Effective Course Design for e-Learning: A Reflection

It was going to be my intention to keep a semi-regular-ish posts on my engagement with the “Effective Course Design for e-Learning” module. As you can see – this didn’t happen!

The first week introduced us to some of the current theories around styles of course design (Toohey, 1999) and how some of them might have been adopted based upon personal preferences or, even, encouraged by external political pressures and agencies.

Weeks 2 to 4 explored the different approaches, that were:

  • Traditional or discipline-based approach
  • Performance or systems-based approach
  • Cognitive approach
  • Experiential or personal relevance approach
  • Socially critical approach

Using a combination of different readings and a wiki to collect and collate thoughts about the readings, looking for real-world examples of these different approaches in action and suggesting additional resources to help build up a coherent bank of knowledge – I found myself quite enamoured with the socially critical approach that attempted to look at a particular issue that needed to be debated and discussed with a view to making significant changes to how that issue was currently operating.

Whilst I felt that this module would be enormously valuable to me as a learning technologist who is advising and developing staff to use the University’s learning systems like Blackboard to the best of their abilities – I also felt hampered that I didn’t have enough traditional teaching experience to actually get to the nitty-gritty of some of the concepts and ideas that were presented. Something that would have quite a profound effect upon my assignment.

In weeks 5 to 7, my peers were put into groups (and named after fruit) to discuss, devise and develop a miniature “learning event” around a topic or theme that was of interest to us and using one or more of the approaches that we had been looking at for the past 4 weeks. The other members of the group would then take part in the “learning event” and feedback upon it. I wanted to do something that involved the socially critical approach and was rather inspired by the work done by Turnley (2005). I wanted my participants to look at the developments within the so-called “Web 2.0” phenomena and how that would impact upon and enhance their research practices – I called this concept “Research 2.0”, being a pun upon how people have used the notion of versioning to try and attempt to describe something that was different (and in some cases better!).

I used the Holyrood Park Elgg site to deliver the event and asked my participants to write a little critique – whilst they said that they enjoyed it; it was debateable as to whether any actual “learning” occured. These experiences would then form the basis of the reflective report – the feedback from that report suggested to me that I was being overly ambitious with what I wanted to achieve, especially with my lack of teaching experience – so I had probably chosen an approach that was best adopted by someone with considerably more teaching experience than myself.

Week 8 looked at assessment and how that was partly defined by well constructed aims and learning outcomes. Weeks 9 to 10 covered course evaluation and course usability; again my peers could have chosen which topic to spent 2 weeks exploring in some depth.

Finally, in weeks 11 to 12, we spent that time working on our assignments which involved writing a course outline; a course rationale that explained our thinking and some semblance of a course that was constructed within some kind of learning environment. Despite the rather good mark for this assignment; I personally felt that I didn’t spend enough time to do the course any justice – illness, project meetings across the country and a much needed holiday got in the way of that.

The big thing that I learnt from this module is that online courses don’t start with the technology – it begins using pen, paper, a whole lot of thinking and several cups of coffee later as to what you want to try and achieve with the course and what you expect people to get out of it, in terms of what is learnt and what you want them to experience and how you challenge their thinking in the process.


Moon, J., (2002). The module and programme development handbook. London: KoganPage

Toohey, S., (1999). Designing Courses for Higher Education. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Turnley, M., (2005). Contextualized design: Teaching critical approaches to web authoring through redesign projects. Computers and Composition. 22(2), pp. 131-148.