6 Key Principles

OLT has developed the following six key principles to support online learning and teaching. These principles have a well-founded evidence base and have been adapted for the online environment from a similar and commonly cited set of seven principles (Chickering & Gamson, 1987). OLT recommends that you use these principles in the development and implementation of your online teaching at CDU.

6 principles of online teaching

6 principles of online learning Structured learning Active learning Teacher presence Collaboration Feedback Inclusiveness

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Learning materials should be well structured to provide the sequence of learning resources and learning activities that will lead to the intended learning outcomes.

Structured Learning includes elements such as:

  • Constructive Alignment
    All learning outcomes are aligned and directly relate to the teaching and learning activities and assessments, for example, all Unit Information or Unit Outlines are accurate and consistent with other Unit documents such as, Course and Unit Accreditation and Reaccreditation, and TAS
  • Unit Organisation
    Unit layout and navigation is convenient, intuitive and designed for learning. For example; font, style, formatting and layout are used to aid the student’s learning. CDU offers Learnline templates and the guide to Usability, Accessibility & Copryright for files in Learnline (doc) to support you with site organisation
  • Content Organisation and Presentation
    A variety of appropriate content is presented logically. For example; it flows in a logical progression and includes up-to-date materials with regular instructions and guidance.
  • Structured Activities
    Activities are sequenced and linked with clear objectives and expectations in order to provide a route to achieving the learning outcomes. For example; there are opportunities for advanced learning and remedial activities
  • Course Fit
    The unit is coordinated into the course with regards to pre-requisites, progression, assessment and learning design. Satisfying curriculum requirements and development of graduate attributes, employability skills, literacy and numeracy often need considering

You will note that Structured Learning includes many of the aspects from the Learnline Quality Checklist.

Learnline Tool

Related Learnline tools

Adaptive release

Adaptive release allows content areas within Learnline to be made visible or invisible to users. In some areas in Learnline, such as tests and assessment submission points, time frames can be set up in advance to make an area visible only between certain dates and times. As adaptive release limits student access to activities, content and resources, it should be used carefully and in line with a pedagogical strategy that supports the progressive release of content.

Grade Centre

The Grade Centre is a powerful area of Learnline.  The Grade Centre displays to lecturers with multiple columns with first name and last name of students, assessment items for each assessment and ‘totals’ columns. Grade Centre can be customised to display or hide columns. Grade Centre is the location where lecturers access and mark student work and record grades. Students see the Grade Centre through ‘My Grades’ to view their grades in columns for each assessment item and to access marked assignments and feedback.

Active learning is a term that describes an approach to teaching which engages students in the learning process. There are a variety of ways to promote active learning, such as group work, inquiry exercises, and brainstorming activities. All of these strategies shift the responsibility for learning from the lecturer to the student by encouraging the student to be an active participant in the exploration of learning outcomes.

Active learning is the opposite of passive learning - learning where the student “receives” knowledge and does not actively participate in instruction. The most often cited passive learning environment is the traditional lecture, although other environments, from viewing a video to some reading assignments also encourage passive learning. Research demonstrates that lecturers who redesign passive learning strategies of a unit with active learning elements have quantifiably better learning outcomes among their students (Michel, Cater & Varela, 2009).

The online environment is commonly considered to be an inherently interactive learning environment that is engaging and stimulating for students. However, like any other teaching environment, web-based applications do not necessarily encourage active learning. Indeed, “online” can be as passive a learning environment as any traditional classroom if not well planned and considered.

Online Learning Continuum

Source: https://touchpointinteraction.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/benefits-of-simulation-training/

Strategies for implementing active learning into a blended course

Implementing an active learning strategy into a blended unit requires an evaluation of the overall unit learning outcomes. In reviewing these, lecturers should consider strategies that encourage student engagement in the achievement of these outcomes. At the same time lecturers rethink the teaching strategies, they should be thinking about how they want to implement online technology to promote an active learning environment. There are three basic strategies for integrating web-based technology to increase active learning:

Move non-active, narrative portions of the course online

Lecturers who want to devote class time to direct active learning exercises yet have a significant amount of background lecture material or other information they want students to master or have access to should consider “flipping the classroom” and providing these preparatory resources online as recorded lectures, readings and audio-visual resources. Supplementing these with a range of formative activities will help students prepare for the active exercises in class.

Supplement classroom work with online interaction

Some classroom activities lend themselves to being integrated with web-based tools. Collaborative work, groups, communicative activities, can all be easily supplemented with online tools, such as discussion board forums, blogs and wikis. Certain productive activities (like creating web pages and web-based tutorials) also lend themselves to the online environment.

Create active learning environments online

Some lecturers find it useful to have discreet active learning environments online that students can pursue independently. These can be research-based projects, productive work, group work, communicative activities, and the like.

Creating an active learning environment online

Not all e-learning environments or assignments are equal in terms of active learning. Assignments where students interact with their lecturers and peers online provide a greater degree of active learning than do assignments where students merely view a web page, or click a series of links. Likewise, different web-based technologies have different potentials for active learning. A typical PowerPoint presentation does not have the active learning potential of a discussion board. Creating active learning environments online, therefore, requires attention to both the planning and execution of the assignment as well as the technology used to carry out the assignment. Below are three basic strategies based on available web-based technologies that can be used to create an active online learning environment.

Create communicative activities

Planning activities that require students to communicate in some way have the most potential to provide an active learning environment online. These activities require the use of various communication tools from chat to discussion boards for brainstorming, inquiry learning, role playing, or other activities that require students to actively participate in the learning process. Learnline supports the creation of individual and group communication areas, chat, discussion boards, blogs and wikis and file sharing areas necessary for designing communicative active learning activities online.

Have students produce

Activities that are based on producing a final product that can be partially or wholly built and displayed online, such as Wiki, Blog, or a multimedia presentation, are also excellent active learning exercises. As with other active learning activities, assignments based on group work or peer learning models often increases student motivation and achievement. Furthermore, using such a strategy increases the active learning potential of the online environment by combining production with communication, and thereby requiring students to interact with their peers and the subject material in the completion of the assignment. There are a large number of production tools available and most web and multimedia formats can be displayed in Learnline.

Use adaptive technologies

Adaptive technologies, such as simulations and games, also have a high active learning potential. There are a number of different approaches to creating adaptive applications, from designing excel spreadsheets that demonstrate what happens when variables are changed in a mathematical model, to using expensive simulation software that can replicate complex natural systems and interactions. In general, creating an active learning assignment based on adaptive technology requires both technical knowledge to create the learning module, and careful planning to ensure that the student must engage in the activity and not just click buttons and type numbers. The Office of Learning and Teaching at CDU provides expert advice and resources in this area through the Innovative Media Production Studio.


Learnline Tool

Related Learnline tools

Blogs & Wikis

Active learning can be fostered through the use of tools such as Individual or Group Blogs and Wikis. These tools provide students with spaces to communicate, respond and co-create with others. Creating, co-creating, sharing and publishing work are active processes that can motivate and stimulate student learning.  

Discussion Board

Thoughtfully constructed and actively managed discussion board forums promote student to student interaction and provides opportunities for students to deepen their learning through discussing ideas with their peers. As well as topic specific forums, a unit queries forum provides a way for students to ask questions or deal with any issues they may have. This forum could be setup with the expectation that students will answer each other’s queries; this can give a sense to students that they are contributing and that they have something of value to contribute. The main queries always display as threads for others to see which can save the lecturer time as the same query may not need to be answered for other students.

Mashup tools

The Mashup tool allows lecturers to add content to a unit that is from an external Web site, for example videos from YouTube or images from Flickr. This content is used in a variety of ways within a unit: a standalone piece of content, part of a test question, a topic on a Discussion Board, or as part of an assignment. The content displayed in a course will still reside on the external Web site.

Tests & Surveys

Tests and surveys are used to measure student knowledge, gauge progress, and gather information from students. You can create tests and surveys and then deploy them in a course area. While some tests are used for assessment, they can also be used as formative (self-assessment) learning activities.


One of the most critical factors affecting students’ achievement of learning outcomes, and overall satisfaction with an online course, is their sense of feeling connected with each other and the lecturer. Therefore, building an online instructional relationship by establishing “Teacher Presence” is essential.

What does this mean? Put simply, “teacher presence” is all the things you do before, during and after a course, such as the design and development preparatory work as well as the hands-on teaching and student follow-up that directs and supports students. This is manifested through course materials and the actions you take to guide, support and shape the learning experience for your students.

There are several fundamental “must do’s” to build and maintain effective teacher presence. These include having:

Pedagogical presence: keeping an eye on the constructive alignment of learning outcomes, learning activities and assessments throughout the design, development, implementation and evaluation of your course. Strategies which can improve your pedagogical presence include:

  • Setting clear expectations of students and being specific about how you expect them to interact with the course material
  • Being regularly “visible” throughout the course (and more than once a week) through the use of announcements and other communication links, such as discussion board, blogs and email
  • Creating excitement and opportunities for engagement in learning
  • Encouraging questions, not waiting for them
  • Being clear in your expectations about assignments
  • Helping students not to be surprised by the course requirements.

Technical presence: being sufficiently IT savvy to use the online environment effectively, and to support students in their use of technology. Your technical presence can be enhanced by:

  • Practice, practice and more practice
  • Using online tools to enhance the learning experience and understanding that effective online courses don’t have to have a lot of bells and whistles, just sound pedagogy and sensible instructional design
  • Remembering that if you’re having trouble navigating your materials then it’s highly likely that your students are too.

Managerial presence: This means regular housekeeping to develop and keep your Learnline site consistent, easy to follow and up to date, and includes:

  • Making certain that everything works before the course starts and check regularly throughout the semester
  • Keeping track of your students’ interaction with the course and material by setting up your Retention Centre before the start of each semester and checking it routinely.

Social presence: getting to know your students and their needs and creating a comfortable, friendly and engaging environment for sharing and learning. You should consider:

  • Setting up your profile in Blackboard Social, and encouraging your students to create Spaces which allow them to interact informally with their colleagues and peers around areas of interest
  • Include an introduction of yourself at the beginning of the course – consider creating an informal video clip
  • Share time and spaces within the course site and schedule.

Supportive presence: providing a culturally safe and inclusive environment which encourages students to ask questions and give feedback, and responding to such in a supportive manner. It is important that you:

  • Show respect and care for students
  • Provide opportunities for confidential exchanges
  • Encourage participation and feedback, and make certain that you reciprocate!

Remember that delivering online is not a “set and forget” solution to your workload. A successful and rewarding online course requires attention, effort and commitment from both teachers and learners in a course community.

Learnline Tool

Related Learnline tools


Regular announcements provide a strong teacher presence in the unit. The use of a welcome announcement provides students with their first introduction to the unit. The announcement should be warm and welcoming and invite students into their learning. The welcome announcement should also guide students on what to do next and where to go first. Subsequent announcements can be used as calls to action, remind students of upcoming tutorials or assignment deadlines or to provide whole class feedback.

Discussion Boards

Teacher presence in discussion board forums shows students that the teacher is engaged and interested in their learning. There is no need for lecturers to respond to all student posts, particularly in large student groups. Teachers should actively moderate discussion board forums by using strategies such as weaving together the main discussion points, summarising key ideas and reframing and refocusing the discussion if this is needed. Teacher posts should be frequent, supportive, content relevant and aimed at further developing student learning.

Email tool

Email provides a way to connect individually with students if this is required. The Send Email tool provides a flexible way for academics to send a message to one or more students. Students will not see who else the message was sent to. This is useful if, for example, you want to send a reminder e-mail to only students who are late in submitting an assignment.

Online Classroom (powered by Blackboard Collaborate)

The Online Classroom is a synchronous or ‘real time’ communication tool that can provide personal interaction between the lecturer and students. It can held ameliorate the sense of isolation that some students may feel in the online environment without real time communication with other students and the teacher.

Voice tools

Learnline contains a range of voice tools. These include asynchronous tools such as voice email, voice board, voice presentation, voice podcaster, and synchronous (or real-time) video and voice in the Collaborate online classroom. Audio files can be used as an alternative to text where this is an effective way of communicating information and creating interest. MP3 and MP4 are the most popular and widely used audio file formats and will play on almost all desktop computers (Mac and PC) and personal audio players, such as smartphones and iPods. MP3 and MP4 file sizes are small compared to most alternatives.

This principle means providing opportunities for students to interact with each other, to work and learn collaboratively, and to generate a sense of belonging to a community of learners.

Reasons for collaboration

There are several reasons to encourage collaboration. Facilitating students to work together on a project is a useful method to implement a constructivist approach to learning. When students engage in collaborative learning to actively construct their knowledge, they will understand it better than if they just passively listen or read about it. Secondly, working together in groups is a common requirement in the workplace, and effective teamwork is one of our graduate attributes. Thirdly, working with other students helps with community building. This is particularly relevant in the online teaching mode, where we want to create the feeling that students are all part of an online community of learners.

We can distinguish two quite different forms of group work. Classroom discussion groups can be used to implement a more active learning approach within a classroom (face-to-face or online via Collaborate, discussion boards, blogs etc.). Arranging for small groups to discuss questions will encourage deeper learning. The new teaching spaces at CDU are designed to facilitate this.

Group projects involve small groups working across the semester on a common assignment. This method of working in groups is more typical of how groups will be used in the workplace. However, it is not without its risks, and its effectiveness, and how students will view it, will depend greatly on how well it is done.

Managing Collaboration

Group work needs to be carefully planned, and monitored on an ongoing basis. The Groups tool in Learnline provides a good means of monitoring the progress of groups, and the contributions of group members. Each group can then have their own tools such as discussion board, blogs, wikis or Collaborate online classroom.

It is particularly important to explain to students that learning to work in groups is a key intended learning outcome, every bit as important as the task they are working on. The assessment should emphasise the group outcome over the individual contributions.

Learnline Tool

Related Learnline tools

Discussion Boards

The discussion forums can be used to promote communication in an academically non-threatening environment between students who are studying in different delivery modes, at the lecturer’s discretion and if this is appropriate to the unit outcomes and learning activities.

Online Classroom (powered by Blackboard Collaborate)

The Online Classroom is a synchronous or ‘real time’ communication tool that can provide personal interaction between the lecturer and students. The Online Classroom can be used for a range of activities that allows for collaboration between students, and between the lecturer and students. Activities that may be conducted in the online classroom include:

    • Formal lectures and tutorials
    • Discussion of course content
    • Viewing of third party content e.g. websites and multimedia e.g. YouTube
    • Student presentations for assessment
    • Break out groups to aid group work
    • Creation of a student classroom that allows students to engage with each other and
    • Student consultations.


A Wiki is a collaborative tool that allows students to contribute and modify one or more pages of unit related materials, providing a means of sharing and collaboration. Pages can be created and edited quickly, while tracking changes and additions, allowing for effective collaboration between multiple writers. A Wikis can be set up for all students to contribute to or Wikis can be created for specific groups to have a space to collaborate.

The principle of Feedback is focused on students being given effective and prompt information on their learning progress. Giving feedback should be viewed as a developmental process which aims to help students know what their weaknesses and strengths are and how they can improve in their learning. Therefore feedback should be an ongoing practice throughout the learning period. Some examples include:

  • During the learning process to affirm understanding or point out misconception. This is a two way process where the learners provide feedback on their learning experience and the teacher responds accordingly
  • On formative assessment to allow students to assess progress in their learning
  • On summative assessment (graded) to let students determine their overall understanding of a particular content area.

The following are characteristics of good feedback:

  • It should be worded positively and supportively
  • It should be clear and constructive
  • It should demonstrate what good performance is e.g. through the use of rubrics
  • It should advise on how to improve performance
  • It should be prompt.

Some of the things you can do to manage and enhance feedback in an online environment are as follows:

  • Have clear instructions about how the feedback will be given and how it can accessed
  • Have multiple avenues for communicating feedback e.g. email, the discussion board, on assignments scripts, through the grade centre or announcements; the choice will depend on the nature of the feedback and whether it is directed at an individual or a group
  • Provide opportunities for students to solicit feedback through queries
  • Where possible and appropriate, use online self-assessment questions that have automated feedback
  • Have information about when students should expect feedback on their queries and assessment and this should be within a reasonable timeframe to allow for effective utilization of the feedback
  • Use the rubric tool on Blackboard for grading, where appropriate
  • As a final note, feedback should ideally be underpinned by continuous dialogue between the teacher and the student(s) so that it becomes a natural part of the learning process and not just a formal endeavour.
Learnline Tool

Related Learnline tools


The Announcement Tool provides a time efficient way for academic staff to provide whole class feedback or follow up on tutorials, activities or assessments. When providing feedback lecturers can highlight key areas that were done well as well as areas where follow up is required. The announcement can be used to direct students to additional activities or resources to improve performance.

Discussion board

Teachers should be active in providing feedback on the discussion board by using strategies such as weaving together the main discussion points, summarising key ideas and reframing and refocusing the discussion if this is needed. Teacher posts should be frequent, supportive, content relevant and aimed at further developing student learning.

Email tool

The 'Send Email' allows academics to provide directed feedback to one or more students. Students will not see who else received the message.

Grade centre

The Grade Centre is a powerful area of Learnline. Assessment feedback via marked up assignments using the ‘in-line’ grading tool and lecturer comments can be provided to students through the Grade Centre. Students see the Grade Centre, access marked assignments and feedback through ‘My Grades’. This is also the location where they can view their grades in columns for each assessment item and a cumulative total of their mark for the semester if this feature has been set up in the unit.

Rubric tool

The Rubric tool in Learnline allows the production of an electronic rubric which provides students with clear indication of what they need to do meet the different grade levels (e.g. F, P, C, D and HD) in relation to the various assessment criteria for an assessment item. The Learnline Rubric tool is linked to the Grade Centre. It can be used to provide quick feedback to students linked to the marking criteria.  

CDU students come from a range of racial, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. They have different preferred learning styles and abilities, a range of physical abilities and use a variety of learning technologies. The principle of ‘Inclusiveness’ recognises this diversity and the importance of teaching practices and learning design that support the academic success and wellbeing of all students.

In the online environment inclusiveness can be considered in terms of:

  • Teaching practices
  • English language
  • Indigenous students
  • International students
  • User interface design (usability)
  • Technical design (accessibility).

The sections below contain some practical strategies and approaches for inclusive practices within the online academic environments.

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The student experience is strongly influenced by teaching practices. Inclusive teaching practices enable students to engage and learn effectively.

Those tutors that really care about you, and care about your learning, I care about making an effort into those assignments to give to them, because, although it’s not, I feel like I’m letting them down a bit, because of the amount of effort you can tell they’ve invested in me, I sort of feel that I should make an effort (Thomas 2002, p. 432)

Strategies for inclusive teaching practices include:

  • Check that this unit is at the right level for your student:
    • If there are no pre-requisites make sure that they have the assumed knowledge (e.g. not doing a Year 3 unit in their first year of study).
  • Provide clear expectations about expectations:
    • Academic and behavioural expectations should be clearly explained and guidance offered to students of how to achieve academic success
    • Coordinate and stimulate rich exchanges and interactions between diverse students
    • Respond promptly to student enquiries and emails.
  • Build safe and inclusive learning environments:
    • Get to know students individually
    • Create an atmosphere in which students are encouraged to interact with each other
    • Handle sensitive or controversial topics without silencing minority opinion or privileging dominant voices
    • Make the course interesting and engaging
    • provide students  with time to prepare responses, particularly oral responses  (for example, for the next tutorial).
  • Develop guidelines for strong group work practices:
    • Communicate clear expectations about participation in group work
    • Pose questions or issues that students can discuss in pairs
    • Structure tasks so that international and domestic students are grouped together
    • Organise group work so that diversity of experience and knowledge are necessary for successfully completing the task.
  • Build a formative assessment into your unit in the first 3-4 weeks:
    • If students do not have the skills needed, make sure that they get learning support early
    • If it is really obvious that this unit is too difficult for the student, discuss this with them before the census date, so they have the opportunity to withdraw without penalty.
  • Explain Assessment expectations:
    • Explain the purpose of the assessment and the subject content that will be assessed
    • Provide students with the assessment criteria and explain how marks will be allocated
    • Outline the requirements of exams and model the type of response required
    • Where possible vary the type of assessment tasks used
    • Plan learning activities that prepare students for assessment tasks
    • Provide clear feedback with advice on how they can improve.
    • Offer whole group oral or written feedback after assignments have been returned focusing on main issues that arose and what students can do to improve their performance.

“English language is vital to teaching, learning and assessment in higher education” (Arkoudis 2013)

Many students enter university with written, oral and academic language skills sufficient to commence their studies, but need to develop these skills further to successfully complete their courses.

It is important to provide students with opportunities to develop these skills by providing scaffolded English language support throughout each course. Some ways of doing this include:

  • Provide clearly written content:
    • Summarise discussion (oral or on discussion boards) from time to time,highlighting the key points, so student can follow the discussion
    • Provide explicit instruction and guidelines for tasks and activities
    • Explain assessment task criteria and expectations explicitly
    • Provide clear definitions in everyday English for more complex language and concepts
    • Provide scaffolding to support students into academic writing tasks.
  • Provide timely and constructive feedback:
    • Give students written assignments early in the semester in order to give feedback
    • Provide feedback that students can act on to improve their writing and other skills.
  • Make online or face to face lectures or tutorials accessible:
    • Outline the main points of the lecture
    • Highlight key questions or issues that will be addressed
    • Provide a lecture outline
    • Define new or unfamiliar words
    • Reduce jargon and slang
    • Summarise important information at key points
    • Record lectures so students can listen to them again
    • Conclude with a summary of the main points and highlight take home messages
    • Speak clearly and at a medium pace: don’t talk too fast
    • When speaking, regularly pause, summarise and focus on the key message (don’t ramble on).
  • Explain Assessment expectations:
    • If English language is being assessed, indicate in the criteria the aspects of English language that will be assessed and the marks allocated for this.
  • Utilise available resources and expertise:
    • Collaborate with SALL in assisting students to develop writing practices.
  • Utilise relevant CDU Services:

“It is undeniable that our campuses are highly racialised spaces. For students or staff who do not fit the mould, our institutions can appear unfriendly and exclusive. They are spaces in which one cultural form of knowledge is enshrined as normal and natural” (Larkin 2012).

Strategies and approaches that support Indigenous learners:

  • Build safe and inclusive learning environments:
    • Create activities where the expression of different views, ideas and beliefs is encouraged and respected
    • Recognise students as individuals and take account of their different interests, needs and backgrounds
    • Be aware of gender issues, for example a male lecturer/tutor may ask a female student to assist another female student; don’t call men ‘boys’
    • Dress appropriately.
  • Indigenisation of the curriculum and learning material:
    • Include Indigenous perspectives in the curriculum
    • Include Indigenous input into the development of curriculum
    • Incorporate learning activities and content that engage students’ prior experience and knowledge
    • Develop activities that require the use of high level cognitive skills (e.g. analysing, conjecturing, questioning, evaluating, synthesising, critiquing)
    • Build consistency across units.
  • Apply relevant and appropriate assessment:
    • Ensure assessment tasks are explicit, objective and transparent
    • Vary the type and form of assessment
    • Develop assessment relevant to students’ interests and aspirations
    • Offer variety, choice and flexibility in assessment
    • Make sure that assessments are culturally appropriate, for example give Indigenous students options that relate to ‘men’s business’ or ‘women’s business’ .
  • Utilise Relevant CDU services

‘Globally, more people than ever before are choosing to undertake an international education. The large-scale movement of students between education systems means that academics need to consider the learning and teaching implications of the increased number of international students in university classes” (Arkoudis, 2006)

The following strategies and approaches are ones that support International students in western higher education contexts. These strategies are drawn primarily from Arkoudis (2006):

  • Internationalising the curriculum:
    • Include international perspectives
    • Interpret issues within a global context
    • Connecting students to international research
    • Encouraging effective communication with students from diverse cultural backgrounds.
  • Adopting an educative approach to plagiarism:
    • Highlight the reasons why referencing is used in your discipline area and give students examples of correct referencing styles
    • Discuss issues concerning plagiarism
    • Bring in expert support from SALL
    • Model the use of referencing
    • In discussion of readings, highlight sections where the author has synthesised the main ideas and referenced them
    • Develop tasks that ask students to evaluate and analyse ideas they have read, so the focus is more on critiquing the readings rather than on comprehension.
  • Supporting students in developing critical thinking skills:
    • Explain and demonstrate what critical thinking skills are required in your disciplinary area
    • Provide students with focused and staged reading questions to assist them to access the main ideas presented in a text. Questions may cover:
      • literal meaning (describe, define, explain)
      • interpretive meaning (analyse, test, calculate, apply, demonstrate) and
      • applied meaning (evaluate, compare, assess) .
    • Discuss different points of view, and include activities that require students to negotiate between different points of view.

Usability in the online environment involves minimizing system and learning related frustrations so students can progress with their learning without ‘unnecessary hassles, delays, or extra steps’ (Shank 2009).

Content should be placed in Learnline in a way that is easy for students to find and use.

  • Make content easy to find and read:
    • Use consistent design and layout within and across units in a course (use a template approach)
    • Be consistent in the way you name things, including file names
    • Enable students to find their way around with as few ‘clicks’ as possible. Remember that not all students have access to new equipment or superfast broadband
    • Give users enough time to read and use content.
  • Write for the web:
    • Break up the text into easily scanned paragraphs
    • Use short paragraphs, bulleted lists and headings
    • Make sure there is enough contrast between text and the background
    • Don’t apply underline to words for emphasis, only links should be underlined
    • Make text readable and understandable
    • Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
  • Present content in predictable ways:
    • Make content appear and operate in predictable ways
    • Provide users with warnings (e.g. file types, opening content in a new window, things that will happen differently than previously).
  • Manage expectations
    • Let students know what to expect in terms of response times for emails and assessment feedback.

The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.
Tim Berners-Lee, Creator of World Wide Web

Content and activities in the online environment must be accessible to students with physical and other disabilities, as well as for ease of access by students and staff who use a range of technologies and devices. As well as being good practice, accessibility of learning content is a legal requirement all Australian educational institutions must comply with. Accessibility relates to the concept of universal design which is about making the technical design of online environments more accessible for everyone, and should consider the following strategies:

  • Optimise the learning environment for use by students with disabilities:
    • Provide text alternatives for non-text content
    • Provide captions and alternatives for audio and video content
    • Make content adaptable; and make it available to assistive technologies
    • Use sufficient contrast to make things easy to see and hear
    • When linking to files in your Learnline site indicate the file type and file size, along with a brief description of what is contained in the file
    • Use the alt text function when adding images and describe the image
    • Make all functionality keyboard accessible:
      • Do not use content that causes seizures
      • Help users navigate and find content.
  • Optimise images
    • Use an image editor to reduce images to their required size before inserting them to Learnline
    • Optimise images and other media for faster downloads.
  • Use accessible file formats (see the OLT 2013 document referenced below for details)
    • Use accessible files formats that can be opened on various devices, including on mobile devices
    • Be aware of file formats that do not open or display well on mobile devices or on different platforms
    • Don’t attach large files which take a long time to download
    • Use the Attachments functionality in Learnline to attach files, rather than creating a hyperlink to the document from within the content’s text.
  • Use accessible software:
    • Select accessible software and platforms
    • Maximize compatibility with current and future technologies.
Learnline Tool

Related Learnline tools

Discussion boards

An introductions discussion forum provides a way for students to start to establish social connections and relationships with each other and with the lecturer. This can enhance student feelings of belonging, aid retention and provide a mechanism for building a peer support network both in the virtual space and geographically.
Discussion board forums can also be used to promote student discussion on a range of content related issues in ways that encourage the expression of diverse knowledges and perspectives. Ongoing lecturer moderation is needed to address conflict and to manage situations where inclusivity is compromised.

Groups tool

Groups can be set up in Learnline in a number of ways. These can be defined, gated (i.e. password protected) spaces or they can be set up so that students can self-select membership into groups. Groups can be established to conduct group work or as needs based spaces for identified student communities. Groups can be provided with a range of communication tools, specific to the group, including group email, blogs, discussion board, journal and wiki.

Social tools

Social Learning tools in Learnline provide students with tools to connect and build social relationships with other students outside of the formal learning spaces of their units. The social tools include the ability for staff and students to set up a profile with a photo, create networks with people in their units, at an institution level or connect with others who have similar academic interests at other Blackboard institutions around the globe. The use of ‘Spaces’ allows students to set up their own communication and collaboration spaces, for study groups, group projects, interest groups or other learning purposes.


Structured learning

Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (3rd Ed.) (2007). Teaching for quality learning at University. Maidenhead: Open University Press/McGraw-Hill.

Office of Learning and Teaching. Higher Education Accreditation

West, D., Cameron, J. & Wozniak, H. (Feb 2011). CDU Unit Levels: A guide to the development of learning outcomes, learning activities and assessment for units at 100 to 500 level.


Active learning

Designing for Active Learning Online with Learning Design Templates

Active Learning in the Online Environment: The integration of student-generated audio files

Ideas for Active Online Learning

Active Learning at UQ Teaching and Educational Development Institute

Active Learning in an Online Environment - a Self-paced tutorial

Creating Excitement through Active Learning opportunities in Fully Online Courses in Sociology


Teacher presence

Ekmekci, O. (2013). Being there: Establishing instructor presence in an online learning environment. Higher Education Studies, 3(1), 29-38. doi:10.5539/hes.v3n1p29
Establishing an Online Teaching Presence

Lowenthal, P. R., & Parscal, T. (2008). Teaching presence. The Learning Curve, 3(4), 1-2, 4.
Online Learning Insights: A Blog about Open and Online Education

Shea, P., Li, C-S., Swan, K., & Pickett, A. (2005). Developing learning community in online asynchronous college courses: The role of teaching presence. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 9 (4), 59-82.



Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M., & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3). http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/675/1313

Kreijns, K., Kirschner, P. A., & Jochems, W. (2003). Identifying the pitfalls for social interaction in computer-supported collaborative learning environments: a review of the research. Computers in Human Behavior, 19(3), 335-353. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0747-5632(02)00057-2

The Office of Learning and Teaching has useful resources on designing group work, such as the online module “Building groupwork skills”.



Nicol, D. (2004). Rethinking Formative Assessment in HE: a theoretical model and seven principles of good feedback practice.

Shute, V. J. (2008). Focus on formative feedback. Review of educational research, 78(1), 153-189.



Teaching practices

Arkoudis, S. (2006) Teaching International Students: Strategies to enhance learning.  Melbourne: CSHE 

CDU Online Orientation

Flinders University (2013) Summaries of the Key Points from the Learning to Teach Inclusively Modules. Centre for University Teaching 

Probert, B (2013) Increasing student retention and success at Charles Darwin University: a proposal for action. Darwin: CDU (Requires CDU staff login)

Reder, S. (2014) Lifelong and Lifewide Learning: How do we understand and ‘measure’ it? PowerPoint presentation given at Charles Darwin University, 8 October 2014 (.PPT 1MB)

Reder, S. (2014) Longitudinal Approaches to Research and Evaluation in adult Education. PowerPoint presentation given at Charles Darwin University, 9 October 2014 (.PPT 1MB)

The Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning at Portland State University


English language

Arkoudis, S. (2013) English language standards and claims of soft marking. In Marginson, S. (Ed) Tertiary education policy in Australia. Melbourne: CSHE.

Barthel, A. (2013) Development of Charles Darwin University English language proficiency framework, Charles Darwin University (pdf) (requires a CDU staff login)

MacGibbon, L. (2014) Academic Essay Writing for students at Charles Darwin University (.pdf 1.84mb), Charles Darwin University


Indigenous students

CDU Indigenous Learning and Teaching Plan 2013-2015 (pdf requires CDU staff login)

CDU (2011) Indigenous Voices: Teaching us better

Christie, M & Asmar, C (2012) Indigenous knowers and knowledge in university teaching. Chapter 13 in L Hunt and D Chalmers (eds), University Teaching in Focus. Camberwell, Vic: ACER.

Creative Spirits (2013) Barriers to Aboriginal Education

Larkin, S. (2012) Leading the way: the role of Indigenous staff in unlocking potential. NTEU Future of Higher Education Conference 2012. University of Sydney.


International students

Dealing with Diverse Cohort of Students: Inclusive Assessment Practices for International Students, panel discussion at Charles Darwin University, 22 October 2014 (view Collaborate session recording)


User interface design (usability)

Monaco, E. (2012) Improving e-Learning Course Design with Usability Testing, International conference: The Future of Education 2nd Edition, Florence 7-8 June

OLT (2013) Usability, Accessibility and Copyright for Files in Learnline: A best Practice Guide

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Commonwealth) with reference to the Disability Standards for Education

Shank, P (2009) Usability Issues that Impact Online Learning, in Faculty Focus Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0


Technical design (accessibility)

OLT (2013) Usability, Accessibility and Copyright for Files in Learnline: A best Practice Guide (.doc)

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Commonwealth) with reference to the Disability Standards for Education

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0