How Do I Create an Online Course? – Part 3: Planning Learning Activities

How Do I Create an Online Course? – Part 3: Planning Learning Activities

This is part three of my series of how to create an online course. The aim of this series is to make you familiar with the basics of planning and developing a learning design to successfully implement a blended learning environment. As with face-to-face courses, online courses also require targeted planning of the learning process and the learning environment, not to mention the fact that teachers have already developed their own teaching style tailored to the needs of the learners. This introduction takes into account that many teachers or learning designers have to create an online course for the first time and without appropriate models and working materials that can be easily accessed. See also Part one and Part two.

How Do I Plan My Learning Activities?

For the planning of learning activities in the context of learning design, the following criteria must necessarily be considered. In addition to a description of the criterion, the following table also lists various questions that arise for each aspect:

Dimension TaskQuestions
ContextNeeds assessment, overall goal, learning environment *Why is this course needed?
*What is the desired purpose of the course? Who is the audience?
*What is the innovative idea for the course?


Understanding the target group, previous experience,

motivation to learn

*What are their needs? *What do they already know about the learning content?
*How can you help them to achieve the learning objectives?
*Are there any specifics you should take into account when planning? (e.g. age, socio-economic background, media skills, previous online experience, access to IT, educational background, academic skills, motivation, interest in the subject, learning attitude, relationship with peers, team/collaboration skills)
    Task Analysis, Learning Goals, Constructive Alignment (1) Consider what tasks learners need to complete *What steps do learners need to take to achieve the learning goals? – Plan modules from the learner’s perspective.
    *What are the main topics?
    *What knowledge must learners acquire?
    *What mistakes can learners make when they learn certain skills?
    *What misunderstandings can occur?
    *Procedure as a table: Topic – Learning objective – Task for each learning objective, previous knowledge
    Learning contents and activities After the learning objectives (intended learning outcomes)

    and the needs of the learners are defined and planned in
    detail, which are necessary to achieve the learning
    objectives, the structure, speed and contents of the
    modules must be determined. Challenges: Balancing time and
    learning process, access to resources (time, money,
    support), mentoring (2)

    *Learning Goal
    *Teaching Strategy
    *Potential Learning Activity
    *Resources, Material, Time
    Examination performance and evaluation Clarify how performance review takes place. Observe

    Constructive Alignment. Formative or summative form of

    *How have learners achieved their learning goals?
    *Develop strategies for assessing learners’ knowledge
    enhancement, skills development, etc.
    *What form of online assessment takes place? (3)
      Learning environment Selection of suitable media for the course *Which media should be used? (e.g. videos, websites, documents, blogs, learning journals, discussions)
      *How good are you with a particular medium?
      *Are you ready to leave your comfort zone?

      Tab. 1: Dimensions of the learning design (author’s own illustration)

      Here are some additional information on the different notes in the table:

      (1) Constructive Alignment: This is a goal-oriented teaching-learning concept that focuses on both the activities and the assessment of the achievement of learning goals (cf. Biggs & Tang 2007).

      (2) For different teaching strategies you there are various possible methods available:

      Teaching StrategyDescription Examples
      Direct instructionTeacher-led and facilitated teaching. Common applications

      include introduction to topics and step-by-step procedures

      Lectures, demonstrations, exercise and practice, didactic

      questioning, modelling.

      Indirect instruction Teacher-supported, but generally student-centredCase studies, reflective essays, concept mapping,

      collaborative learning, discussion forums, guided inquiry,

      Interactive Learning Relies heavily on student interaction and is more similar

      to the concept of the classroom upside down

      Role-playing, debates, problem-solving, brainstorming.
      Experiential Learning Emphasis is on the learning process and active learning.

      Examples: simulations, laboratory experiments, field
      experience/placements, mentoring, cognitive

      Self-learning The focus is on the individual learner and

      self-improvement. Can be for a single student or a small
      group of students

      Research work, self-directed study, learning contracts.

      Tab. 2: Teaching strategies and methods (author’s own illustration)

      (3) Use of evaluation grids (rubrics): A particularly popular evaluation framework for online and mixed learning are rubrics. Their popularity is partly based on the level of detail: “Rubrics help to define the characteristics of a quality task and help the student to understand the task and assessment expectations. Rubrics also provide a range of achievement by defining categories that cover the range of possible outcomes, from basic to exceptional task performance” (Palloff & Pratt, 2009, p. 33).

      Further reading:

      A General Advice for all Learning Designs

      Do not be afraid to ask for help. Ask students, colleagues, IT, and media professionals for support, training, and resources. Always remember that to successfully implement media, you need to focus on what you want your students to do and how you will measure their progress and success. Just because social media is popular does not mean it is part of your course. Another important factor is the decision whether you will have individual or group lessons: Are the media easy to use for group communication, editing, etc.? Keep in mind that the choice of media should be weighed against “ideal” media, taking into account time and resources – especially considering the students’ access to the media and the components required (e.g. download times, need for microphones, need for plug-ins, etc.) Are the media more useful as a tool for “content delivery”, “interaction” or “assessment”? You are encouraged to take risks with media and strategies.

      Infobox: Methods for effective course design

      • Brainstorming (individually or as a group)
      • Lecture (direction and guidance by video, text, audio etc.)
      • case studies
      • Discussions (e.g. current, playground, general invitation, critical incident)
      • Reflection activities
      • Role plays (e.g. within a scenario or the larger discussion)
      • Writing a diary
      • Student-led discussions
      • Problem-solving tasks
      • Small group work
      • Service Learning Projects
      • Simulations, serious games
      • Apprenticeships / internships / practical experience
      • Individual or targeted projects

      INFOBOX – Resources for Open Educational Resources (OER)


      In the summary of all the above-mentioned aspects, it must be noted that the development of a learning design for an online course can be very time-consuming. In the context of this introduction, it has already been pointed out that special attention should be paid to the principles and quality of the design and development of the learning design as well as the organisation and planning of the learning activities.

      In view of the large amount of information needed in your learning design, please do not be discouraged from taking the first steps towards your own online course. The development of an online course also goes hand in hand with personal development. Old habits must occasionally be questioned and new ones tried out. In accordance with the saying “practice makes perfect,” it is not absolutely necessary to implement all the above-mentioned aspects at the same time, but rather, in terms of continuous optimisation of one’s own courses, care should be taken to ensure that a regular development of the quality of teaching and the success of the studies can be achieved.


      Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for Quality Learning at University: What the Student Does. 4th ed. Maidenhead: Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.

      Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2009). Web 2.0 technologies and community building online. In 25th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning (pp. 4-7). Madison, Wisconsin.

      Prineas, M., & Cini, M. (2011). Assessing learning in online education: The role of technology in improving student outcomes. Occasional Paper12, 6-15. URL

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      Dr. Maik Arnold is Professor for Non-Profit-Management and Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Transfer at University of Applied Science Dresden.