Tips for online learning design

Above all else, learning must be designed into anything that is delivered online. Courses must not simply be face-to-face sessions posted online – which often fail to meet intended learning aims and objectives. Some key tips are:

  • Online students need to be given much more signposting about what the learning objectives are and what aspects of the course are most important.
  • The learning needs to be carefully paced so that the momentum of doing a course is maintained.
  • In longer courses, students should be given something to do or produce early on so that they are encouraged to start engaging with the learning materials – and get early feedback.
  • Online tutors need to quickly establish a relationship with their students.
  • Students should be allowed to collaborate in study groups online, but this does not have to be done synchronously. Discussion forums often work well. Specifically, for police, some discussions groups should allow anonymous posts so junior officers are more comfortable debating with more senior colleagues.
  • Learning through ’assimilation’ – for example, watching old pre-recorded lectures or being given a 30-page set of notes to read – can be overdone. There must be a wider set of learning activities designed into the courses, both to maintain interest and help with different learning styles.
  • Live online sessions are hard work for students – limit how much of this is to be done in a day.

Varied learning activities

We design six separate types of activity in our courses:

  • Assimilation, such as developing theories from readings.
  • Finding or handling data.
  • Communication activities, such as a group discussion.
  • Productive activity, such as making or designing something.
  • Experiential activity, taking learning from the real work situation.
  • Interactive/adaptive activity, such as playing an online simulation.

Over the next few months, possibly millions of students and employees will experience online learning or training as a necessity due to the current situation. Where they study a well-designed course, many will be surprised how enjoyable and effective this can be – as the more than two million former and existing OU students can already testify. However, we won’t be so surprised: after 50 years of teaching at a distance we’ve been saying it for a very long time!


Author: Open University.