How would you go about becoming an expert at designing online learning?

I read a tweet this morning that asked; if you could be in the 1% of experts for any skill, what would that be? I have been building my skills in the design of online learning for several years, so it got me thinking about what expertise looks like in my field. I wrote the following question at the top of a page and started to make a list. 

How would you go about becoming an expert at designing online learning? 

Here are my steps to developing expertise in the design of online and blended learning courses. If you have questions or what to add to the list, message me on Twitter.

  1. Follow a documented set of learning and design principles
  2. Develop a model for estimating effort and costs
  3. Follow a repeatable development process
  4. Know the fundamentals of project management and follow them religiously
  5. Treat the course creator like the hero of the story, support them and collaborate.
  6. Have a Quality Assurance process linked to the design principles
  7. Set clear expectations for students, create metrics to monitor against these, and have interventions in place when they are not met.
  8. Collect and analyse lots of data and user feedback
  9. Iterate, iterate, iterate
  10. Frequently update your learning and design principles, costing model, and development process

Notes: Firstly, I have explicitly focused on the design of courses and separated this from the very different development and delivery skills. Secondly, I have taken some liberties by putting all the learning and design principles into a single step. These two areas are vast and cover everything from accessibility and user experience to psychology and learning and teaching models. Thirdly, within the third step of following the development process, I currently prefer to use the rapid prototyping model that follows the Design thinking steps, including the creation of student personas, and UCL’s ABC workshop for mapping out the course. Finally, this is the first attempt at a list, and I might wake up tomorrow and realise I have missed a whole section of the field and need to update this list. If you are in the area already or are interested in developing your expertise, then I hope this list is useful.

If you have questions or want to add to the list, message me on Twitter. I would love to see other peoples lists for building expertise in the design of online courses too.

Solving problems with the double diamond design process model

Traditional project management starts with a brief, and you go through several steps to get to a solution. In the Double Diamond, this is called the design phase and involves a period of divergence followed by convergence. The divergence and convergence process is done twice, first to go from problem to design brief, and second to go from the brief to the solution.

Divergence and convergence

The most crucial concept in solving any problem is to have multiple ideas and then chose the best. Before committing to a solution to develop, you need first to think up and test multiple ideas to find the best one.

Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.


Convergent thinking is the type of thinking that focuses on coming up with the single, well-established answer to a problem.


You will have done this process of divergent then convergent thinking in school many times. First, you brainstorming as many ideas as possible, not worrying about the quality of what you are writing, then you choose the ones that sound the most suitable and investigate them further. Finally, you select one single idea that performs best in your tests. This process was to train you on how to think about a problem and come to a solution.

Designing things right and designing the right things

Designing things right requires a design process where the problem definition is used to develop, test, and deliver a solution. You collate many potential solutions by generating ideas and then trying them. You can then deliver solutions that work to users and listen to their feedback to refine your solution further. 

The best designers spend time designing the right thing first by researching the problem to create a problem definition or design brief. You need to gain insights into the challenge through exhaustive research and then scope down the focus by exploring this research to come to a clear definition.

The Double Diamond design process model

The British Design Council published the double diamond as a visual representation of the design and innovation process in 2004, adapting it from similar iterative models used by IDEO and the divergence-convergence model. The aim was to produce a simple way to share a strategic approach to a design and innovation project. The Double Diamond was published alongside the Methods Bank resource to define the British Design Council’s innovation process.

The double diamond collects divergent and convergent thinking ideas and design principles and the Methods bank to create an innovation process that you can use in any field.

The design process has four stages:

  • Discover – question the problem and research to identify users needs
  • Define – make sense of the discovery phase findings to create a design brief
  • Develop – develop, test, and refine multiple potential solutions
  • Deliver – Select and prepare a final solution for launch

Design principles:

  • Be people-centred
  • Communicate visually and inclusively
  • Collaborate and co-create
  • Iterate, iterate, iterate

Methods bank

  • Explore: challenges, need, and opportunities
  • Shape: prototypes insights and visions
  • Build: ideas, plans, and expertise 

Learn more on the Design Council’s website.