The Building Blocks of Online Learning Design & Development

The following are items to be considered when designing and developing an online course for adult learners. Andragogy, founded by Malcolm Knowles, discovered the 5 assumptions of adult learners: self-concept, learner experience, readiness to learn, oriented to learning, motivated to learn. There is a lot that goes into online course development, it is not as simple as assembling information. From an academic perspective, it is a very thorough process that can involve an expert team to fulfill all the demands. I have synthesized a brief overview of what is involved when designing and developing online learning for adults. This is my best practices check list (is subject to change and grow) to ensure that key elements are present while also keeping future clients informed on decision making.

The below items can be blended and augmented however I feel the principles need strong attention. I have compiled this to simplify the academic standards for the outsider who will not know what is involved and why it is used. When choosing to design and develop a course, it’s important to begin with who the learner is and what approach to use – Andragogy (adult) or Pedagogy (child) as the two involve very different approaches. My work centres around adult learning.

Theories – understand the learner

  • Behaviouralist – learning through behavioural patterns by linking stimuli and response
  • Cognitivism – learning is internal and a result of processing and organizing new information
  • Connectivism – learning influenced through digital age technology based on accurately sourcing and accessing of information
  • Constructivist – knowledge is constructed by adapting new information based on previous experience
  • Experiential – learning through life experience, through observation and conceptualization
  • Transformative – learning through change which happens reflectively and holistically

Models – process of development

  • ADDIE – analyze, design, develop, implement, evaluate. A non-linear comprehensive model used by large organizations for company training
  • Backwards Design – setting goals first consisting of 3 stages: identify desired results, determine acceptable evidence, plan learning experiences and instruction. Good for story telling learning contexts and ESL learners
  • SAM – successive approximation model is designed for quick turn around focusing on progress over perfection, has 3 phases: preparation, iterative design, interactive development. Often used for training in IT sectors
  • 9 Events of Instruction – a linear model that predates the digital age but applies to current learning standards. Can be organized into 3 larger chunks: before, during and after the learning. See example here. Suitable for eclectic learning contexts

Principles – design enriched learning

  • Accessibility – universal design standards, cultural, ESL
  • Adult learning – involvement, experience, relevance, problem-centered
  • Assessment – performance-based, diagnostic, formative, summative
  • Content – chunked, clear, mini-module, flexible, varied media
  • Engagement – peer to content, peer to peer, peer to instructor
  • Learning Styles – individual, social, auditory, visual, concrete, abstract, logical, sensual
  • Motivation – self-directed, independent, intrinsic (personal), extrinsic (professional)


Bowen, R. (2017). Understanding by design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Fairbanks, B. ( 2021, September 09). 5 educational learning theories and how to apply them. Phoenix Blog.

Gore, E. (2022, January 4). The SAM (successive approximation model) approach to eLearning.

Gulbahar, Y., Alper, A. (2011). Learning preferences and learning styles of online adult learners. Education in A Technological World: Communicating Current and Emerging Research and Technological Efforts.

Lin, J. (2020, July 5). Quickly implement eLearning from what you have: ADDIE model in practice. eLearning Industry.

Loveless, B. (2022, March 29). 15 Learning theories in education (a complete summary). Education Corner.

Pappas, C. (2013, May 9). The adult learning theory – andragogy – of Malcolm Knowles. eLearning Industry.

University of Colorado Boulder. (n.d.). Office of the undergraduate education – backward design.

Online Learning Design & Development

I have finally decided to make the commitment and go back to school for a short time, to shape my services into a new area for me and become certified in Online Learning Design & Development through Algonquin College. I have a ton of scholastic background and digital technology experience so I don’t need to commit to a long and heavy program, just one that I feel will set me off on the right track as I have a few goals in mind for next year, 2022. As a lifelong and often self-directed learner, I feel very strongly about learning and helping others to learn to use platforms and the necessary tools to shape their material. One of my favourite platforms is WordPress along with a couple of other tools for content creation, that I will introduce once I have completed the program.

Many people were forced to work online because of the pandemic, and I know that it’s only going to become more imperative to adapt to learning in this environment. I got a glimpse of the struggle that some faced this past year when they were thrown into immediate roles they had no experience in – and I was called in to help them out. I now know this is a space I need to further expand on.

The areas of my study will include: online learning theories, developing online course content, online course delivery and evaluation essentials. I will begin in January and will finish by the end of April. I have for some time, wanted to focus more on this endeavour however I got busy with other projects. This new learning will marry well with my previous Masters in Communication and Technology through the University of Alberta and my training and career experience in digital design. All I need is the training to shape my andragogical (adult learning) knowledge into the learning endeavour – to assist others with their projects, to create my own self-directed learning for self-healing in reflexology and to provide a full package of tools that cover the gamut in content creation.

Additionally, I have a specific interest in assisting in the design and development of elearning for those who experience learning challenges. I grew up with this experience, had problems concentrating, comprehending, was placed in special education classes and even in a cardboard box in front of the class, next to the teachers desk. As an adult, it takes me longer to read material as words jump around the page. Sometimes I can miss spelling errors even after reading and rereading my writing. I can experience dyslexia, and can find myself experiencing jumbled words when reading out loud. Even though learning has been more challenging for me, it’s something I absolutely enjoy and feel strongly about. I have studied a little about best practices for absorbing information (no more than 2 hour sessions with breaks after 20-30 mins of information intake) and what kinds of patterns work best for learning and memorization. Some of us are visual learners, while others need to write down information.

Another aspect of experiencing a learning disorder, is being made fun of by peers, even friends and family who misunderstand the disorder as lazy, stupid or silly. I remember vividly being made fun of by a classmate in high school when she found part of my essay to be the most hysterical thing she’d ever read, and decided to read it out loud to the class inspiring an outburst of laughter (cue the Disaster Artist). I feel it’s very important to shed a light on the fact that everyone learns differently and just because some of us are more prone to making errors or taking longer to complete a task, does not make us unintelligent.

So please stay tuned. Although Careful Crafters may seem inactive, it’s been the backbone for several of my other projects, that are now built, so it’s time to embark upon this path.