A Model to Guide the Adoption of Quality E-Learning: Foundational, Interactive and Transformational

We know that good e-learning and student course satisfaction comes from:

  • The educator’s expertise and support
  • The structure and coherence of the learning material and course – e.g. advanced organisers, clear presentation of learning objectives the structure of the learning content,  prior knowledge of subject matter to be acknowledged,
  • The stimulation of learning motivations –providing opportunities for students to be challenged, arouse curiosity and choice in activities, self-regulated learning opportunities
  • The facilitation of collaborative learning – implementation and support of collaborative learning practices (Paechter et al, 2010, p. 228).

There are many perspectives of e-learning that should be drawn on for the purpose of developing a model that will help to guide the adoption of e-learning within an educational system. White (2012) noted four distinct perspectives in approaches to e-learning definitions: technology-driven advocates who focus on the use of technology for learning; delivery-system-oriented adherents who view the accessibility of resources as more important; communication-oriented proponents who argue that communication, interactivity and collaboration are the keys to understanding e-learning; and educational-paradigm-oriented researchers who see e-learning as an improvement on any existing educational paradigm. In describing how to develop online courses, some models focus on the level of use of the technology (e.g. UTAS), whilst others focus on the level of student engagement (SAMR, Puentedura, 2011). Some models are more suited to thinking about how to create quality e-learning (e.g. Charles Sturt University, 2013), whilst others are more about describing what occurs during e-learning (e.g. Grattan Institute – Norton, 2013).

The model proposed here draws on a broad section of the literature. It is a morphological model and is intended to help educators make decisions about where they wish to start and head to, in their ongoing adoption of e-learning practices. Beginning at a foundational delivery mode of e-learning, can be confronting enough, without adding Web2.0 tools and components. It should be considered when introducing e-learning in an educational institution, that it is okay to begin with little steps!

Defining a common nomenclature

There are many definitions of online learning. Terms such as online, blended, flexible, e-learning, distance, distance online, and so on, are often used interchangeably and will mean different things according to the context in which they are defined. To develop a common nomenclature the following definitions are suggested:

e-Learning: literally electronic learning and generally refers to any instruction delivered on a computer or via mobile device by way of a CD-Rom, internet, or intranet. It includes content, instructional methods and how and can be synchronous (instructor led) or asynchronous (self-directed individual) (Bonk & Graham, 2006).

Online learning: “Online learning encompasses many technologies, ranging from taped lectures uploaded online, to interactive digital modules with in-built assessment, e-simulations and virtual worlds” (Norton 2013, p. 21). Online learning is the alternative to face-to-face, with all learning, content, instruction and communication (with lecturers or peers) delivered via the web.

Blended learning: a term used to denote the blend of face-to-face with web-supported learning. It seeks to do this via a blend of learning modalities, utilising such technologies as learning management systems, video conferencing, mobile devices as well as the more traditional face-to-face delivery (Oerlemans, May, & Hurle, 2007).

Flexible learning: generally refers to the flexible scheduling of classes outside of normal university hours and may include summer time, weekends or intensive blocks of time. A flexible learning experience may be delivered via online, blended or fully face-to-face.

Mobile learning (mLearning): learning opportunities delivered via a range of mobile and wireless computing devices, for example, available on a tablet or mobile phones. “It represents a next step in the journey with technology focussed teaching and learning, defining new ways for interactions and behaviours between learners, information, personal and mobile computing and telephony devices” (Oerlemans, Button, Partridge, & Hurle, 2006).

A model of online learning

The model suggested uses three modes, Foundational, Interactive and Transformational. For our purposes here a Foundational mode of online is defined as the minimum amount of content/instruction/communication required for a self-directed student to be able to successfully complete a unit/topic or theme from a distance (i.e. not on campus) with learning materials delivered via the web. I describe each in terms 4 core elements

  • The type and nature of the content to be learned or received by the student,
  • The instructional strategies are the methods for delivering this content and how students will engage with it,
  • The communication tools to be used between student and educator and between student and student, and
  • How the course will assess the knowledge gained by the student, how are outcomes assessed?

The modes described in the model are not intended to be a description of the quality of the online environment or an assessment of the overall learning experience, as it is acknowledged that different disciplines require very different learning experiences. It is essential to remember that students do not require all learning to be at the Transformative edge of learning. The modes are therefore not intended to be hierarchical, but morphological, it is essential that the student experience will incorporate many diverse teaching and learning activities best suited to the subject learning outcomes.

There are many ways that the same outcomes can be met, and students require a range of experiences in order to achieve the course or curriculum outcomes of the discipline; this would include the ability to work in teams, to collaborate with peers, but also to work individually, whether this occurs face-to-face or online.  Teachers or academics working in similar subject areas across a course (university) or year level (school) should where possible work together to ensure that students gain the maximum benefit of their time at the educational institution whether on or off campus.

Foundational: Focus is on static delivery of learning content, however, it should encourage active engagement with the learning activities

  • Content: advanced organisers, teaching vodcasts or podcasts, PowerPoint’s, readings, hyperlinks
  • Instructional Strategies: self-study activities as directed (may include online crosswords etc.)*
  • Communication: email and forum
  • Assessment: submission boxes, feedback through grades and assignment comments

Interactive: Focus is on a more interactive engagement with the learning content, instructional activities and others (lecturers and peers) in the course. As above plus:

  • Content: additional live teaching sessions, teaching posdcasts or vodcasts, SCORM modules (Articulate, Camtasia Studio, Adobe Captivate, hyperlinked teaching content, SBL, etc.)
  • Instructional Strategies: a combination of individual, pared, and group based learning activities designed to encourage collaboration and peer learning
  • Communication: forums, chat, web conferencing, group discussions
  • Assessment: Online Assessment e.g. exams, quizzes, assessable discussions, Computer generated feedback on quizzes; Assessment tasks submitted online, may include blogs, wikis e-portfolios etc.

Transformational: Learning content is delivered in alternative ways as designed by the educator and students. Individual or group based projects that incorporate any of the following: 

  • Content: Virtual link-up to experts; Virtual simulation; Group project (virtually, using for example Moodle Workshops); Web-quests (using for example Moodle Lessons); content teaching where needed are delivered live and recorded;
  • Instructional Strategies: Use of Adaptive Learning Platforms (e.g. lesson or workshop in Moodle), web-quests, student led activities; Class based glossaries, use of Moodle database tool, use of SCORM packages (e.g. Articulate, Captivate, Camtasia) – note that content is not dissimilar from pedagogy as students and educators develop and deliver content together.
  • Communication: Online tutorials, discussion forums, wikis and chat sessions, Video/web conferencing
  • Assessment: Online Assessment e.g. exams, quizzes, assessable discussions; Computer generated feedback on quizzes; Assessment tasks submitted online, may include blogs, wikis e-portfolios etc.; Feedback via webcam; Use of Moodle interactive assessment tasks; individual, group and whole class work

* A great text that includes excellent engaging activities, which can be used here, is Engaging the Online Learner: Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction (Jossey-Bass Guides to Online Teaching and Learning) by Rita-Marie Conrad and J. Ana Donaldson (2011).


eLearning is a well adopted trend in the education sector. This paper, drawing on the literature investigating that trend, suggests a model of online pedagogy, which would support any type of delivery, whether F2F, online, blended, intensive, or flexible. The 3 modes of online pedagogy (Foundational, Interactive and Transformational) described above when used together, should help an educational institution create a quality structure within their e-learning environment. The focus of the model is on the delivery of teaching and learning, or pedagogy in a course or year level, and students should have the opportunity to engage in the full range of instructional activities, content delivery, communication styles and assessment tasks, to enhance their educational experience.


Bonk, C., J., & Graham, R. C. (Eds.). (2006). The handbook of blended learning. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Charles Sturt University. (2013, July 23). Learning and Teaching at CSU – CSU Interact: Introduction  Retrieved September 18, 2013, from http://www.csu.edu.au/division/lts/intro_to_landt/csu-interact

Conrad, R, & Donaldson, J. A., (2011). Engaging the Online Learner: Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Keane, T. (2012). Leading with technology: 21st Century skills = 3Rs + 4Cs. The Australian Educational Leader, 34(2), 44. Retrieved from

Liaw, S., Huang, H., & Chen, G. (2007). Surveying instructor and learner attitudes toward e-learning. Computers & Education, 49, 1066–1080

Norton, A. (2013). The online evolution: When technology meets tradition in higher education. Melbourne, VIC: Grattan Institute.

Oerlemans, K., Button, Y., Partridge, L., & Hurle, B. (2006). Making IT work: A case study in developing a masters program via MLearning Paper presented at the Online Learning and Teaching Conference, Brisbane.

Oerlemans, K., May, E. F., & Hurle, B. (2007). Piloting Online Learning in Engineering Education. Paper presented at the AARE, Fremantle.

Paechter, M., Maier, B., & Macher, D. (2010). Students’ expectations of, and experiences in e-learning: Their relation to learning achievements and course satisfaction. Computers & Education 54, 222–229.

Puentedura, R. (2011). Metaphors, Models, and Flows: Elements for a Cartography of Technology In Learning  Retrieved September 18, 2013, from http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/2011/11/23/MetaphorsModelsFlows.pdf

University of Tasmania. (2013). Flexible teaching & learning – Section D: Other arrangements  Retrieved September 18, 2013, from http://www.teaching-learning.utas.edu.au/designing/flexible

White, G. (2012). E-learning definition. Digital Education Research Network. Retrieved from Australian Policy Online website


©Karin Oerlemans 2013, Updated 2020