Online learning

The Online Learning Model can help you plan you online teaching to increase student engagement, retention and satisfaction.

The Online Learning Model

The Online Learning Model (OLM) consists of seven elements designed to increase student engagement. The elements can be combined together in varying degrees within a subject.

The seven elements of OLM designed to increase student engagement

Each element in the model suggests different ways to include interaction between:

  • you and your students
  • individual students
  • students and resources
  • students and the learning community.

As you include activities that include different types of interaction, you increase the opportunity for students to engage with the content and learning you are offering.

You are a key influence on the way that students engage with learning in your subject. Your passion, knowledge and skills improve student confidence in their ability to learn and capture their interest in the topics.  Regular online communication provides students with support and your availability in responding to questions and comments builds a learning relationship that keeps students engaged.   Teacher presence can be completed as both synchronous and asynchronous activities.

How might you do it?

  • Create a welcome video for early sessions, introduce yourself and other staff, sharing your passion for the subject. Use short, plain language.
  • Write short, concise announcements that provide a clear message to the students.
  • Include voice recordings for students to hear your thoughts and comments on a reading or a video or just an area of focus. Keep these short - 3-4 minutes that allows them to hear your voice, your thinking. Include stories from experience and anecdotes that personalise the content.
  • Engage in the discussion forum - ask further questions, express your ideas, tell students they have made a valuable comment. Consider this online aspect as a key way of talking with students. Respond to discussion forums regularly. This shows students that you are there, reading their posts and sharing ideas.

Students learn from each other and support each other to understand. Peer learning means they can ask questions, clarify their understanding, check-in and create ideas together. It builds a sense of belonging and supports retention. You can plan learner-to-learner engagement as both synchronous and asynchronous activities.

How might you do it?

  • Collaborative study groups can be set up as part of the subject structure. Students come together to work through discussion questions, reading, or responding to a stimulus. They share resources and get to know each other while working towards an answer or solution.
  • Collaborative projects are more formalised tasks where students work together to create a resource or presentation for other students. They bring different skills and knowledge to the activity and can contribute in different ways. As a learning activity, students can divide the task and then provide feedback on each other's work. it is important the task requires authentic collaboration and is 'messy' enough to engage the whole group.
  • Asynchronous discussions are designed so that students can engage at different times with a question, a topic or a provocation. There needs to be a clear purpose - exploring a topic more deeply, commenting on a key issue, offering a considered view or stance on an issue. Students are encouraged to add their own thinking and to respond to the comments of others with further questions or information.

Feeling part of and actively contributing to a learning community is directly linked to student motivation and resilience. Studying within learning groups can be an important foundation for effective interaction between students, their peers and teachers in support of deeper learning. Proactive support from teachers for learning within smaller groups, provided synchronously or asynchronously, is important if the benefits of intellectual rigour and deep engagement are to be achieved.

How might you do it?

  • encourage students to form groups for different aspects of the subject learning, meeting in the way they find most accessible. You might do this early in the teaching of the subject by asking students to indicate on a map where they are located so that others can see if there is someone close by. For privacy, you cannot give out addresses, but you can show how students are clustered together, and encourage them to initiate contact.
  • include a discussion board for introductions and personal stories, so that students learn about each other and can form connections with like minds.
  • call students by name, and make links between students in synchronous sessions eg XX your perspective seems similar to the ideas YY suggested - are you seeing a connection? Model the ways of connecting for learning.
  • utilise hashtags to curate and filter social media, blogs and online discussions. The proliferation of the hashtag over the last decade is a result of the overabundance of information available to us online. The simple #hashtag makes it easier for users to find messages and media for a specific theme or context.

Online cohorts of students come with diverse backgrounds and lifestyles and want to feel that they can access their learning when it best suits them. Technology enhances these opportunities when it offers variable learning activities - students can engage when it works best for them,  either alone or with a learning buddy, by accessing diverse ways of engaging with content, and with varied ways of responding.

How might you do it?

  • Offer students a band of time to submit assessments - online assessments can be set to be completed over a period of time.
  • Offer 2-3 ways of presenting assessment - a visual product, a written product or an oral product. Students complete the same task but utilize their individual styles to present it.
  • Personalising or customised pathways for learning allow students to navigate through content in the way that works for them.  By offering students some freedom to work through subject content in different ways they engage with the materials and are able to select what they need to learn to achieve the outcomes. Beginning with a road map, and having students identify what they already know, allows you to encourage students to look more deeply at content, or to bring new perspectives to share with other students.

Online learning platforms allow you to connect students with professionals and sites of professional practice. This provides a valuable context for engagement with subject content and makes the relevance of the subject learning outcomes clearer as it connects theory to practice. It supports the development of professional capabilities, induction into the culture and values of the profession, and an ethos of lifelong learning and career planning.

How might you do it?

  • Guest presenters can come into an asynchronous learning experience, speak and respond to questions from students as a part of any learning activity. They can take students on a 'walkabout' through the workplace, or can explain/demonstrate a skill that connects content with the real world.
  • Practice focussed tasks that require students to connect with an industry or work context, record their responses and then share onto your discussion forum provides students with a purposeful task that takes them into a workplace.
  • Online simulations offer realistic opportunities to consider an area of work and can encourage students to experience authentic situations.

High-quality rich media learning resources can support understanding of conceptual material, provide visual examples of practice and contextualise the broader learning experience. Interactive learning resources can provide a place for experiential engagement and experimentation with content and interaction with peers and teachers.  DLT staff can help you design an interactive resource that offers learners a different type of experience. Interactive resources are good tools for checking understanding, reviewing vocabulary, for trying different responses.

How might you do it?

  • videos (short, snappy)  as introductions or stimuli for discussion
  • soundscapes that require students to listen carefully to find answers
  • online quizzes encourage students to test their knowledge
  • podcasts that invite pausing and reflecting or responding
  • drag and drop tools, gamified artifacts all engage learners in the content

Digital technologies present new possibilities for the ways in which students undertake and submit assessment tasks, the way in which feedback is provided and the kinds of learner activities that can be assessed. Authentic assessment tasks which require students to demonstrate practices of the target profession can be provisioned in ways that scaffold students and ensure professional and practice-based learning outcomes.  Whenever you design an assessment task, consider the way it reduces the risk of breaches of academic integrity.

How might you do it?

  • write tasks that clearly describe what the student must do to complete the task. Using steps and directions make it easy for students to understand the task.
  • ensure that the tasks align with the subject outcomes - that the task does demonstrate that students can demonstrate the outcomes
  • assess student learning and application of learning through media artefacts that model the type of artefacts required in the profession
  • capture student reflections, demonstrations of skills, explorations of content in eportfolios that become a resource for them later
  • use blogs and online journals to assess understanding, application and reflection

What now?

For every subject you teach, a different combination of these elements will work best. It is not effective to use many of them in one subject - this will amount to overload and students will disengage.

Essential elements are teacher presence and interaction between students, as these help the student feel noticed and connected.

As you begin to consider how you will engage with students through the subject, consider which of the elements best work with the content and which of the tools/strategies you will use.

Most importantly, remember your presence is key to students feeling valued and noticed.

Old OLM site:

This is a link to the old OLM site:

Please note, the information about the Online Learning Model (OLM) is largely unchanged however, there are references to Charles Sturt projects, frameworks and teams that are no longer applicable.