Clarity,  consistency, cohesion and care: the four Cs as a design philosophy for online learning

Andy Wright describes how a focus on clarity, consistency, cohesion and care results in better online learning design

Andy Wright's avatar
Cambridge Education Group
20 Apr 2021
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Key Details

This video will cover: 

01:12 Making clarity and consistency cornerstones of your online course design 

02:57 Ensuring cohesion in your online teaching plan 

03:39 Putting care at the heart of online course design and delivery 


Hi there, my name is Andy Wright. I’m the director of learning design at CEG Digital.   

So, over the past five years or so, myself and my team have worked with lots and lots of academics at various universities and colleges around the UK to help them design and develop fully online programmes, right the way from level three all the way up to level seven, where we specialise.   

One of the things that we’ve come to appreciate over that time is the importance of having what we call a design philosophy, a quality ethos, essentially.   

And we use a framework called the 4C lens that we’ll introduce you to in a second. 

But what that gives us is a kind of shared understanding and a quality path that we can follow through projects.  

It also gives us a shared language that helps us to make more effective decisions around things like collaborative design challenges and issues with cross-functional processes and things like that.  

So, this is the 4C lens. As you can see, it consists of clarity, consistency, cohesion and care, and I’ll go through each in turn.  

So, in terms of clarity then. Designing activities that can be worked through flexibly, at a distance, is very different to the attendance-based face-to-face model.  

So, instead of live lectures and seminars, where students attend together, what you really want is a structured series of asynchronous activities, so videos, podcasts, articles and so on.  But also things like case studies, forums, research tasks, reflective journals and so on.

And because that activity then is quite varied, it’s advisable to regularly reinforce expectations, as often as possible, and make sure that all instructions are really, really clear, to make sure or to give students that confidence in what they’re doing and what they’re being asked to do and the expectations around that.   

It also helps them to break down longer activities into their component parts and thereby better organise their study time around their other commitments.  

Consistency, then. So, consistency overlaps with clarity to some extent, but it’s also about familiarity. The aim should be to have each unit or week as similar as possible in terms of the learning, the learning design, but also in terms of the user interface, the navigation, layout, style, tone and so on.   

Creating that sense of familiarity and having students be comfortable in their online environment should help with building a sense of community. But it will also reduce cognitive load and encourage good study habits.  

A great way of getting consistency, of course, is to design your programme using a pedagogic framework such as ABC, Carpe Diem or CoDesignS.  

So, cohesion is about ensuring that there’s an interconnected and logical flow of activity through each week and through each module, and the whole programme, of course. And constructive alignment really helps with this.  

So, it’s best if you can always work backwards from learning outcomes and competencies into your assessment strategy. And then to work back again into the composition of each individual assignment within that strategy. And then, and only then, to think about your module content, to think about your topic breakdown, and to ideally set achievable weekly learning objectives, for example, before planning and creating the  weekly learning and teaching activities.  

And that brings us to the final principle: this is care. Now, care really is the foundational principle of the whole philosophy.  

It’s about always taking the time to consider who our students are, what their lives are like and why they’re studying in a global and online cohort. Each student will approach their studies in a slightly different way, with different preferences, different needs, different expectations and, of course, at different times, which makes it essential that we design activities and structure learning in a way that’s flexible, explicit and robust enough to accommodate that diversity.  

Another thing you can do to give you or make your course inclusive is to make sure that the curriculum itself is international and intercultural.   

So, students might share local, personal experiences and engage in dialogue with other students all around the world, in forums, for example. You can also make sure that your case studies, your scenarios and your reading lists are taken from a wide range of different cultures, different countries and different contexts.  

So, that’s the 4C lens in a nutshell.   

I hope you found this quick summary interesting and useful. And if you do have a go at applying any of these principles, I hope that you get the results that you want. Thanks. 


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