Designing Professional e-Learning

Tom Worthington

Slides and notes:
For ACS Canberra Conference, Canberra, 15 August 2017

Description: Award winning e-learning designer Tom Worthington will discuss how to equip professionals for the technology challenges of the 21st Century. At this session, Tom will detail how to provide formal postgraduate education to students in their workplaces via mobile devices. He will discuss his own experience as an international student using an e-portfolio to provide evidence of skills..

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Speaker: Tom Worthington MEd, FACS CP

Tom Worthington

Tom Worthington is an independent consulting Certified Computer Professional and an Honorary Senior Lecturer in the Research School of Computer Science at the ANU. He writes on education issues as "The Higher Education Whisperer" and more generally as "The Net Traveler". Tom is leading an ANU Grand Challenge team to provide m-learning to 200,000 students across the indo-pacific region.

Why Learn?

Consider how to offer the social, as well as technical, aspects on-line.

Professionals seek learning for more than just to get a new job. Before designing a "course", consider what the potential student is seeking. They may want to maintain their professional status and seek contacts through relatively informal events. As an example, the ACS offers events for this in cities. But what events are offered outside the cities and for thos who can't attend in person?

Design Learning Top Down with SFIA

Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA):

The Skills Framework for the Information AgeSFIA provides a table of defined skills for IT professionals. These are used by employers when designing jobs and by the ACS when accrediting education programs. Rather than making up what the student will learn from scratch, I use the definitions from SFIA when designing learning materials. The skill and skill level can be selected to align with industry requirements and this make accreditation easier.

ACS Professional Year and SFIA Self Assessment

ACS Professional Year (PYear) in ICT for International Graduates

mySFIA: self-assessment of skills against the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA).

Use general competencies tool for similar certifications: Moodle Competencies plus Mahara Annotation?

ACS (2015). Skills Framework for the Information Age Version 6, Reference Chart, Australian Computer Society. Retrieved from

The ACS Professional Year (PYear) provides graduates with training and an internship to prepare international graduates of Australian universities for the workplace. Completion provides 5 points under the Skilled Occupation List (SOL).

The ACS provides the mySFIA web-based application for applicants to self-asses against the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA).

A graduate is likely to need a collection of certifications for employment. A general e-portfolio tool tracking competencies might be used to support similar industry schemes and certifications. For example, Moodle Competencies plus Mahara Annotation.

SFIA Education Skills

SFIA Category Skills and quality:
Subcategory Skill Code Levels

* SFIA Version 6 definitions from ACS (2015)

Skill management Learning and development management ETMG --34567
Learning assessment and evaluation LEDA --3456-
Learning design and development TMCR ---456-
Learning delivery ETDL --3456-
Teaching and subject formation TEAC ----56-
People management Professional development PDSV ---456-

SIFA includes training and education skills for computer professionals. One of the six SFIA categories is "Skills and quality". This includes six skills definitions, with five from the "Skill management" subcategory and one from "People management".

The SFIA Skills Definitions (Assessment Portal, 2016) would not on the face of it appear to relate to what the typical computer student learns or does in the workplace. However, many of the basic skills, such as preparing documents, giving presentations and collecting feedback, are common to IT development and education. A small component of training specifically on learning skills should be sufficient for the typical computer degree graduate to meet the SFIA Level 3 requirements. However, preparing the documentation for this, without the use of a tool, could be onerous.

Education Related Skills Definitions in SFIA Version 6

Category Skills and quality

  1. Learning and development management (ETMG): The provision of learning and development processes (including learning management systems) to develop the professional, business and/or technical skills required by the organization.

  2. Learning assessment and evaluation (LEDA): The assessment of knowledge, skills and behavior by any means whether formal or informal against capability and qualification frameworks such as SFIA. The evaluation of learning or education programs against defined outcomes.

  3. Learning design and development (TMCR): The specification, design, creation, packaging and maintenance of materials and resources for use in learning and development in the workplace or in compulsory, further or higher education. Typically involves the assimilation of information from existing sources, selection and re-presentation in a form suitable to the intended purpose and audience. Includes instructional design, content development, configuration and testing of learning environments, and use of appropriate current technologies such as audio, video, simulation and assessment. May include third party accreditation.

  4. Learning delivery (ETDL): The transfer of business and/or technical skills and knowledge and the promotion of professional attitudes in order to facilitate learning and development. Uses a range of techniques, resources and media (which might include eLearning, on-line virtual environments, self-assessment, peer-assisted learning, simulation, and other current methods).

  5. Teaching and subject formation (TEAC): The specification, design, development, delivery and assessment of curricula for computing and for information technology (including electronic communication), at any level of the education system from primary through to tertiary (all age ranges) and in the workplace. The topics addressed are those of the fundamental and more advanced areas of computing and the common skills needed to make productive use of computers and IT systems for both computing and IT professionals and competent users of IT based systems including the ideas of computational thinking and the application of computational concepts to everyday and professional life. Special attention is paid to the methods, techniques and pedagogy (the study of being a teacher, tutor or lecturer, and the process of teaching) of computing & IT education.

  6. Professional development (PDSV): The facilitation of the professional development of individuals, including initiation, monitoring, review and validation of learning and development plans in line with organizational or business requirements. The counselling of participants in all relevant aspects of their continual professional development. The identification of appropriate learning/development resources. Liaison with internal and external training providers.

SFIA Skills Definitions from: Assessment Portal (2016). Retrieved from:

How to Teach Online

Provide: eBooks, discussion forums, tools for inquiry and assessment.

From: Digital Teaching In Higher Education, Worthington, 2017 (free online).

Pictographs by Carlos Sarmento from the Noun Project (CC BY 3.0 US).

Designing an on-line course is much the same as face-to-face. This is illustrated with the four pictographs by Carlos Sarmento (from the Noun Project CC BY 3.0 US), used on the cover of "Digital Teaching". The instructor needs to:

  1. Provide ebooks and other curated content on the topic;
  2. Facilitate discussion between the students;
  3. Provide tools and techniques for the student to explore the topic; and
  4. assessment, including formative feedback, to help them learn.

The instructor can get away with making up a face-to-face course as they go along, but an on-line course needs to be carefully designed and tested in advance.

Keep in mind that what students like is not necessarily the same as what helps them learn, or what they will actually use. Offered the option of face-to-face lectures, students will say they want them, but most will then not turn up. Students prefer high quality videos, but video quality make no difference to learning.

The book "Digital Teaching In Higher Education Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment" is available free online. It is a collection of essays from the work I did for a Masters of Education in Distance Education at Athabasca University.

Conventional DE Courses

 ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future eBook by Tom Worthington
  1. Adaption of traditional university course to online delivery
  2. Usually 12 weeks, fixed schedule
  3. E-book, videos, quizzes, group work and assignments via LMS
  4. Human turor per 20 to 100 students
  5. 12 weeks x 10 hours per week = 120 hours study
  6. Example: ICT Sustainability: run by ANU and Athabasca University (Canada)

A common way to provide professional e-learning is with a distance education course, typically of 12 weeks. Such courses are adapted from traditional campus based university courses and may, in some cases be offered in the same calendar to campus based students (ICT Sustainability is run this way at ANU.

Courses will typically be delivered via a Learning Management System (LMS), such as Moodle. An e-book, videos, quizzes, group work and assignments will be provided via the LMS. A human turor per 20 to 100 students is usually provided.

Such courses have the advantage of being easy for university to fit into existing administrative processes. However, this can be frustrating for students and instructors who are used to more flexible courses. The course is typically designed in advance, without input from the instructor and the instructor can't change the course material.

Most of the course will be conducted in asynchronous mode, with the instructor and students leaving messages for each other, via the LMS. These messages may be video, to make them more personal than text, but even so lack the interaction of real time conversation. Some real time sessions may be offered, but are limited by the difficulties of arranging times.

a major problem with such courses is that students have an expectation of personal interaction with the instructor, in part built up by institutional marketing and part by the ease of on-line communication. However, instructors are typically paid for only a few minutes work per student per week.

Shorter Modules

Example: Innovation

Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCS) began as low cost variations on traditional DE courses, with less instructor input. These are now tending to be shorter (four to six weeks). Automated tests and peer assessment are used in place of human marking and there is usually minimal instructor assistance.

Very Short Modules

ANU Online Coffee Courses

Example: ANU Online Coffee Courses

Short modules, equivalent to one or two hours study are typically provided as a set of audio annotated slide shows, with automated quizzes (using technologies such as SCORM). These are undertaken by students individually, self paced. An alternative approach is taken by the ANU Online Coffee Courses. The coffee courses are very short traditional format DE modules, undertaken by a group of about twenty students over one week, fifteen minutes a day. These courses have a human tutor providing daily feedback. The coffee courses have no assessment, but students receive a certificate of completion for posting on all days.

E-Portfolios: Assembling e-Learning Pieces

Capstone document

May be oral examination (defense) via webinar

Student selects artifacts to show evidence of competencies

Software, such as Mahara/Moodle helps tally competencies

Example: Athabasca MEd Capstone e-portfolio (Hoven, 2015)

ANU ePorfolio tool (Mahara) being launched 18 August.

One of the difficulties with smaller and smaller components of learning made possible by technology is to provide evidence of having mastered a coherent skill set. One way to provide that coherence is with a capstone using an e-portfolio, using a tool such as Mahara.

The e-portfolio approach is used for formal university qualifications, particularly at the masters level. It is also used for industry certifications, such as the Higher Education Academy Fellowship. However, without adequate scaffolding completion of an e-portfolio can be daunting for a student. Also without technical support, it can be very time consuming for assessors. Both students and assessors need formal training in what an e-portfolio is and how to prepare and assess one.

An example is the Athabasca MEd Capstone e-portfolio. This requires the students to reflect on their learning using five artifacts, which usually are a subset of the assignments already submitted in coursework (Hoven, 2015, p. 23). Rather than just leave the student to work this out for themselves, the e-portfolio is structured as a course, with an instructor and deliverables. Students receive feedback from the instructor and provide comment on each others draft e-portfolios. In addition most students will have already undertaken a course where they are required to practice using an e-portfolio.

Capstone Presentation

"Presentation and discussion of e-portfolio. Using Adobe Connect, students present the highlights and low points of their capstone e-portfolio. The instructor will ask questions regarding the composition of the e-portfolio, the learning process experienced throughout the program, and the application of the new skills and knowledge (competencies) within the student's workplace. The presentation/discussion session is limited to one hour and may be attended by other students in the course."

Athabasca University (2014). MDDE 694: Capstone e-Portfolio Project. Retrieved from

The Athabasca MEd capstone option requires the student to present for an hour, with thirty minutes presentation and thirty minutes answering questions, via a webinar (video conference).


'Back in the 1980s when actor Lorne Greene served as the pitchman for Alpo dog food, the TV commercials were careful to point out that he indeed fed Alpo to his dogs. Consequently, the idea that someone would use the products they were making became known as "eating your own dog food.'

From Harrison, W. (2006). Eating your own dog food. IEEE Software, 23(3), 5-7. Retrieved from

The most useful aspect of being an on-line student of education is "dogfooding", a term coined by Harrison (2006) for the practice of those who develop a product to use it. In the case of education courses, the designers, and instructors demonstrate that the technology they are advocating works and the students learn what it is like to be a DE student, before being an instructor or designer. Each course reminded me how crushingly lonely being a student can be, especially a distance student and even more so for an international student. As a result, I take additional care now to ensure my course instructions as well as content are very clear and try to avoid cultural confusion. However, the experience of being a DE student can also be liberating, compared to a part-time, after-hours, campus student.

New Ways of Learning Are Not New

"... On Thursday, July 12th, a meeting was held of some of those interested in the concept of a Learning Exchange in Canberra. ... The Melbourne Learning Exchange has its own newspaper in which items of interest and lists of teachers/potential learners are published. It is hoped that the extra work-load could be avoided by printing the same sort of information in regular spaces in various established community newspapers. ... An article about the Learning Exchange will appear in the CAE paper, CCAESARIAN soon, and also hopefully a feature in the Canberra Times ... For further information ... read the article in the second Woroni of this term."

From "LEARNING EXCHANGE", Woroni , Thursday 2 August 1973 in Forsyth, H. (2014). A history of the modern Australian university. NewSouth.

Much of what is proposed under the banner of digital, electronic or on-line learning is not new in concept. Access to ubiquitous digital technology makes it much easier to implement.

ANU TechLauncher

ANU Techlaucher computing group projects:

  1. Six months or one year, or longer projects
  2. Government or industry client, or student start-up
  3. Assisted by the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN).
  4. On-line project management tools are used as well as learning management software

Could be applied beyond IT and for on-line students learning to work in virtual teams.

This semester I am tutoring a team of ANU Techlaucher students in a program devised by Dr. Shayne Flint. This provides a model which could be used more generally for teaching "soft" as well as hard skills to professionals. This can be applied to any program where the students are learning skills which can be applied in the workplace. The use of on-line project management tools allows for teaching of techniques of virtual teamwork and can be used with on-line distance education students.

Can We Teach Innovation Online?

"Learn how to take an idea and turn it into a business proposal and teach this to others. Students undertake practical work as part of an innovation competition, such as Innovation ACT to experience the process first hand. At the same time they explore the theory of commercialization and entrepreneurship to see how this could be incorporated in the training of Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students. ..."

From "Entrepreneurial behavior", Open University (UK) module quoted in "Introduction to Innovation", April 10, 2015

Student project Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship in Technology, ANU, 2016

There is now a demand for students to learn "soft skills" and "Innovation". But can this be done online? To answer that question I design a student project, to take the materials on innovation I prepared during my MEd and turn them into an on-line, mobile based course. The results should be available in late 2017.

e-Portfolio Driven Degrees

Load the student's portfolio with a template of competences required:

For teaching certification:

E-portfolios provide a conceptual framework for a flexible approach to education. However, learning management systems and e-portfolios provide insufficient support at present to implement this. Systems are needed which allow a template to be loaded into the LMS (such as Moodle) and then competency evidence semi-automatically harvested from the e-portfolio (such as Mahara). Current systems act as little more than a documentation system for the process.

With a more intelligent system university programs could be defined regarding outcomes. When the students selected a degree program, they would be provided with a template to complete, listing competences required. Set activities, such as courses, would have the competencies they provide listed. When a student completed a course, the competences and evidence would be automatically recorded in their e-portfolio.

This approach would also allow for optional certifications to be acquired by the student. As an example, the education, training, and assessment skills, required for any professional role, could be certified in this way. The student could use the courses they are undertaking for their main studies as evidence of their training skills. A reasonable level to be expected would be for a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment with a bachelors degree, Graduate Certificate in Education with a Masters, and Diploma of Education with a Doctorate.

Scaling Up Professional Education

UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Map by Eric Gaba (Sting) CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Indo-Pacific (Map by Eric Gaba (Sting) CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

ANU Grand Challenge proposal: Peace through superior education

Can we teach 200,000 by m-learning in the Indo-Pacific?

Also ANU announced a "major expansion of engineering and computer science".

Peace Through Superior Education is an entry in the Australian National University's ANU Grand Challenges Scheme. This entry proposes to test the use of  mobile learning to connect people across our region to address radicalization, climate change, food and energy security.

Other ANU Grand Challenge entries include: Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific and the Grand Challenge of Negative Emissions.  ANU researchers and students interested in working on these can access the ANU Grand Challenges Portal. Non-ANU researchers can contact the project personnel to express interest in participating.

'Many of the world’s most intractable problems occur on Australia's doorstep: where the trade-routes of the world's emerging economies meet. The Australian National University (ANU) was created by the Australian Parliament to meet these challenges in this region. The ANU does this by bringing together the best and brightest young people of the region to learn and to cooperate. Can this can be extended through the use of digital networks, particularly mobile devices, with an order of magnitude increase in the number of students? Can we use digital networks to engage, educate and influence the behaviors of the indo- pacific publics? How can we best do that? To answer these questions a longitudinal exploration into the transformative learning will be conducted. In this way can we can address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): "... end poverty ... protect the planet ... ensure prosperity for all ... foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies ... based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity ...".'

Seminar on the proposal, 22 August 2017 at the ANU.

Also ANU announced a "major expansion of engineering and computer science".

Changing Learning

Designing Courses For Higher Education, Susan Toohey, 1999

From Designing Courses For Higher Education, Susan Toohey, 1999

Susan Toohey's book "Designing Courses For Higher Education" was published in 1999, but is very relevant to today's debates over issues such as the role of MOOCs, support for international students and professional masters courses. This book is part of the excellent series published by Open University Press, on the how and why of higher education. The book is very readable, having been written for the Australian context. It contains some comments to deflate the egos of professors and senior administrators clinging to old modes of education.

The ANU has commenced demolishing its central lecture theater complex, which is to be replaced with flexible, multiple purpose teaching facilities.

More Information

  1. The presentation notes are at:
  2. Slides for these notes are also available
  3. Digital Teaching In Higher Education: Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment (book), 2017
  4. Tom Worthington

Version 0.1, 14 August 2017, Tom Worthington

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