A2: Good Practice in eLearning

Learning and Teaching is a partnership!

Whilst we will do our best, in order for you to succeed as a student, you need to do your best, too!

Student Principles

Use these principles of online learning to help you learn effectively with technology:

  • Plan and use your time online effectively. Login early and often!
  • Develop your digital literacy skills by using, evaluating and sharing online resources
  • Prepare for online assessments by checking assessment criteria and marking guides
  • Develop your thinking by communicating and networking with your tutors, your peers and external experts
  • Challenge yourself by getting involved with online activities and with group work
  • Online activities will gradually help you learn how to be an independent online learner.
  • Ask for support if you need it, and help others


Based on Walmsley’s (2016) work, ORMS supports the following ‘best practice’ approach for the e-learning (blended) courses:

  • eLearning is designed in timed chunks that emphasises time on task and expectations
  • eLearning is assessed using a range of types (self/peer/tutor) and options/choices
  • eLearning includes a variety of interactions between student/ tutors/ peers/ externals
  • eLearning is accessible, activity-led, collaborative and designed in phases that support, scaffolds and increases learner independence

Timed chunks

Face-to-face teaching is managed in timed chunks and online learning is most easily managed through a series of timed activities.

Gagné’s (Gagné, Briggs, & Wager, 1992) Nine Events of Instruction highlights the need for a structured approach to presenting learning:

  • Gain attention e.g. present a problem, a new situation, use a multimedia advertisement, ask questions. This helps to ground the lesson, and to motivate.
  • Describe the goal e.g. state what students will be able to accomplish and how they will be able to use the knowledge. Give a demonstration if appropriate.
  • Stimulate recall of prior knowledge e.g. remind the students of prior knowledge relevant to the current lesson (facts, rules, procedures or skills). Show how knowledge is connected, provide the student with a framework that helps learning and remembering.
  • Present the material to be learned e.g. text, graphics, simulations, figures, pictures, sound, etc. Chunk information to avoid memory overload and aid recall. If teaching keep the chunks to about 15 minutes maximum, and keep the number of facts to about 3-5.
  • Provide guidance for learning e.g. presentation of content is different from instructions on how to learn. Use a different channel (e.g. YouTube clips, graphics, animations.).
  • Elicit performance “practice” e.g., let the learner do something with the newly acquired behaviour, practice skills or apply knowledge.
  • Provide informative feedback e.g., show correctness of the student’s response, analyse learner’s behaviour, maybe present a good (step-by-step) solution of the problem
  • Assess performance to see if the lesson has been learned. Also give general progress information
  • Enhance retention and transfer e.g. inform the learner about similar problem situations, provide additional practice. Put the learner in a transfer situation. Maybe let the learners review the lesson.

Assessment types and options

Most research on learning suggests that students are often assessment-led in their focus and attention and e-learning is no different. Nicol’s work in particular emphasises the need for good assessment design to include learners as partners in assessment design (Nicol, 2009, 2010) and the work of the SPACE project suggests that assessment design should include a range of options to encompass a variety of student needs including those of disabled students. (Waterfield & West, 2006)

Variety of interactions

Laurillard emphasises the importance of the student-tutor interactions in learning (Laurillard, 1993) and Pask’s conversation theory suggests the use of ‘teachback’ where one person teaches the other what they have learned (Culatta, 2011). Anderson suggests a range of types of interaction and argues that:

“Deep and meaningful formal learning is supported as long as one of the three forms of interaction (student–teacher; student-student; student-content) is at a high level. The other two may be offered at minimal levels, or even eliminated, without degrading the educational experience.” (Anderson, 2003)

A meta-analysis on Distance Education showed that interaction of student/teacher was associated with greater achievement outcomes (Bernard et al 2009)

Wenger’s work on social learning emphasises the learning that takes place in communities of practice (Wenger, 1999)

Activity-Led Learning

Many theories of learning demonstrate that learning is an active, cyclical process. For example, Kolb’s experiential cycle (Kolb, 1984) and Race’s Ripple model (Race, 2010).

Online learning offers great potential for a range of active tasks, projects, simulations etc.

  • Five attributes of meaningful learning: Active, Constructive, Intentional, Authentic and Cooperative (Jonassen, Howland, Moore, & Marra, 2003).
  • Schank’s work on designing e-learning scenarios that emphasises the importance of authenticity and practicing essential skills (Schank, 2002)


Unusually, current research on how people learn has converged into a theory that emphasises the effectiveness of and collaborative nature of learning. Collaborative (and cooperative) learning can be challenging for teachers and learners, but technology offers a range of opportunities for students to work together online in ways that are accessible, flexible and engaging. Cooperative learning has been shown to be effective (D. W. Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 2007)

Some research suggests that students are better at critical thinking when working collaboratively (Gokhale, 1995). Student teachers are better at problem solving in maths when using a social-constructivist online environment (Hong, Tan, & Lai, 2009)

Constructivist theory suggests we should be concerned with the design of particular kinds of learning environments, namely, learning environments that are learner- centred, knowledge-centred, assessment centred, and community-centred (Swan, 2005)

Four phases

Teaching and learning activities change through time according to the content, skills and assignment schedule. They can also be designed to carefully support the student at early stages and gradually encourage learner independence by the introduction of more student-centred activities.

Ideally, we want students to graduate with a holistic set of skills, aptitude and motivation to learn in a rapidly changing world: they will have the ability to recognise what they need to learn, and how to learn fast. See case studies from the Centre for Promoting Learner Autonomy.

Stephenson’s research (Stephenson & Coomey, 2001) found that “four major features of online learning were widely identified as essential to good practice.

These features were:

  • dialogue,
  • involvement,
  • support, and
  • control (DISC).

Most ‘lessons learnt’ focused on the importance of structuring the learning activity and designing the materials in order to promote dialogue, secure active involvement of the learner, provide personal or other support and feedback and enable the learner to exercise the degree of control expected.

However, a closer examination of the evidence indicates variations in the flavour of the DISC features according to whether the intended learning is teacher controlled or learner led, or whether the learning activity is tightly specified or open-ended.”

To support the design of these good practice features, the following activity types are suggested:

elearning principles diagram

 Active Induction: (TMCA) Tutor-managed Closed Activities

  • Tutor instructs, student accesses multi-media accessible resources, socialisation, closed activities
  • Range of tutor managed student-tutor interactions
  • Range of self/tutor diagnostic/formative assessment

Guided Exploration (SMCA) Student-managed Closed Activities

  • Tutor guides, student extends, knowledge exploration, closed activities
  • Range of student managed peer and tutor interactions,
  • Range of self/peer formative assessments

Facilitated Investigation (TMOA) Tutor-managed Open Activities

  • Tutor coaches, student adopts, knowledge construction, open activities
  • Range of tutor managed peer/tutor/external interactions,
  • Range of self/peer/ student-designed assessments

Self-Organised Learner (SMOA) Student-managed Open Activities

  • Tutor facilitates, student integrates, develops understanding and skills, open projects
  • Range of student managed peer/tutor/external interactions
  • Range of summative/student designed assessment, presentation of portfolio


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