Introduction to Blended Learning Design

Week 2 Objectives

Observe & Consider

Blended learning requires a thoughtful design process

The key to a successful blended learning environment is bringing face-to-face and online activities together in a seamless and complimentary way. That can mean there are many moving parts for which to keep track to minimize confusion and take advantage of the opportunities for deeper learning and improved outcomes. To help manage the process of aligning activates, assessments, and course content with the various technology choices and classroom management strategies, this week we'll turn our attention to instructional design.

In addition to helping manage the work involved with creating a blended learning course, instructional design process works to make thoughtful choices that directly benefit students. Blended Learning in Higher Education (Garrison & Vaughan) concentrates on seven basic principles for blended learning and the blended learning design process:

  1. Design for open communication & trust
  2. Design for critical reflection and discourse
  3. Create and sustain sense of community
  4. Support purposeful inquiry
  5. Ensure students sustain collaboration
  6. Ensure that inquiry moves to resolution
  7. Ensure assessment is congruent with intended learning outcomes

To that end, we'll look at several design approaches to help work toward these principles.

Please keep in mind that it is often a good idea to initiate blended learning by starting small and growing over time. The approaches we discuss this week can be applied just one activity or an entire course. If you ever need assistance, remember there are support units across campus like LSS and DoIT Academic Technology that are glad to help.

Observe & Consider

To get us started, this podcast with Jonathan Klein and Theresa Pesavento of UW-Madison L&S Learning Support Services and Ron Cramer and Chad Shorter of DoIT Academic Technology helps lay a foundation for further investigation of blended learning design.

Download the .mp3 (right-click and 'save link as')

Share & Connect

Blended Learning Design Approaches

Observe & Consider

Garrison and Vaughan point to many critical elements of a blended learning course environment, such as designing for open communication, trust, and critical reflection and discourse. So how do you begin to design a blended learning course or a module with these elements in mind? How do you identify learning goals that are fundamental to these elements? What is your road map for ensuring that the lessons that you plan and the tasks that you assign actually help students meet those goals?

For this, it is helpful to consider a few well outlined and defined instructional design approaches that can guide you toward these goals. All of these approaches offer a conceptual framework for thinking about your students' learning and a rough template for how you might begin with planning your course. While each approach offers a slightly different set of instructional design principles, you will notice that there can be quite a bit of overlap between elements of the various approaches that borrow from similar teaching pedagogies. All of these approaches are not necessarily unique to blended learning course design and highlight good pedagogical practices and course design for any learning environment. Given that, keep in mind that none of these are strictly prescriptive and are flexible design outlines; it is entirely possible to blend parts of multiple approaches into your own unique design approach that is the best combination for your personal course design needs.

Before we dive in, it's important to note that we often recommend starting small and growing over time. To that end, each of the design approaches below can serve as a guide for every variety of instructional project -- from one activity to an entire course. Also keep in mind there are support units across campus like LSS and DoIT Academic Technology that are glad to help if you need assistance for your specific project.

Primary Design Approaches:

Backward Design

University of Indiana Center for Teaching & Learning

Backward design is an approach that makes learning outcomes the driver of course design decisions. The central question in backward design is "What do you want your students to know and be able to do by the end of your course?" The backward design process guides the instructor to ask and answer the following (in this order): 1) Identify desired results, 2) determine acceptable evidence, and finally, 3) plan learning experiences and instruction. Backward design is a widely studied and implemented design model and perhaps the most commonly used one. It is also a fundamental model for educational innovation--here on our UW-Madison campus and elsewhere--that encourages instructors and course designers to be attentive to student learning goals, the course outcomes, and efficient course and curriculum design.

In the clip below, Professor Erica Halverson in the School of Education at UW-Madison talks about curricular redesign and how the backward design framework can help you think through these issues:

Learn more about backward design and the principles of the backward design framework:

Prototype or Rapid Prototype Design (also called Iterative Design)

Camosaun Centre for Excellence in Teaching & Learning

The prototype design model is also frequently called iterative design, modular design, or scalable design. The prototype design process is based on the principle of incremental course redesign combined with constant reflection on how well this redesign worked; the instructor redesigns portions of the course (or modules) one at a time and immediately evaluates their efficacy, makes changes, and then "retests" the module before moving onto another course component. These course modules that the instructor designs can mean anything from a 10-minute segment of the face-to-face lecture to an entire 2-week-long lesson in the course curriculum. For this reason, the prototype model can be especially helpful to instructors who want to progressively move from an entirely face-to-face teaching model to a blended learning model and are not able to do an entire course redesign for a blended model before the course begins.

Read and learn more about prototype design and the principles of the prototype framework:

Multimodal design


The multimodal design model focuses on the delivery of the course content and materials and encourages the instructor to provide as many learning modalities as possible to give students a choice of pathways to learning that correspond to their individual learning strengths and skills. This means incorporating various methods of face-to-face instruction/learning and online learning in the course with the goal of responding to as many students' learning styles as possible. The multimodal design approach IS blended learning at its core, but how it is structured can vary widely: the face-to-face and online environments can "duplicate" lectures and activities, the instructor could primarily use a face-to-face or online environment but incorporate diverse activities in the other non-primary environment, or the instructor could include a true mix of both environments. The key concept is that the multimodal model promotes multiple points of access to materials in each environment and learning space (for example, the online environment might be a computer lab one day, an at-home assignment another day, and an online lecture the next).

Read and learn more about multimodal design and the principles of the multimodal framework:

Observe & Consider

Other design approaches:

Learner-driven design

The learner-driven design model is frequently used in K-12 education and encourages student-instructor collaboration, to some extent, in order to set learning goals and objectives. This design model enlists the users (students) to be active goal setters in their own learning and ask them to participate in a "feedback loop" of sorts that will ultimately determine the learning objectives of the course. Learner-driven design concepts are fundamental in all instructional design approaches, since all approaches are student-centered and consider the best pathway to effective student learning when designing a course. The strict learner-driven design model takes this student-centered curriculum one step further and relies heavily on classroom collaboration and the role of the instructor as the "facilitator" in the students' learning process.

University of West Georgia Distance Education

Read and learn more about learner-driven design and the principles of the learner-driven framework:

Consider these other valuable recources that can help facilitate a design process:

Share & Connect

Now that we have considered some of the key blended learning design principles and a few formalized design approaches, share your ideas about these design approaches and principles:

Post your thoughts to the Week 2 discussion forum, then take a moment to respond to one of your peers. This discussion will help guide us in Weeks 3 & 4 of our session, where we'll focus on outlining some specific rubrics, tools, and strategies for applying elements of these design approaches to your personal blended learning course.

Learning Objectives

Observe and consider Observe & Consider

Perspectives on Learning Objectives

As we discussed in the previous section, well articulated learning objectives are a foundation for any blended learning design process because they establish what you want your students to know or do upon completion of your course. As we look to further explore the learning objectives, it is worth considering an objectives significance from various perspectives. Well crafted learning objectives allow all stakeholders in the course to share a common understanding of what the course is about.

Instructors & Course Designers

For instructors and course designers, the value of a learning objective is perhaps most obvious. In short, learning objectives enable the blended learning design process to happen. Learning objectives provide road map for a course and help align content, assessments and activities to round out the learning experience.


Well developed learning objectives can also help students to understand better their own learning process. When the goals are explicit, students can more purposefully approach readings, activities, and assignments and more easily make connections that deepen the learning experience. Furthermore, students may be able to articulate skills more clearly and link their learning experiences to a real-world context.

Institutions, Departments and Programs

Though our primary focus remains at the course level, learning objectives can have significance beyond the course level. In thinking about how your course objectives take shape, it may be worth considering how programs, departments, and institutions might use learning objectives to help organize more holistic learning pathways for students. For example, our institution has the UW Essential Learning Outcomes help communicate to prospective students how a UW education will prepare them for life after graduation. At the same time, this communicates to prospective employers what skills and abilities a UW graduate will bring to an organization.

Departments and programs can also outline learning objectives that align with those institutional objectives but speak more specifically to how a program of study will prepare a student for a specific discipline.

Observe and consider Observe & Consider

Learning Objectives and Course Structure

objectives in scheme of course design
from UCF's Blended Learning Toolkit

Learning objectives might seem straightforward, but there are actually quite a number of considerations to make to ensure that an objective is complete and works to align with the various elements of a blended course. The diagram below outlines how objectives work at various levels of a course to build a the course structure and to help define the various assignments, activities, and assessments.

Anatomy of an Objective

A learning objective is a brief statement with several important characteristics:

While each characteristic above is an important component of a complete learning objective, it is worth spending a moment looking at the way in which the verb can link an objective to one of the six cognitive domains within Bloom's Taxonomy.

Learning Objective Verbs at Each Bloom Taxonomy Level

arrange, define, describe, duplicate, identify, label, list, match, memorize, name, order, outline, recognize, relate, recall, repeat, reproduce, select, state

classify, convert, defend, discuss, distinguish, estimate, explain, express, extend, generalize, give example(s), identify, indicate, infer, locate, paraphrase, predict, recognize, rewrite, report, restate, review, select, summarize, translate

apply, change, choose, compute, demonstrate, discover, dramatize, employ, illustrate, interpret, manipulate, modify, operate, practice, predict, prepare, produce, relate schedule, show, sketch, solve, use write

analyze, appraise, breakdown, calculate, categorize, classify, compare, contrast, criticize, derive, diagram, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, experiment, identify, illustrate, infer, interpret, model, outline, point out, question, relate, select, separate, subdivide, test

arrange, assemble, categorize, collect, combine, comply, compose, construct, create, design, develop, devise, explain, formulate, generate, plan, prepare, propose, rearrange, reconstruct, relate, reorganize, revise, rewrite, set up, summarize, synthesize, tell, write

appraise, argue, assess, attach, choose, compare, conclude, contrast, defend, describe, discriminate, estimate, evaluate, explain, judge, justify, interpret, relate, predict, rate, select, summarize, support, value

Now that we've established the component parts of a well-written objective, let's look review a few examples. Consider the table below and note the difference between the strong and weak objectives. As you review the chart, notice how the strong objectives include each of the essential components of an objective (listed above). At the same time, note how the weak objectives contain a non-descript verb and imprecise object.

Weak ObjectivesStrong Objectives

Know how to use t-tests and chi-square tests in data analysis

Describe the assumptions underlying t-tests and chi-square tests and use these tests to statistically compare two samples

Understand how to measure the association between a given risk factor and a disease

Define and calculate measures of association between a given risk factor and a disease.

Basic strategies for assessing environmental health hazards

List, describe, and compare the advantages and disadvantages of the basic strategies for assessing environmental health hazards

Know about Medicare and Medicaid

Compare and contrast Medicare and Medicaid with respect to political history, governmental roles, client eligibility, financing, benefits, and cost-sharing

Supplemental Resources

practice and apply Practice & Apply

Reflect on Learning Objectives and Your Course

  1. Does your program or department have well defined learning objectives or outcomes for students?
  2. If so, how do those objectives impact your course design, activities, and assessments?
  3. If you have learning objectives developed for your course, are they written in a way that is measurable and actionable?

Week 2 Closing & Checklist

End of Week 2

Thanks for completing Week 2 with us! In this week of our Blended Learning online workshop session, we:

Upcoming for Week 3

In Week 3 of this session, we will: