Lessons From The Chalkface

Lessons from the Chalkface
Summary: In Scottish schools, curriculum design is underpinned by 7 broad principles. These principles guide teachers in their practice and are a basis for reviewing, evaluating, and improving learning and teaching. Learn how we apply these very same principles into eLearning

Emboding The Principles Of Scotland's Curriculum For Excellence In Instructional Design

While developing a new online course to support teachers with their use and care of voice, the team at echo3education decided to take a lesson from the chalkface. We let Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence inform our instructional design to ensure that our eLearning embodies the very principles that guide our target audience.

Personalization And Choice

Learning should respond to individual needs and levels of support. One way of achieving this in eLearning is to build in opportunity for learners to design their own learning journey in response to their capabilities, knowledge and skill level. For example, by progressing in a linear way through use and care of voice for teachers, learners will develop their understanding of the core learning objectives. However, should there be outcomes which require deeper study, a range of optional links are integrated throughout the course which facilitates this. In our voice course, this personalization and choice are guided by learner self-assessment, but another option is to use in-course assessment results to determine the path learners take through the course. There are a variety of ways you can weave personalization through your eLearning and adding them to your Instructional Design toolkit can support the development of courses which take into account individual needs and learning objectives.


Learning activities should combine to form a coherent experience, and there should be clear links between different aspects of learning. Telling a story heightens learner engagement. A clear narrative thread signposts learners through the course and provides a context for the learning. There are lots of great articles that can support you in developing your understanding of using story in eLearning, including this one about scenario-based learning.


To have any impact, it is vital that learners understand the purpose of the learning activity. If they are asking ‘Why am I being asked to do this activity?’ or ‘How does this learning relate to my life?’ then it is highly unlikely that they are going to engage fully in the learning process. Personal connection is essential. Consider how you can contextualize the learning in a way that resonates directly with the learner. Teachers are 8 times more likely to suffer from voice problems than any other worker. The cost to schools is around £15 million each year.  Sharing these statistics at the start of our voice course, helps learners recognize that they are in an ‘at risk’ group and that this learning is highly relevant to them.  So, when designing your eLearning, ensure you make clear how the learner will benefit. The purpose of learning shouldn’t be a secret.

Challenge and Enjoyment

Learners should experience an appropriate level of challenge that enables each individual to achieve his or her potential. This can be a tricky one when you have a range of learners with a variety of prior knowledge and experience. Pitch the learning too high and you lose learner engagement. Pitch it too low and you bore them. The result? Loss of learner engagement again.

So, how do you make a ‘one size fits all’ course literally fit all? This is where personalization comes into play again. Why make every learner plod through all sections of your course, whether it is new knowledge for them or not. Consider building in options for learners to ‘skip’ sections where knowledge and understanding is already secure. Rather than scroll through content they are already familiar with, they could go straight to the section assessment. If they really are secure, they’ll achieve the required pass rate with no problem. If they are not, then they will be sent to the start of the section and they will have to work through it to refresh their understanding.

The principles of curriculum design also state that learners should be active in their learning and have opportunities to develop and demonstrate their creativity. Online learning that is responsive to the learner in the ways described, actively engages the learner. Rather than passively being fed information, the learner plays an integral role in the direction their learning takes, and there is a strong element of ownership (another great way to heighten learner engagement).


Learning underpinned by the principles of curriculum design ensures a broad range of experiences within a variety of contexts. At its most basic level, consider the design of your eLearning course. If learners are simply having to click through page after page of similar looking layout, then you are unlikely to hold their attention. However, if consideration has been given to varying the look of the course, interest is more likely to be captured and held.

This comes with a warning of course; you don’t want to end up with such an eclectic mix of slide design that the overall effect is a disjointed hotchpotch of colors, fonts, images, and effects. A narrative thread should run through the look of your eLearning just as it should run through the story of the learning itself.

Consideration should also be given to providing breadth in terms of how your learner interacts with online learning. Undemanding experiences such as a ‘read and click on’ have their place, but if this is all you rely on it is unlikely to prove an effective vehicle for retained learning. Instead, a well-chosen blend of text, images, voice-over, and video, with opportunity for personalization and choice, will better support the impactful delivery of your message and keep your learners actively involved.


Each stage of learning should build on earlier knowledge and achievements. If there is not a natural progression through your course, you will likely lose your learner. You wouldn’t consider building a house by starting with the roof, which is why in our care of voice course we don’t try to teach learners how to avoid vocal fatigue without first ensuring they understand how the voice is produced. Progression links back to that clear narrative thread again. Are you arming learners with all they need to know and understand in order to progress to the next level? Further, learners should be able to progress at a rate which meets their individual needs and aptitudes.


There is an awful lot of unimaginative online learning out there. Sure, it’s quick and easy (and undemanding) to make. Organisations can usually buy it at low cost, so it’s a cheap way of ensuring they tick that compliance box. Yet, it’s this prevalence of formulaic eLearning which gives the industry a bad name. Frankly, it’s deadly dull. We’ve all been there – sat in front of a computer ploughing through screen after screen of text, sometimes voice-overed, sometimes not, praying for the multiple choice assessment to arrive so you can be done and get on with all the other things on your to-do list for the day. And if you fail the assessment? You just need to keep trying until you pass – and, hey, it’s multiple choice, remember, so keep guessing at those wrong answers and they’ll be correct in no time.  However, the likelihood of retained learning in this scenario is pretty slim. You’re simply jumping through hoops, with little to prompt you to engage in critical thinking, to consider what behavioral changes you need to enact.

For learning to have an impact, there should be opportunities for learners to develop their full capacity for different types of thinking and learning, exploring and achieving more advanced levels of understanding. We like to incorporate reflection points into our courses, encouraging the learner to critically consider how course content applies to their own setting.

A multiple choice quiz might test your memory of what you have just read, but is it likely to result in behavioral changes in the workplace? This is ultimately the aim of health and safety online learning and one way we encourage learners to commit to change is by building into our courses opportunity for goal setting. This engages learners in actively reflecting on the changes they need to enact in order to meet course outcomes.

There are many lessons from the classroom which can be applied to a virtual learning experience. By allowing ourselves to be guided by Curriculum for Excellence’s Principles of Curriculum Design, we can create challenging and enjoyable eLearning that is responsive to each learner’s development needs,  eLearning that has an impact and demonstrable results, measurable in behavioral changes which last long after the cursor has stopped flashing.