The four make-or-breaks in on-line learning


One of the challenges of successful online education, both before and post COVID-19, is a clear understanding of what high-quality online education actually entails. After a year in which remote, distance and online learning solutions were rushed into deployment, are best practices leveraged? Is on-line learning an experiential journey students find relevant and engaging? Or are educators, through necessity, stemming the breach by using Zoom to replicate the way they teach in the face-to-face classroom?

From our experience there are four fundamentals that either make or break the experience of on-line learning for higher education students. They are

* responsive synchronous student support from academics

* a comprehensive understanding of design elements that engage online learners

* not using predefined curriculum content, and

* ensuring academics have a strong understanding of heutagogy (i.e. self-determined learning).

Critically, finding all four fundamentals in practice in on-line education in HE remains elusive.

In 2018, Victoria University (VU) Online launched a resources-sufficient model of online education with these four fundamentals to counter high attrition rates and low student satisfaction. Through an unbundling of the university via the establishment of public-private partnerships, VU Online provides responsive academic student support seven days a week and in the evenings. Coupled with the adoption of best practices in User Experience (UX) and Learning Experience Design (LXD), this provides students with a career-based experiential learning journey.

Finally, each unit within the course is newly authored specifically for on-line delivery by subject matter experts (SMEs) and highly qualified learning designers who assist them to take curriculum content, principles of heutagogy and technologies into account. This new curriculum content requires students to engage in active learning through collaborative activities, reflection on practice and by interacting with technological assets.

It’s clear universities need to implement these four fundamentals into the design of online education to transform the effectiveness of online teaching and learning.  Where the expertise does not exist internally, at least in the short term, public-private partnerships offer a viable alternative.


Professor Chris Walsh is the Academic Director of VU Online.

Michael Ratcliff is the CEO of VU Online.


Chris Walsh is a panellist at the Needed Now Conference on 26 May 2021, 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm AEST, talking about Online learning for the future. Register here