Designing an advanced online learning environment for higher education

and Educational Technology4 Comments

Ice spiral

What should a modern learning environment look like? What need should it meet? How should it function?

In the Digital Learning Team we’ve been thinking a lot about learning environments in higher education, and have started to develop a set of design principles that could guide the design or selection of one. Principles are an important starting point. We start our discussion about new learning environments by considering the core principles of how users interact with online environments and how those interactions can be used to maximum effect for learning. We especially need to revisit what it is we hope to achieve in our teaching and learning approaches, the types of experiences we want students – and teaching staff – to have.

What follows is our set of principles, which we will explore in more detail in the weeks to come with a series of blog posts.

Provide agency

  • For learners, to be able to create, interact and communicate in sub-spaces of their own choosing
  • For educators, to be able to create spaces and environments that suit the pedagogy of the discipline and the subject
  • For learners to be able to control the use/reuse of their data, and thus enable an ethical use of learning analytics

Be flexible

  • To support different approaches and pedagogies by:
    • Supporting multiple pedagogies including (but not limited to) instructivist, constructivist, social constructivist, connectivist, student as producer, and gamified learning
    • Allowing different disciplines to structure their learning spaces in ways that suit the subject and provides consistency within a program rather than having to conform across a range of unrelated disciplines
    • Providing tools for the development of communities of practice within a subject or discipline
    • Supporting methods of authentic assessment that provide genuine learning for students and meaningful feedback channels
  • To support different enrollment and delivery models by:
    • Allowing courses to be open or closed
    • Creating learning spaces that are not necessarily tightly coupled with patterns of enrollment in a student management system
    • Providing an ability to create learning spaces that are time delimited, continuous and self paced as well as spaces that represent single instance entities through which learners pass as well as multiple instances of a space based on learner cohorts
    • Extending beyond the boundaries of the institution so that it becomes easy to offer courses to learners that may not enroll for a larger qualification
    • Enabling micro-credentialing

Create a positive user experience

  • Provide a space that is enjoyable to use for all members and, specifically one that:
    • Follows established web usability standards
    • Is intuitive for the users
    • Provides the tools that allow for the creation of rich, web based learning and teaching content
    • Enables and encourage peer-to-peer and peer-to-mentor interactions
    • Is multi-device capable

Allow for transferability

  • Easy re-use of open educational resources
  • Learners are able to export the content that they have created
  • Uses social logins that enables users to associate their preferred internet identity with the institution identity
  • Easy publication of items of learning content as open educational resources

Integrate with other tools & systems

  • Integrate with various tools for synchronous learning
  • Integrate with various tools for learner collaboration

What have we missed? Let us know in the comments.


Feature image – Ice spiral by Samuel John CC BY2.0 SA

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Leigh Blackall
4 years ago

I think the Learner Bill of Rights has a number of suggestions to be made to this work, especially in being less tech centric and more relatable and reusable. I tried similar work at La Trobe, An Ethical Framework for Ubiquitous Learning. I think there are suggestions in this as well. With both these references, it’s well worth tapping the online discussions that surround them, and to follow back to through the sources that inspired them.


[…] few weeks ago, the Digital Learning Team published a blog post called “Designing an advanced online learning environment for higher education” in where we discussed the importance of having a set of principles in mind that could guide the […]