A major challenge when designing learning materials is to create materials that stimulate and support learners to engage fully in the learning process and develop the intended competences. The examples in this section show a range of learning methods, techniques and activities.

Integrated Learning Process

How will the materials support learning? The learning pathway in the materials is designed to give practical expression to the overall approach to learning and teaching.

Select appropriate learning activities

When selecting learning activities consider the nature and level of the course, the specific learning outcomes, the main underpinning and teaching strategies, the experience and cognitive level of the target audience, and the context in which learning takes place. Select diverse activities that challenge and engage learners at a range of complexity levels. Bloom’s taxonomy can help you think about appropriate progression and sequencing of activities.

Build in feedback to deepen learning

Feedback is a critical and integral component of effective learning. Appropriate feedback and commentary on activities enables learner to experience a form of interaction and discussion that normally takes place in lively classrooms. At the same time meaningful feedback enables learners to assess their own performance and progress. Written feedback should encourage learners to think critically about what they have done and enable them to use mistakes as opportunities for deeper understanding.     


  • How People Learn: A learning spiral gives a theoretical basis for the notion of designing a learning spiral in the learning materials (75KB, 5 pages).
  • Link to a JISC-Open University Learning Design Initiative resource, Authentic Learning Activities, which provides information and case studies describing work-based and field-based activities that can be integrated into the learning environment.
  • This is a Saide reflection on Scaffolding Learning in Course Materials (36KB, 2 pages). 
  • This is a Saide menu of online Learning Activities and a description of how they might be used. An example is provided to illustrate each type of activity (61KB, 12 pages).
  • This University of Leicester document template, Develop Your e-Tivities, will help you design a learning pathway for an online learning activity (or e-tivity) (53KB, 2 pages).
  • Link to JISC Design Studio's Feedback, offering a reflection on the importance of feedback to promote effective online learning.

Activity Design

Activities play an important role in helping learners engage actively with the materials. It is important to design a diversity of activities.            


Learner Support 

In a distance education course, whether presented in print or online, it is assumed that most of the teaching happens through the careful selection and development of relevant learning resources. A well-designed set of learning resources must enable learners to engage in guided self-study. The ‘teaching voice’ in the materials and digitally supported resources must guide, nudge, challenge and support learners throughout. Pre-empt possible questions that learners might have and include adequate information and support, to increase the likelihood that learners remain motivated to progress along the learning pathway.

A range of learner support mechanisms are built into the course, e.g. tutorials/contact sessions, peer support sessions, and support in the workplace (mentoring) – some facilitated by online technologies such as blogs, forums, email, Skype and web conferencing tools. The degree and level of support will take into account learners’ prior work and study experience, and could include study skills and academic support.        



The layout features of any set of learning resources, whether in print, digital or online, should enable the user to navigate easily through the learning resources. This is more than merely providing a specific look and feel. Layout involves decisions about:

  • The structure and features you want to include, such as module outcomes, introduction to the module, use of icons, use of graphics and tables, overview of unit headings, learning activities, learning activity grid for learners to write their answers, feedback on activities, case studies, extracts from selected articles, summary, glossary, and list of references.
  • The technical features, e.g. levels of headings; font and size of headings, main text, case studies, extracts, labels for graphics and tables; and spacing between headings and text and between paragraphs, sections and units.
  • The online features and functions, e.g. menu of elements, seamless integration of the different elements, navigability of the site, introduction to the site, clearly marked internal and external links that are fully operational, and built-in functions support.   


Design Review Questions

Now that you have thought more intensively about designing learning activities, think about the following:

  • How do the learning activities align to the purpose and outcomes of the module and course?
  • How are the learning activities informed by the underpinning learning and teaching strategies and approaches?
  • Are there sufficient learning activities, at the appropriate level, but still challenging and engaging?
  • Are the learning activities sufficiently diverse to enable learners to acquire the stated competences and achieve the learning outcomes?
  • What is the alignment between the activities and your overall assessment strategy?
  • Have you built in supportive and constructive feedback?
  • What layout features will help learners to access the materials more easily?