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Designing and Online Learning Environment

Designing a learning environment to meet the needs of a variety of learners and still teach necessary information is a challenge in itself. Throw in the idea of being a recent college graduate, newly hired teacher and suddenly being asked to design an online learning environment, and you create a very unique scenario. That is just the scenario I've been facing the past couple of months. Despite this being a completely new realm of exploration, I've managed to take the process in stride and will hopefully walk away with new knowledge and skills as a result.

Being new to online learning is a challenge in itself but something I've always been curious about and wanted to try. Designing and developing instruction is something I'm trained in through my undergraduate work. Taking these skills and applying it to the world of online learning has been an adventure. Given the background in special education that I have, I considered greatly the idea of accessibility for my learners. Clark and Mayer (2011) claim, “Instructional designers should consider how words and pictures work together to create meaning for the learner” (p. 109) and support their claim by stating “people are more likely to understand material when they can engage in active learning” (p. 109). This part of the design process seemed to go rather smoothly for me. I had plenty of experience with making my materials accessible and intriguing for a variety of learners.

In deciding how I wanted my learning environment to function, I considered the words of Clark and Mayer (2011), "In contrast to classroom and synchronous e-learning, asynchronous e-learning can be designed to allow learners to select the topics they want, control the pace at which they progress, and decide whether to bypass some lesson elements such as examples or practice exercises. e-Learning programs that offer these choices are considered high in learner control" (p. 500). Because I know my learners (parents of students) having busy, working lives, my learning environment is designed to where it can be navigated at their own pace in the order they choose. Asynchronous learning allows for this flexibility in design and execution. Also, I was able to provide step-by-step process buttons for those that are willing to and desire to complete the program in a sequential manner, but I wanted to ensure my learners had the option to do what works best for their busy lives.

However, despite the smoothness of the aforementioned task, the most difficult decision in the design was the user interface. Knowing that my audience of learners would be primarily blue collared workers, I wanted to use a hosting site that would allow me to have a simple UI to not deter users, but still allow for a bit of creativity to keep them captivated. By exploring options of web design hosting sites I was able to find one that will (hopefully) meet the requirements I was seeking.

Clark, R. & Mayer R. (2011). ELearning and the Science of Instruction. Pfeiffer. San Francisco, CA. iBooks edition.


  • Scott Bruno

    Hey Dusty,

    You make some excellent points, and I have to agree with the part of your design that allows the learners to choose the material they want or are interested in learning. Whether it is a hobby or maybe how to repair a car if they wish to learn the material they might put more effort into the article or video. I am one of those that if the topic is not all that interesting I tend to skip material just to get through it so I can say it's completed. How would you handle a situation if the learner found nothing that they were interested in? What website did you use? How would you adjust the course if your target audience changed? Can’t wait to see the final project.


  • W Jojo

    You know, Dusty, I forgot about how lucky I was when I began teaching. I was teaching non-credit classes at a community college and I was able to bring in my own resources and it was fun. Then I was asked to teach some credit-bearing courses - because an instructor literally quit the day they were supposed to teach it!

    But I had it easy. Yes, I was teaching technology, but it was on large systems; they were mostly command line; and it was programming. Tests were done on paper, quizzes on Scantron, you get the idea. I was fortunate to be in the industry and using the fruit of innovation at the same time.

    I love that you have a background in special education. It gives you a perspective that others may not appreciate. I liken it to our endeavor to become more accessible about 12 years ago. It was difficult but so important. Now, today, it's just a part of what we do and we often don't even think about it.

    I need my students to follow a certain prescribed path for my courses, so skipping around would not work for my students. I am experimenting now with "adaptive release" which only lets them move forward when they've achieved a certain level in the assessments.

    Interface it so important! If you are interested, check out a book called The Humane Interface by Jef Raskin. It's 15 years old now, but the concepts of interface design are powerful.

    Best wishes!