Four Cs of Online by Design

When thinking about the design of a course for the semester, the 4C model allows for a considered approach to establishing structure, content and connection with your students. 


The nuts and bolts of the subject matter, usually contained in PowerPoint decks, PDF readings, links and videos.  This is the basic platform atop which we can expand into the more creative, effective, and valuable uses of the online learning environment.

  • What is the minimum course content that needs to be available to the student through the subject, learning management site, and supplemental materials? 
  • How can that material be delivered in different formats include low bandwidth, interactive, self-guided, peer supported, and lecturer led content blocks?
  • What do I need to provide to the Library for readings and set texts?


Students are the rationale for education, and educators are the interface between what is currently known (by us) and what we’d like to be known (by them). However, we’re not the only people that the students need to interact with over the course of their semester in our subjects, so it’s it important to consider from the outside who we need to have involved, and how we create the access opportunities for students to make these connections?

  • Who do the students need to interact with during the course?
    • Lectures, tutors, other students, group assignment members, forum posters, clients, guest lecturers or the general public? 
    • Administrators, support staff, student services, library, Access and Inclusion, Equity, Student Union, and School or College Administrators?
  • What is the student’s capacity to access to expertise in the form of people? 
    • What assumptions have I made about their access to people, networks, contacts, and industry connections required for experiencing my subject? 
  • What do we need to provide from the university to facilitate or coordinate network expansion, or direct contacts?
    • What is my role as in facilitating access?
    • Am I a gatekeeper for the clients, or do the clients want direct access?
    • Do the students want a gatekeeper as intermediary?


Education does not occur in a vacuum.  A full-time student has three other subjects to contend with in their life, along with work, life, social functions, and currently, an ongoing global pandemic, which is before we get into the economic impacts of that, and the ever-present increasing impact of climate change.  That’s before we start adding in Netflix, and other competition for their attention. Consequently, we need to consider how and where we fit into the overall degree path for the student, and what accommodations they are making to fit our subjects into their life.

  • Where does the online experience integrate into the rest of the student’s life?
  • Does the student have schedule arrangements, family duties, work requirements or other aspects that may hinder or enhance their experience?
  • What are the courses that precede and follow the subject in the context of student learning?
  • Does everything I want the student to experience fit within the notional 8 to 10 hours we assume they’re setting aside each week for this subject?


Online learning can be a challenge for staff and student alike to feel like a part of the university.  Part of the challenge arises from the lack of coincidental communications – everything online is structured, with limited opportunity to have corridor chats, casual encounters between classes, or running into people in the spaces between classes and places.

  • Does the sum of the student’s interactions with this course result in something that feels like a university experience? 
  • Will the students feel that they are “Performing University Life” when interacting with the course and materials?
  • Is there a way to buffer in slack time, social spaces, and casual connections between your students over the course of the subject?