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Designing for online learning can be different than designing learning experiences for face-to-face learning; however, both start with identification of the learning aims and outcomes before considering which types of teaching will best help students to achieve the outcomes. 

Key points to consider when designing for online learning are: 

  • What are the aims and learning outcomes? 
  • What is the ideal way for the aims and outcomes to be achieved? 
  • What is the ideal way for the learning outcomes to be assessed? 
  • Which online tools do you have at your disposal? 
  • Which of these tools comes closest to your ‘ideals’? 
  • How will you create a coherent experience for students throughout the course of the module? 
  • How will you assess the learners against the learning outcomes? 
  • Is the course accessible to all learners? 

Tools available to use at Durham University 

If your course is aimed at learners who are already based at Durham, then you can host your course on Blackboard Learn Ultra. This will enable you to access a wide range of tools for the creation of your course. These include: 

Encore – A video hosting tool that allows you to create and add videos that are only available to your students. Search Learn Ultra Help for ‘Encore’ from anywhere on the site for guidance. 

If you course is aimed at learners who are not based at Durham, then you will need to host your materials on a site that is accessible to all. 


Learners can have a variety of different needs and you should consider how different learners will be able to access the resources used in your course. For example: 

  • Transcripts of audio and video files 
  • Text alternates to images or graphs 

Sourcing Materials 

If you have sourced materials from other areas, do you have the right to use them? Images and videos can be embedded in courses if they are licensed under Creative Commons.  

Best Practice Tips

Attention span tends to be reduced for students watching videos/listening to audio versus students in a lecture theatre. There are several ways to address this: 

  • Keep audio/visual materials short: 
    • Avoid repeating ideas that students will encounter in reading or other resources. 
    • Split audio/video up with other activities; e.g. you could have 45 minutes split into five separate clips interspersed with reading, discussion, blogging, research, etc. 
  • Use in-video quizzes or reflection activities to keep the student engaged. 
  • Use different types of audio/visuals; e.g. a ‘talking head’ video, animated diagram (e.g. a screen recording of PowerPoint animations), or on-location video. 

Access to reading material may be limited by what students can access online: 

  • Make sure that books that are required reading are available online via the library. 
  • Ensure that students know that they can order books that they would like using SCONUL. 
  • If the students are not University members, available texts will be limited and permission would need to be sought to provide copyrighted resources. 

Online learners—even those with a high level of experience in higher education—usually require more scaffolding than those in face-to-face contexts: 

  • Ensure that the module site is very well structured, the online materials lead students along a pathway from one activity to the next, both in terms of the on-screen layout and thematically, and that there is consistency throughout. 
  • Build teaching presence into the design, e.g. images, videos, links to discussion boards etc. 
  • Online learners also need scaffolding to connect with each other, with a demonstrably clear purpose to connect to each other in the short and long term, e.g. participation mark, specific but open-ended discussion/blog prompts, lecturer/tutor participation in discussions. 

Online learners often benefit from assessments that are spread across a module rather than condensed at the end. This helps to keep them motivated and (especially in the case of part-time learners) doesn’t labour them with a huge amount of work in a short time frame. Some examples are: 

  • Encouraging students to keeping an open-ended but scaffolded learning blog. 
  • Projects: students can be asked to work on a project throughout the module, regularly checking in on discussion boards or blogs; this could provide ongoing feedback from both teachers and peers. 
  • Multi-choice quizzes that are interwoven throughout the course’s materials. 


A guide to different types of Creative Commons can be viewed on Durham’s Creative Commons guidance page.

Extensive resources for online learning are also available for Durham staff:

Designing Digitally

Teaching Online