Guest Post: Deborah Millar - Why I started the LearningWheel

Deborah Millar

Why did I start the LearningWheel?

In 2010, after 24 years teaching FE and HE design related courses and using technology on a daily basis, I applied for a Head of eLearning post. I was successful. My new role was to enhance and improve the quality of teaching and learning.

It was an exciting challenge I felt ready for. However, after a short period of time, it was clear, I was only converting those who already had some digital awareness, or those ready to take the digital leap. This is a familiar story for many of us in similar roles. Any inroads made were limited and definitely not widespread… and so, the infamous ‘pockets of good practice' from Ofsted reports were evident and worryingly for me, on my shift!

What was my inspiration?

Whilst passionate and eager to help my peers to use new methods and tools, introducing them to exciting digital resources e.g. Tumblr, Flipboard, The Cloud, I was actually creating barriers. Unconsciously, I'd forgotten to blend the familiar lexicon of learning with the new edtech terminology #schoolgirlerror. This realisation became apparent one afternoon after addressing a large group of teaching staff. I enthusiastically delivered my edtech spiel with an encouraging smile, foolishly believing that because the audience smiled back, I'd done a good job. Result! …Unfortunately not!

Immediately after the session I overheard "Well, I've no idea what that woman was talking about!" #awkwardturtle #egocrushed. Cringe over, I approached them and an enlightening conversation ensued. Their feedback highlighted that I needed to rethink my approach and consult others more frequently #lessonlearned. A hike the following weekend presented a moment of obliquity, you could say an epiphany. I couldn't wait to get home to draw up my ideas #visuallearner. The seeds of the LearningWheel were born on the snow-capped summit of Blencathra.

What’s it all about?


The LearningWheel centres around four sections, Learning Content, Assessment, Communication, and Collaboration, these ‘modes of engagement’ are adapted from Sharpe, R., Benfield, G., and Francis, R. (2006) ‘Implementing a university e-learning strategy: levers for change within academic schools’. ALT-J, 14 (2). pp. 135-151. doi:

Almost 6 years on, the LearningWheel has morphed into a rich and diverse resource. Crowdsourcing knowledge from a global community, this free collaborative tool is used to curate themed ideas and share their passion and expertise with others.

The LearningWheel community collaborate in a Google Doc, each offering suggestions to digital ‘What?’ ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ These short lines of information form the 'spokes' surrounding the ‘hub’ or focus of the wheel. Each spoke should include an action verb + digital resource + purpose which is aligned to a mode of engagement. Examples:

  • Learning content: Animate your thinking using EXPLAIN EVERYTHING for creating learning content + resources
  • Assessment: Create instant formative and summative assessment with SOCRATIVE.
  •  Communication: Curate [subject] themed SCOOPIT! articles. Share across your social networks. Embed in VLE.
  • Collaboration: Explore DELICIOUS to collect, tag and share online sources with your students.

Currently, there are three types of LearningWheel:

1. Resource:

These focus on a single digital resource such as Twitter, QR codes, Mahara, Blendspace. Resource wheels are ideal for a ‘resource novice’ eager to try something new, or for intermediates wishing to expand their knowledge of the tool from other users. #resourcewheel

2. Subject:

These are subject specific in areas such as Maths, Study Skills, Sport, and Research Methods. Spokes on subject wheels typically direct peers to industry related forums, activities, resources e.g. for Hairdressing tutors…

  • Follow @CapitalHair on Twitter for latest styles, products. Join the discussion #CapitalHair.
  • Tweet photos of #HairDisasters… What would you do to rectify?

3. Conference:

These are a graphical representation of a themed event. Each wheel contains links to keynote presentation, event content and schedule, links to additional resources, and communication channels between delegates both virtual and physical.


Ultimately, having experienced the pros and cons of using a range of technology, I have benefitted as a teacher and most importantly have seen the positive impact on students. I am keen to share the edtech revolution with others. #RippleEffect.

Meeting like-minded individuals at the Jisc Digital Leaders course in September ’16, was reassuring to hear the same challenges are widespread. Having formed friendships, as well as catching up on life in general, we meet regularly online to discuss and share professional thoughts. We discuss how digital tools and social media can be used to reach beyond the walls of a classroom to expand learning opportunities. We share stories of wonderful relationships created between leaders/staff/students collaborating within specific fields, and how staff members find innovative methods of monitoring student progress or encouraging remotely. We discuss how learning can be gamified and incentivised and how to enhance the learning experience. #DigiDogKnitLeaders

The opportunities and benefits that digital offers are endless where people are willing to share their practice and experience. I think this concept of knowledge exchange truly encapsulates the philosophy of the LearningWheel.

The LearningWheel love has spread across the globe. At last count, there were 33 completed wheels with many more in progress.

I feel a real sense of pride and amazement when I receive so many thank you messages from those who have created or used wheels. The book continues to receive great reviews. I’m honoured to be regularly invited to present at conferences and write blogs such as this.  This week I was astonished to read the analytics showing visitors from 74 countries. #HowManyCountriesAreThere?

Developing the Learningwheel has been a long and winding journey, sometimes lonely but always rewarding. Fortunately, its not just me, this is a community and there is always an abundance of volunteers willing to fuel the next stage with their inspiration, time, effort and passion. I thank each and every one of them. #peoplepower

What’s next?

The #LearningWheel is in motion! #TheWheelisTurning

Save the date: 10/10 @ 10:10 and join in @LearningWheel LIVE

If anyone wishes to Captain a new wheel please visit to express your interest.

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