Teaching Commons’ eLearning Guide


eLearning is a broad concept. Any learning that is ‘…facilitated and supported through the use of information and communications technology’ could be considered as eLearning (HEFC, 2004, p. 10). At York, the eLearning is defined as

eLearning is the development of knowledge and skills through the use of information and communication technologies to support interactions for learning including interactions with content, learning activities and with other people (York University, Common Language for eLearning, 2014).

The University’s common language for eLearning also classifies and defines six modes of course instruction.

Backwards design

The ‘backwards design’ method (Wiggins, 1998) offers a process that starts with articulating the learning and then works backward to specify the assessment tasks and teaching and learning activities. Whether you are creating a new course or adapting existing material and teaching, it is a good idea to work through the process to identify what you can reuse, what needs to be designed and developed, and what the limits are to what can be done.

The backward design approach emphasizes the integration of three key components of a course – learning outcomes, assessment tasks and teaching and learning activities. It suggests that the curriculum design should start with defining the learning goals and outcomes and the three key components should be consistent and supportive of one and the other. The curriculum design is based on the answers to the following key questions:

  • What would you expect students to learn and retain in the course?
    The answers to this question will determine the learning goals of the course.
  • What evidence should the students produce to demonstrate their learning and achievement of the learning goals?
    Answers to this will help form the learning outcomes and suggest the kind of assessment tasks and feedback needed.
  • What kinds of teaching and learning activities will be needed to support students’ achievement of learning goals?

Consideration of this question will help in the selection of effective teaching and learning activities.

How to use this guide

The followings are designed to provide guidance and resources to help you get started and work through the entire design process. There is a wealth of information about eLearning design on the web – we are including resources to those we find most helpful. We hope you will too!


Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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

Higher Education Foundation Council. (2004). Effective practice with e-learning: A good practice guide in designing for learning. Retrieved from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/publications/effectivepracticeelearning.pdf

Wiggins, G. (1998). Educative assessment: Designing assessments to inform and improve students performance. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.