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10 Commandments of eLearning

Cath Ellis’ Ten Commandments of eLearning

Taken from her blog post Monday, 20 April 2009

Frequently when I talk to colleagues about eLearning they say something like 'I set up a bulletin board/blog/wiki etc but the students didn't use it'. My response to them is always the same: that the problem is more likely to be with their design rather than with their students. Over the years I've learned a lot of things about what good design really means and I've grouped them all together into a Ten Commandents of eLearning. This is not intended to be blasphemous or disrespectful but rather is inspired by the Christian commandments in that all they're doing is presenting a set of basic principles to work to. Like the original ten commandments, with these the first is the most important. I hope you find them useful.

By Ramon FVelasquez (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


1. Put the pedagogy (not the technology) first:

Think about what students need to learn then think about how it is best for them to learn it. Only then think about which technology is best used to accomplish this. Don’t be too ambitious: Start out small (eg. just a discussion board or a group blog) and build on this in subsequent years.

2. Be aware of workloads and work patterns (yours and theirs):

Be aware of workloads and work patterns (yours and theirs): Replace (don’t augment) other teaching and learning activities with eLearning. Consider how much reading and writing they are required to do each week. Use groups to limit/manage this. Consider how much reading and writing you’ll be required to do each week to moderate their activity. Design and structure the activities to manage this. Develop/harness peer learning opportunities - these should strengthen over the duration of the module and your workload should decrease accordingly as students take on more of the load. Avoid activities where students rely on colleagues to complete work before they can complete theirs so that students who meet deadlines or want to work ahead aren’t penalised or held back by those who don’t. Limit the number of synchronous activities or make them voluntary. Record them so that those unable to attend can access them at a later date. Remember: lurking (reading without contributing) can be a valuable learning activity.

3. Balance risks with safety:

We want students to take intellectual risks but they need to feel safe in order to do so. The eLearning environment needs to be a safe place to be. Going online can feel very ‘risky’ in itself to many people – so make the first few activities ‘familiar’ and ‘safe’ such as introductions, reflection etc. In other words, bear in mind ‘social’ risks as well as intellectual ‘risks’. Make sure there is a welcome for students ready for them when they first log on and that the first thing they need to do or place they need to go to is clearly marked at the outset.

4. Balance obligations with rewards:

By all means use compulsory elements to oblige students to participate (assessed elements, attendance requirements, deadlines etc). But make sure these are balanced with elements that make participation worthwhile and beneficial for them in terms of their learning needs. Carrots are much more effective in eLearning than sticks.>

5. Make ethics a priority:

Don’t give anyone access to the site who doesn’t have to be there. Inform students about who has access, why they are there and what they have access to. Let them know if/how they are being surveilled. Never display or reuse student contributions or work without their consent and release.

6. Model good practice:

Write your contributions in a way that you would like your students to write them (i.e. concise, well paragraphed, proof read, formal/informal etc). Be online when you say you’ll be and do what you’ll say you’ll do (no more no less). Keep and use your sense of humour. Always observe appropriate netiquette and make sure that students do also.

7. Make expectations clear:

Establish clearly what are the minimum expectations you have of them. Establish clearly what are the maximum expectations they can have of you. Ensure the module works in the space between these two.

8. Establish patterns and stick to them:

Build spaces and use them consistently (always put the same sorts of things in the same places so they are easy to find, use colour coding to differentiate different types of documents etc). Don’t move things around unless you have to. If you form students into groups don’t alter them for the duration of the module unless you have to. Establish learning patterns or cycles (eg Explore, Describe, Apply) that students work through routinely (eg weekly or fortnightly).

9. Keep spaces available for students to use and shape to their own needs:

Keep spaces available for students to use and shape to their own needs: Allowing students to control and customise the learning environment is a useful and important way of empowering them and allowing them to take ownership of it the space. This can be something as simple as a ‘notes’ or ‘general discussion’ forum on the discussion board or as complicated as a wiki space where students can collaborate on writing documents or set up URLs to share.

10. Use/develop protocols:

Use/develop protocols: Protocols are helpful for all students, not just those with low experience or confidence using online spaces. Use protocols for such things as for saving and uploading documents, assessment etc., for using a chat space, for formatting reader-friendly posts, for using blogs. Don’t reinvent the wheel – someone else may have already created and tested one.


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