Some thoughts about CPD for academics who teach online

I was recently asked by a colleague to make some recommendations for a continuing professional development (CPD) programme for academics who teach online at a UK university, and thought I would share this on my blog in case it is of use to others. The recommendations that follow are drawn from selected literature which mainly reflects my own experience of curriculum design and development, particularly the JISC-funded projects carried out by the Institute of Learning Design at the University of Leicester in partnership with a range of other UK universities.

  1. A lifelong learning perspective is more likely to be helpful than one-off ‘training’ courses

The approach I am most familiar with for CPD of academics who teach online is the Carpe Diem model (Salmon and Wright 2014), which was originally developed at the University of Leicester in 2006-2007. Leicester was also one of the participating institutions in the Open University’s OULDI project (Cross et al 2012), in which some of the learning design tools developed at the OU were incorporated into the Carpe Diem workshop. The model subsequently evolved into what is now called ‘The 7Cs of Learning Design’ at Leicester, while variations on the Carpe Diem theme are successfully used at several other universities in the UK and Australia.

In a Carpe Diem workshop, the facilitator helps participants to critically reflect on their existing course designs and to redesign their courses following a structured, team-based process. The workshop comprises a few essential tasks, such as discussing within course teams the desired look and feel of the course; reviewing the learning outcomes and assessment tools and ensuring that these are in alignment; developing a storyboard which illustrates the alignment between learning outcomes, assessment, social learning tasks (e-tivities), and content; developing e-tivities; and getting a ‘reality checker’ (someone from outside of the course team) to try out some of the e-tivities. The workshop always ends with participants developing their own action plans.

This process is not done on a one-off basis, but is rather intended to be reiterated every time the course team members revise their courses. With each new iteration, the academics have the opportunity to share with one another what worked well and what did not work well the last time they delivered the course, and over time, they build up a shared knowledge base and a sense of trust in their community of peers to help them solve problems related to delivery of their courses. The commitment to lifelong learning by teaching staff is also important in enabling them to play the role of ‘professional role model’ for their students (Kuluska-Hulme 2012).

  1. Teamwork and collaboration are critical to successful development and innovation

An essential part of the Carpe Diem process is that module leaders work within their course teams to revise and improve their modules. It is also useful for faculty from widely differing subject areas to work together in this regard. Providing an environment in which lecturers can engage in dialogue with other academics from outside of their immediate circle – for example colleagues working in a different discipline, and also colleagues with differing levels of teaching experience (Pataraia et al 2014) – exposes individuals to new and potentially useful ideas and practices. I have seen this working especially well when some members of the group have trialled a new approach in their modules (for example, incorporating discussion forum tasks into formative or summative assessment) and they are given time in the workshop to share information, concerns and insights on what happened in the pilot.

The community that is formed during the Carpe Diem workshops is often also strengthened in the time between workshops, as colleagues realise the value of engaging in dialogue with one another about their teaching practice on an ongoing basis. The workshops themselves then become the milestones when module leaders can consolidate what they have learnt since the last workshop, and when new module leaders are welcomed into the community.

  1. Experiencing online learning can be helpful for online teaching staff

Most teaching staff teach as they themselves were taught; however, few have experienced online learning themselves. For this reason, learning to teach online often takes academics out of their comfort zone and enables real transformation to take place in their understanding of learning and teaching (McQuiggan 2012). I have seen academics solicit feedback from learners with a much more open mind than they would in traditional, face-to-face education, simply because they did not have any preconceived ideas of how the learners might respond to innovations in online delivery. I have also seen academics experience a significant ‘Aha’ moment when they personally experience what it is like to be an online learner. Giving staff and associates the opportunity to participate in an online CPD programme themselves is one way of provoking creative and critical thinking about the design and delivery of their own online courses.

If it is not feasible to offer such a CPD programme in-house, faculty could be encouraged to participate in one of the free, open courses available online, in which they can learn and share knowledge with a wider, global community of practice. Below are a few current examples of relevant open courses:

These or similar courses could be recommended to staff by their line managers during annual appraisals, as a complement to the courses offered by the institution’s own Staff Development department. Staff could also be encouraged to find their own open courses on topics of particular interest and relevance to them. Many massive online open courses (MOOCs) now offer completion certificates or even credit-bearing certificates, and these certificates could be used to build up a portfolio by staff with a particular interest in developing their teaching practice.

  1. Useful knowledge and skills for online teachers in HE

While it is debatable whether all teaching staff require an in-depth knowledge of education theories, I have found that many academics appreciate being given the opportunity to learn about the following topics. Recommended readings/ resources are mentioned next to each item. 

  • Learning design principles and approaches (JISC Design Studio; ADDIE model and related resources – infographic by the Australia National VET E-learning Strategy)
  • A brief history of distance learning (Anderson & Dron 2010)
  • Assessment principles and practice (e.g. Re-engineering Assessment Practices in Scottish Higher Education (REAP) website and JISC Technology-Enhanced Assessment programme)
  • How to formulate learning outcomes for learners at different levels (e.g. the University of Gloucester’s ‘Co-generative Toolkit’)
  • Which technologies are useful and for what purposes (University of Oxford’s Phoebe Project; York University’s ‘Using blogs for student reflection, content generation and just-in-time feedback’; Mark Pegrum and the University of Western Australia’s ‘E-learning with Web 2.0’)
  • The role of social presence in online learning (Gunawardena & Zittle 1997; Kear 2010)
  • The different types of interaction that affect the learning process, and key considerations for learning designers to bear in mind regarding interaction for learners (Miyazoe and Anderson 2010)
  • An example of a framework for structuring student engagement through a whole course (Gunawardena 2006)
  • Designing online activities/ e-tivities (Salmon 2013)
  • Moderating/facilitating online learning (Salmon 2011)
  • Knowledge of open educational resources and how to access these (JISC OER Infokit)
  • Learning theories (HOTEL project’s infographic)
  • Key learning theorists (nicely summarised in Donald Clark’s blog, for example this post about Vygotsky)

While not an exhaustive list of topics, this is too long a list to be ‘covered’ in a single workshop, and these concepts are often dealt with more fully in a PGCE in those institutions that require their teaching staff to have a teaching qualification. Alternatively, they can be discussed in a series of lunchtime seminars/ webinars for those staff members who are interested in furthering their knowledge about learning and teaching.

  1. Evaluating online teaching and learning

Many academics are familiar with the concept of action research, in which the educator is both teacher and researcher. This approach is often not practised because of the lack of time for faculty to add any further tasks to their already pressured workload. An alternative way of evaluating the innovations that are implemented in teaching is therefore for lecturers to be partnered with a researcher who helps them to carry out a structured investigation of the problem, the intervention design, and the implementation and assessment, through a process referred to as design-based research (DBR) (Anderson and Shattuck 2012).

‘DBR is a methodology designed by and for educators that seeks to increase the impact, transfer and translation of education research into improved practice’ (Anderson and Shattuck 2012, p.16) The process involves educators designing and testing a significant intervention in a real educational context, with the aim of overcoming a specific problem or improving practice in a particular way. Data is gathered and analysed using whatever methods are most appropriate and practical. A key element of the approach is that it involves multiple iterations, with each iteration aimed at improving teaching practice, and simultaneously providing further data to be analysed. This evolution through multiple iterations is a normal part of any design process – the difference with DBR is that a more rigorous approach is taken to documenting and analysing the impact of modifications made in each iteration. In this way, DBR is an ongoing process that supports the lifecycle of the course it is focused on. The final phase of DBR involves looking for generalisations that could benefit other faculty teaching in a similar context, providing valuable input for the next round of workshops with the module leaders.


Anderson, T. & Dron, J., 2010. Three generations of distance education pedagogy. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(3), pp.80–97. Available at: [Accessed June 18, 2012].

Anderson, T. & Shattuck, J., 2012. Design-Based Research: A Decade of Progress in Education Research? Educational Researcher, 41, pp.16–25. Available at:

Cross, S. et al., 2012. OULDI-JISC Project Evaluation Report: the impact of new curriulum design tools and approaches on institutional process and design cultures, Milton Keynes, UK. Available at:

Gunawardena, C. & Zittle, F.J., 1997. Social presence as a predictor of satisfaction within a computer‐mediated conferencing environment. American Journal of Distance Education, 11(3), pp.8–26.

Gunawardena, C. et al., 2006. New model, new strategies: instructional design for building online wisdom communities. Distance Education, 27(2), pp.217–32. Available at:

Kear, K., 2010. Social presence in online learning communities. In Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Networked Learning 2010. Aalborg, Denmark. Available at:

Kukulska-Hulme, A., 2012. How should the higher education workforce adapt to advancements in technology for teaching and learning? The Internet and Higher Education, 15(4), pp.247–254. Available at:

McQuiggan, C.A., 2012. Faculty Development for Online Teaching as a Catalyst for Change. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(2), pp.27–61.

Miyazoe, T. & Anderson, T., 2010. The Interaction Equivalency Theorem. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 9(2), pp.94–104. Available at:

Pataraia, N. et al., 2014. Discovering academics’ key learning connections: An ego-centric network approach to analysing learning about teaching. Journal of Workplace Learning, 26(1), pp.56–72. Available at: (Accessed 20 October 2014).

Salmon, G., 2011. E-Moderating: The Key to Online Teaching and Learning 2nd Ed., London, New York: Routledge.

Salmon, G., 2013. E-tivities: The key to active online learning 2nd editio. Routledge, ed., London, New York.

Salmon, G. & Wright, P., 2014. Transforming Future Teaching through “Carpe Diem” Learning Design. Education Sciences, 4, pp.52–63.

About Gabi Witthaus

Open educator. Blogger at Art of E-learning. Learning design consultant at University of Birmingham. PhD student in HE Research, Evaluation and Enhancement, Lancaster University. Previously Research Associate at University of Leicester (Beyond Distance Research Alliance and Institute of Learning Innovation); Learning and Teaching Facilitator at Loughborough University; Distance Learning Manager at Bradford University School of Management. Qualifications: Masters in Training and Development (USQ, Australia); Masters in English Education (Wits University, South Africa), PGC in Mediation (Robert Gordon, Scotland), BA Hons in Applied Linguistics (Wits University, South Africa).
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