in technology enhanced learning and teaching. Or anything in this space really.

    As for webinars – for learning and teaching they’re ok, at a pinch. Not fantastic. My point was more that our TELedvisors webinars feature a lot of practical examples of people designing, delivering and supporting eLearning that showcase what the sector is doing currently. It’s the content in this instance, not the format. As a national organisation, this is one of the ways we communicate.

    We’ve also had a LOT of discussions about what the rapid shift to wholly online teaching means. (But always up for more). It is a different form of teaching that requires preparation and thought and doing it at this scale and speed hasn’t done anybody any favours. But it’s happening and we need to do whatever we can and employ whatever models helps to make the best of it.

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