Engaging with a fast-changing digital landscape is ever more essential in educational settings across the lifespan. The rapid shift to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the implications of applying digital learning in a haphazard way. Everyone loses when digital education fails to meet the needs and interests of learners, educators, and other human beings in educational contexts. So how do we make sure that online teaching prioritises the human?

Download the full report

Executive summary

In the ecology of digital education, approaches to teaching and learning must accommodate the humans, systems, and resources at play. In a human-centred learning design model, digital learning and teaching place the student at the centre. The teacher becomes a designer of real-world learning environments that facilitate learner agency and build students’ capacity to navigate the unknown.

In implementing human-centred learning design, educators face a range of challenges relating to the diverse needs and contexts of students and other stakeholders. Learning online provides flexibility and opportunity, but it can also prove isolating and frustrating. For teachers, it can present the considerable challenge of teaching with new tools and in new ways. The resourcing needs of digital education are significant, especially when these approaches are new to educators and students, and so adequate professional training in the effective use of digital tools is essential.

Challenges can also be encountered in systems level factors such as curriculum, policy, and pedagogy. For instance, there is a real danger that educators see online pedagogies as distinct and almost opposite to the pedagogical theories they have always used within the classroom. This is not the case, and, in fact, it is imperative that we continue to draw on pedagogical theories and frameworks as we embrace technology. The rapid acceleration of the use of digital technology has led to a significant increase in the demand for resources to support digital learning—from hardware and software to professional development and training for educators. The challenges of resourcing digital learning from a human-centred design perspective are multifaceted and complex.

In this report, we explore responses to the challenges of digital education across six dimensions of practice.
  • use structured and flexible design to accommodate the varied needs and interests of learners
  • prioritise accessibility, diversity, and inclusion in all learning design
  • apply strategies from inquiry and active learning to make education engaging, meaningful, and effective
  • provide opportunities for teacher and student presence in learning spaces online and offline to support connection
  • foster collaboration and participation in learning activities and tasks, and
  • consider innovative approaches to feedback and assessment that are learner-centred, inclusive, and effective
Human-centred learning design informed by the dimensions

Key messages

  • Relationships are at the core of the work that educators, students, and support staff do to develop successful approaches with digital teaching and learning tools and practices.
  • Understanding the ecology in which digital learning and teaching takes place is essential to good and holistic practice.
  • Effective digital learning is student-centred, fosters collaboration, and enables communication and connection.
  • Educational institutions must support teachers to experiment and take risks with innovative practices.
  • Effective digital learning and teaching—like any learning and teaching—is differentiated to learners’ needs, preferences, and contexts.
  • Differentiated, responsive, and integrated assessment works best in digital learning and teaching.
  • A range of dimensions intersect to make digital learning and teaching structured and flexible, active and engaging, and inclusive.
  • Community and belonging in digital teaching and learning are supported by practice that prioritises accessibility, diversity, and inclusion.
  • Human-centred online learning requires significant resources, collaboration, time, and commitment.
  • Resourcing teaching and learning that is informed by human-centred design involves the reciprocal identification of needs and goals, with agency and control in the hands of the student and educator.

Strategies to support human-centred design in learning and teaching

Drawing on research literature and our own experience as educators, we have identified six dimensions of practice that guide effective blended and hybrid learning with digital technologies.

  • Structured and flexible design

      Structured and flexible design is a broad term describing the ways in which online learning and teaching can be devised to accommodate and suit different needs and contexts. It considers:

    • Alignment and sustainability
    • The unification of elements of design
    • Organisation, delivery, and assessment of learning
    • The progression of inquiry
    • Pace, place, and mode
    • The promotion of thinking dispositions
  • Accessibility, diversity, and inclusion

      Inclusive and accessible digital education requires that, from the outset, we consider the needs, interests, and backgrounds of learners and that we design for diversity. The accessibility, diversity, and inclusion dimension asks us to:

    • Use inclusive teaching practices
    • Meet accessibility standards for design
    • Accommodate diverse student abilities
    • Prioritise Indigenous knowledges and understandings
    • Use culturally sensitive and respectful content
    • Design multiple modes for content delivery
  • Inquiry and active learning

      Digital and online communication and collaboration platforms enable these learning environments and facilitate:

    • Meaningful connections to learning
    • Building a culture of inquiry
    • Dialectic and questioning activities
    • Systemic inquiry
    • Focused content
    • Opportunities for active learning
  • Teacher and student presence

      Educators must design learning that:

    • Allows multiple modes for student presence
    • Fosters a sense of belonging
    • Builds an active community
    • Supports digital identity
    • Provides social and emotional support
    • Establishes a narrative
  • Collaboration and participation

      Key strategies for collaborative and participatory learning include:

    • Developing a climate for responsive relationships
    • Facilitating student responsibility for learning
    • Promoting interaction between students
    • Establishing ways for open communication and trust to occur
    • Embedding structures that encourage collaboration
    • Creating opportunities to learn together
  • Feedback and assessment

      Effective feedback and assessment should reflect:

    • Constructive alignment
    • Multiple modes of feedback
    • A scaffolded and timely approach
    • Metacognition and critical reflection
    • A learner-centred perspective
    • Authentic assessment opportunities