• Blended learning encourages use of active, student focused approaches.
  • These approaches can increase the depth of learning and engagement.
  • Planning blended units requires the total reconceptualization of a unit.
  • Constructive alignment is the key guiding concept.
  • Avoid simply ‘adding on’ online elements as this often leads to content overload.

On this page

Constructive alignment New units vs reconceptualising an existing unit Resources for unit planning and alignment Choosing the right blend

Constructive alignment

No matter whether your unit is new or a course re-design, alignment between learning outcomes, assessment, activities, communication strategies and content is essential.

For further reading on constructive alignment, see Mapping learning across the curriculum.

New units versus reconceptualising an existing unit

Using a blended approach allows you to reimagine your course. When you design a unit from scratch you have a blank canvas to start from, without any presuppositions of how a unit should be structured.

When you are re-designing a course, it is best to try and adopt the same mindset of ‘beginner’s mind’. Try to consciously loosen the closeness you have with the previous unit, dropping your preconceptions of how the unit has run and start from the course objectives afresh.

There are some common pitfalls to be aware of. These are –

  • It is important to not just “add on online components” to an existing course, as this can lead to too much content and unreasonable workload for students and teachers.
  • It may be tempting to translate aspects from the original course directly into the new course, but direct translation might not be the best strategy. You will need to consider timing, the skills of teachers and whether learners are being adequately prepared.
  • Selecting technologies should be driven by educational imperatives, not the other way around.

Inclusive blended learning design

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn. At the core of UDL is the principle of inclusiveness and equity. UDL considers the diversity of abilities, disabilities, racial/ethnic/socio-economic backgrounds, reading abilities, ages, and other characteristics of the student cohort. UDL is founded on the idea that learners need to have equal access to learning, not simply equal access to information.

UDL is founded on three core principles: Engagement, Representation and Action & Expression (CAST, 2022). These three principles can be applied to the planning and delivery of courses, and the assessment of learning, to facilitate inclusive attributes that embrace diversity whilst maintaining academic standards. UDL also aligns with constructivist claims that teaching and learning activities that tie down the learning to multiple sensory modes create interconnected knowledge that restructures understanding and supports deep learning (Biggs and Tang 2011).

The core principles should be taken into consideration when deciding on the blend of resources and use of technology. More information about UDL can be found by visiting ACU's Access and Disability Service. The CAST website provides extensive information on the implementation of UDL.

There is a wide variety of ways in which students can be engaged or motivated to learn.

  • For example, some students engage best with spontaneity and novelty, while others prefer routine and structure.
  • Having flexible teaching strategies and universally designed course content allows students to choose methods that support their interests and skill levels.

Students vary in the ways that they perceive and comprehend information. By providing various methods of representation, students will learn the material in their preferred mode.

  • For example, students who are hard of hearing may prefer visual information, whereas students who have difficulties with their vision may prefer verbal information.
  • As there is no one means of representation that will be optimal for all students; providing options for representation is essential.

Students vary in the ways that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know.

  • For example, students with motor disabilities (e.g. cerebral palsy) and students with language barriers approach learning tasks very differently. Some may be able to express themselves well in writing but not orally, and vice versa.
  • As there is no one means of expression that will be optimal for all students, providing options for expression is essential.

Resources for unit planning and alignment

There are many ways for you to create a constructively aligned unit. You can choose which approach suits your preferences.

Mapping tools for unit planning and constructive alignment which you may find helpful:

Choosing the right blend

One of the most challenging aspects of designing a blended unit is choosing the right ‘blend’. Deciding which elements work best face-to-face and which online is a key consideration. This will be guided by the nature of your unit objectives. It is important that there is clear purposeful integration between the face-to-face and online elements.

Student characteristics
  • What is the profile of your students?
  • What are their specific needs?
  • Where are they located?
  • Are there any cultural language needs?
  • What level are my students?
  • What is the size of the cohort?
Active learning and interactivity
  • What student-focused, active learning approaches would be appropriate?
  • How will students interact: in the following areas “student to student, student to instructor, student to content”?
  • What strategies will build a sense of community?
  • How will feedback be provided to students?
Discipline or campus specific needs
  • Are there any specific needs of your discipline or context?
  • Are there components of your unit that are best taught face-to-face?
  • Will the unit be run on multiple campuses?
  • Are there specific needs of sessional staff to accommodate?
  • Which technologies will help support student achievement of the learning outcomes?
  • Do the teachers need to build their skills in using a specific technology?
  • What infrastructure will be required to support teaching and learning?
  • What level of skill do the students have?
  • What support is required for students to use selected technologies?

Other resources

Biggs, J. (2014). Constructive alignment in university teaching, HERDSA Review of Higher Education Vol. 1. https://www.herdsa.org.au/herdsa-review-higher-education-vol-1/5-22

Brame, C. 2016. Flipping the Classroom, Vanderbilt University, viewed 12 July 2016 <https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/flipping-the-classroom/>.

McGee, P., & Reis, A. (2012). Blended Course Design: A Synthesis of Best Practices. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, v16 n4 p7-22. Retrieved from <http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ982678.pdf>.
Partidge, H, Ponting, D, McCay, M 2011, Good practice report: Blended learning, Australian learning and teaching council, viewed 12 July 2016, <http://eprints.qut.edu.au/47566/1/47566.pdf>.
Page last updated on 20/05/2024

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