Today, we’re diving into the question of how we can deliver really worthwhile learning in a digital and virtual environment, how to map out your online learning design and how to measure it’s achieving the outcomes you promise for your participants.


I’m really excited about today’s topic because it takes me back to how I started in the online learning design and business education field.

Back at the start of my career, coming out of an academic field in biosciences, I jumped into educational technology and helping teachers, lecturers and learning designers across many different subject areas to create engaging and effective courses and learning for their students.

I guess looking back I can see that I’ve always been interested in how we operate as humans, the physiology, the psychology, the way our brains are wired as it relates to business, process improvement and sales and marketing.

If you’re not in the information product business, how you can build a course or program that provides high quality interaction, great participation and space for application and reflection. Because this is how real transformation happens for your students or clients.

So today, we’re diving into the question of how we can really deliver worthwhile learning online, how to map out your learning design and how to measure it’s achieving the outcomes you promise for your participants.

First, some introduction, then we’ll go through five steps, and there’s a worksheet for this that you can download at, the link is in the shownotes – this gives you the 5 steps, so let me list those first and then first I’m going to talk you through what we’re solving here.

STEP 1 – The Goals Statement

STEP 2 – The Outcomes

STEP 3 – The Experience

STEP 4 – The Measures

STEP 5 – The Wins

Then we’ll finish up by reviewing technology to support your online learning design and some final reflections on how to pre-test the design makes sense.

Let’s call it a program from now on, because for me a ‘course’ feels more restrictive, more of akin to skills training or behavioural learning than transformational learning.

Key Questions to Address in Your Online Learning Design

I like to think of learning design in terms of where you want to be on the stairway to interactivity… from a program that’s very content-heavy and teacher-based to one that’s more student, group based, rooted in real world scenarios and that creates a thriving community of shared practice.

So when you’re doing your exploratory research and planning, you should be thinking about some key questions?

  1. What kinds of learning do you want to happen in the online environment?
  2. What kinds of activities and interactions does the online platform you’re using support?
  3. How do people change their practices after engaging in your online activities?
  4. Which tasks, resources, supports are best meeting the outcomes you’re helping people achieve?
  5. In what ways can you harness the interactive functionality of the tools to improve your students’ learning experience?
  6. How does employing technology and tools for this activity affect your own teaching practices and indeed your business model?

From there, you can more easily think about what the balance of your course should be.

  • Content, Objectives, Process based
  • Independent/collaborative learning
  • Online / off line connection

Think beyond content. Content and resources alone won’t create the real transformation. You’re going to need to interweave communication and dialogue. If it’s a group program, you’ll want to find ways to foster collaboration and co-operation amongst the group, because learning from sharing and discussion with peers is a powerful learning method.

So think in terms of an integrated design for learning and use the technologies that support the activities you want going on.

Next, you’ll want to consider what your learning design needs to look like. Some of the things you can decide on are:

  • structure (low to high)
  • content (light to rich/heavy)
  • communication (light – heavy)
  • interaction (independent – collaborative)
  • blended (online – off line)

If the structure high / low:

  • focus on level, consistency, guidance
  • focus on learners preferred styles

If communication high:

  • focus on online tasks for students & your role as facilitator

If it’s content heavy

  • focus on routes through material, processing of information

If collaborative:

  • focus on group work tasks, processes & feedback

If blended:

  • Include connections with activities away from PC/internet

What are the learning design components?

  • Learning Tasks
  • Learning Supports
  • Learning Resources
  • Tools / Technologies
  • Assessment Strategy
  • Approval/Validation/QA requirements
  • Key Evaluation Criteria

In a program I was involved in, as external evaluator, at Oxford Brookes University, they used a three-part structuring for course design, which got people to map out a storyboard for learning tasks, learning supports and learning resources. Let me explain what we mean by each of those things.

  1. Learning tasks are activities, problems, interactions used to engage the students
  2. Learning supports are schedules, scaffolds, structures, encouragements, motivations, guidance, linkages used to support learning
  3. Learning resources are more obviously, the content, information and resources (knowledge) your students use to inform the activities they’re doing.

Taken together, designed into a sequence, this is what develops new understandings and new abilities, that leads to new thinking or practices, and supports how your students progress through to the transformation you deliver. This is your expert system, your learning design, and program design.

Using this process of storyboarding or sequencing module by module really simplifies creating your program design, from onboarding and setting the scene to orientate and motivate your participants, to week by week what your students will be watching, reading, doing, discussing, and reflecting on.

You can map it all out visually so it’s clear where they get input from you as the tutor and at what points you’ll want to evaluate how well it’s working.

By evaluating your program as it runs, you will hear where and how students or participants experience the design, what’s too fast, too slow, where do they typically get stuck, what do they struggle with most – so you can modify the design accordingly, either for the next session, or the next cohort. You’ll know where to add in extra support or resources to get them over that barrier.

Learning activities need to be motivating, engaging and purposeful. You will need to decide if the activities should be based on interaction between learners, tutors, groups, resources and whether they can be synchronous or asynchronous.

  • a ‘spark’ – stimulus, challenge, task, problem
  • an online activity – students have to DO something
  • a participative element – students have to respond
  • a summary, feedback or critique – from the group or tutor
  • guidelines – instructions for the activity, for taking part

Five Steps to Mapping Out Your Course or Program Design and Evaluation Plan

Now here’s where you can grab the five steps learning design worksheet I’m giving you.


Finally, just a quick word on the technology you pick to support your program.

When you’re mapping out your program, keep in mind the tools and technologies you’ll be using to support it. As a minimum, you might want to review three things:

  1. constraints and benefits of available technologies
  2. human time and energy to get them to work
  3. taking account of social issues, skills, fun in terms of the choices that you’re making.

Think about your course / program storyboard sequence. Imagine you’re a participant working through it. How does the logic or experience feel to you?

If you have a business partner or accountability buddy, or maybe even a long-term client, you can give them a walkthrough and ask them to tell you what comes up for them going through it.


So hope that’s useful to you – feel free to send me any comments or questions about online learning design or evaluation planning for your course or program, just reach out through any of my channels, email or contact form here or much more fun is you can submit via our audio memo.