The DPLE M. Ed. Specialism at HKU

The Designing Powerful Learning Environments (DPLE) specialism of HKU’s M. Ed. enables teachers and other education professionals to study research from the learning sciences and apply it to the design of learning experiences. It is a member of the Network of Academic Programs in the Learning Sciences (NAPLES) of the International Society of the Learning Sciences.

The learning sciences research base is particularly strong in mathematics, science, social studies, and literacy, and our students teach a wide range of subjects. They come from a variety of professional settings including local schools, international schools, tutorial schools, and organisations involved in teaching such as Teach for China. Our cohorts are about half local and half international. This diverse make-up of our cohorts makes for very interesting conversations about learning and how to make it happen. But the centrepiece is the designing that students do.

Endorsement of DPLE graduates

Hugh Wong, now at Teach for Bangladesh:

Together with Prof. Carol K K Chan, Prof. van Aalst leads the specialism of Design Powerful Learning Environment, which is absolutely one of the best learning experiences I have ever had. This experience has remarkably extended and deepened my understanding of teaching and learning both on theoretical and practical levels. Throughout my entire journey of learning from and with him, Prof. van Aalst holds a very high expectation on me, and has been constantly considerate and supportive, by guiding, coaching, and giving highly helpful and timely feedback for me.

In addition, over the courses and other the learning experiences affiliated to the whole Design Powerful Learning Environment program, I have also been given opportunities to observe and learn from Hong Kong-local expert teachers, which connect me with their inspirational insights and extremely effective practices. On top of that, I got numerous chances to collaborate with my fellow students from very diversified backgrounds, then formed an exceedingly productive learning community among as, which was also designed and facilitated by the professors with consistency.

Angela, Zhang, now studying in the United States:

This program totally changed my way of looking at what learning and teaching are. I now understand that learning is an active knowledge construction process in a learner-centred knowledge building learning environment. In addition, teaching is not a process of passive knowledge delivering, but an active process of scaffolding and facilitating students to have conceptual understanding.

This program helped me become a designer. I believe teachers are designers.  The way how teacher designs the activity/ lesson / curriculum will have great influence on the way how students learn and whether students can take away what teachers expect them to learn.

This program created a create a comfortable learning environment to foster students’ higher order thinking skills. Under this learning environment, I was motivated to think, to be creative and to be metacognitive. Moreover, the formative assessments encouraged me to become a deep-learner.

Sample student evaluations

Sample student evaluations

Workshop in "learning in the disciplines" module.

Workshop in a module.






End-of-program student  experience questionnaire

The University of Hong Kong carries out its own evaluation of student satisfaction using a questionnaire that asks students about their overall experience in 16 areas when they have completed all degree requirements. It compares specialisms and programmes to all the taught postgraduate programmes in the University using 4 effect size indicators: Neutral, Small, Medium and Large. For the first (full-time) graduates the results for DPLE were as follows:

  • 15 of 16 indicators were above the University results; 8 were medium and 2 large effects
  • 12 of 16 indicators were above the M. Ed. programme as a whole; 7 were medium effects
  • The largest effects were for relevance to career and feedback
  • The specialism scored medium effects for 3 21st century learning outcomes the questionnaire targeted, relative to both the M. Ed programme and the University: tackling novel situations, communication, and collaboration; it scored the same effect size for critical thinking than the M. Ed. programme, which was a small effect over the University
  • The specialism scored a medium effect size compared with both the M. Ed. and the University for student-teacher relationship and the dissertation/project experience

Beyond the specialism

We we have formed an alumni community that extends the designing and educational improvement activities started in the specialism. The goal of this community is to to support teachers who are trying to put lessons from the learning sciences into practice in various educational contexts.








Application deadline: January 23, 2015
More Information: DPLE webpages | Online application