Skip to content Skip to navigation

Designing Courses for Online Learning

There are three basic principles to design an effective online course:

  1. Choose appropriate technology tools that enable students to achieve the learning objectives, using Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy;
  2. Create impactful learning that is transformational, using the Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) Model; and
  3. Create community of learners, using the Community of Inquiry (COI) Framework.

1.    Technology Tools and Learning Objectives: Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy categorises six stages of thinking skills: Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating. See this figure for the verbs which refer to digital tools and technology that are associated to different levels of thinking skills. It starts from low order thinking skills (LOTS) to high order thinking skills (HOTS). For example, googling and recording are associated to the low order thinking skill of Remembering. Filming and podcasting are associated to high order thinking skill of Creating. For a more comprehensive listing of the verbs, click here

2.    Learning Impact: Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) Model

Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) model describes the impact of technology on learning, from low impact (learning is enhanced) to high impact (learning is transformed). The model lists the lower impact on learning, first as directly substituting the current task with no functional change; and second as augmenting the current task with functional improvements. Higher impact on learning is seen at the third stage as modifying the current task to bring about significant task redesign; and the fourth stage as redefining the pedagogy to create new, previously inconceivable tasks. See this figure for illustration of the SAMR model.  

Source: Puentedura, R. R. (2013). SAMR: Moving from enhancement to transformation.

See this table below three examples of activities that leverage on different technology tools, and the impact of using the tools on teaching and learning according to the SAMR model. 



Technology is used to perform the same task as was done before the use of computers.


Technology offers an effective tool for students to augment learning through performing common tasks, through added functionalities.


Technology allows for redesign of task using different tools, and transform learning.


Technology allows students and faculty to create new tasks that are previously inconceivable, without the technology.


1. Polling/ Response Exercise

Students submit their responses to a query to instructor’s email, instead of a hardcopy paper.


Example of query

  • Think about two tech tools you are using; and
  • Rate your satisfaction with the tool(s).

Students enter their responses to the query using google docs and instructors are able to provide comments electronically and return to them for multiple revisions.

Students enter their responses via online platforms (e.g. Mentimeter) and technology allows for automated collation of answers to produce response poll charts, or word clouds. The information is accessible to all students and instructor.

Students explain their responses (highlighting concerns and benefits) using mindmaps.


Students merge their mindmaps for peers’ review and critique.


2. In-Class Lecture


Record a video of your lecture and post in youtube / edpuzzle for students to watch.

Embed auto-marking quizzes into youtube / edpuzzle. Students attempt the quiz and get immediate feedback on performance. 

Record a video of your lecture and post on Voicethread for students to post their comments using text or microphone; or collaborate by adding audio slide, and webcam video slides.

More class time is used for in-depth discussion and application of concepts (previously inconceivable).

3. In-Class Discussion


Organise a synchronous webinar for students to participate.

Put students in breakout room and hand control of webinar for students to facilitate sharing.

Extend the verbal synchronous discussion to a threaded online asynchronous discussion forum where students post queries and/or respond to peers’ questions systematically.

Invite experts from different parts of the world to the webinar / discussion forum to interact (previously inconceivable).



For a list of educational technology tools that facilitate different types of learning activities (e.g. animation, collaboration, discussion, mindmapping), click here. (Please contact CTE for more info)

3.    Learning Community: Community of Inquiry (COI) Framework

Community of Inquiry (COI) informs the methodology to deliver successful online learning, by building a community of learners.  

  1. Teaching presence: It is about the presence of the instructor when designing the course, facilitating and assessing learning. The instructor guides students through course materials, reinforce key concepts and foster student engagement. The instructor encourages or acknowledges students’ contributions, injects knowledge, or diagnoses misperceptions.
  2. Social presence: It is about participants establishing social connections within the class by projecting their individual personalities to communicate purposefully in a safe environment. Be mindful that students can find online classes impersonal, lacking support for learning and affirmation of contributions, as compared with inclass interactions. Strong social presence supports the discourse necessary for the cognitive presence.
  3. Cognitive presence: It is about students constructing meaning through reflection and discourse. The instructor sets appropriately challenging tasks and guides students through the learning process as they individually explore issues and formulate solutions through divergent ideas. Students work in groups to reach some convergence by connecting ideas, identifying relationships and proposing solutions. The entire group comes together to apply and test solutions in real-world scenarios. Students are expected to defend their solutions with reasoning.

The relationship and function of these three components are explained in this figure. 

^ Source: Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Blended learning in higher education: framework, principles, and guidelines. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
The e-book can be accessed from the SMU Library database. The hardcopy is also available in the Li Ka Shing Library.


1. Churches, A. (2008). Bloom's Digital Taxonomy.

2. Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Blended learning in higher education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

3. Puentedura, R. R. (2013). SAMR: Moving from enhancement to transformation.Retrieved from

Total votes: 10

Last updated on 09 Jan 2018 .