Creating an Online Task

In the M-HOUSE project we are targeting home-based adults to explore the business skills they have from their experience of running a household over many years. In the same way that reframing the work of hotel attendants as exercise actually helped them to lose weight, we hope that reframing the often-undervalued work of running a household as entrepreneurial would boost confidence in personal development (which may or may not include starting a business in the end).

All organized learning must start with learning outcomes and in the M-HOUSE project, since we were essentially in a reframing exercise, we felt it was especially important to take everyday tasks and activities as our starting point which we called Key Learning Situations (KLS) on which to build learning activities. We chose 11 everyday tasks that we felt could map onto equivalent business skills such as making a major purchase, moving house, planning a major event, resolving conflict and coping with a sudden loss in income. We then asked a large group of external stakeholders to prioritise the 11 so that we could focus on a core group of 8 KLS or modules for our Business Skills Explorer online course which we plan to offer to home-based adults across the EU.

Uniform modules

In order to provide a degree of predictability for the learners, we decided early on to adopt the same structure for each module as follows:

  1. Intro activity: a short low risk activity that activates learners to think about the topic
  2. Background information: short theoretical background to the topic with perhaps a low risk knowledge checking activity (not needed if the theory is to be used in the next task).
  3. Application of knowledge: A practical task that can partly be completed offline.

We overlaid onto these modules an ongoing reflective task targeted at personal development.

The rest of this post will focus on the process we went through to design one of those KLS online modules.

Example: Major purchase

Learning Outcomes

The module aims at raising the learner’s awareness of the skills related to accomplish an effective purchase. The learners should be able to

  • define the purpose of the purchase
  • acquire and critically evaluate all relevant information on finance management needed for an effective purchase
  • analyse the market of products (via the internet or retailers)
  • reasonably use different types of payment

First draft

The initial idea for the tasks were as follows:


  • Invite learners to post 2 or 3 sentences about the worst item they have ever bought to a forum

Background knowledge:

  • Read an online article about the consumer buying process.
  • Answer 2 concept checking questions to a forum.

Practical application: Your washing machine has broken down

  1. Talk to a friend about how they bought their last washing machine. What do you need to consider when buying a new washing machine. This is the ‘go out’ part of the task. Make a mindmap to illustrate the factors and upload to the learning platform.
  2. Find out product information online and fill in a decision matrix to discover the best product for your needs
  3. Find out information about the best method of payment
  4. Put 1, 2, & 3 together in a Word document that you upload to the forum and comment on at least one of your peers’ document (similarities, differences etc)


The table below charts some of the major changes we made to the initial draft ideas for the unit and why.

Add relevance We changed the washing machine to a computer as this more accurately reflects a purchase that may be needed as part of a new business.
Set the tone We inserted a humorous 30 second Mac advert about buying decisions to reinforce the informal nature of the course.
Reframe positively Instead of asking about learners’ worst purchase (which might make them feel incompetent) we asked them about their best purchase.
Add modelling In the best purchase forum, the tutor adds a short account of their best purchase to model the amount of detail we are looking for and the type of purchase. Eg mundane is OK.
Promote added reflection Instead of simply describing a good purchase, a short quiz was added to find out what sort of buyer you are (eg impulsive, informed etc). Forum posts should only be used when a response to each post is expected. So in this case a quiz with automatic feedback was better than a forum response.
Add structure Clearly setting out and numbering the steps to be taken in each task. One of the greatest pitfalls in online learning is being unclear and uncertain. It can seem childish to break down the steps and ask for 5 key points, 3 sentences or 3 paragraphs, but if you don’t, some learners will do much less or much more than you bargained for.
Add presentation variety The article was changed to a 3-minute video covering the same concepts. The unit looks less text-heavy as a result.
Reduce burden on tutor Concept check questions were included in a self-checking quiz rather than an open forum which would have been very repetitive and which someone would have had to have checked.
Make use of peer input We added a wiki exercise in which small groups of learners were asked to bullet point the 5 stages of consumer decision-making as it applied to a specific purchase they had made. In this way peers could see 5 or 6 examples but only contribute one.
Add guidelines (length of response, deadlines, time allocation) In this case we included some technical advice and simplified the technical aspects of the task, especially the last task which mixed a mindmap, matrix and text.
Add collaboration-lite See peer input for an example of this
Add collaboration-heavy This is lacking in this module but there is also a question of balance and since the learners will be working together on planning an event in a concurrent module, then it would be too demanding to include a larger collaboration task also here.

This is by way of illustrating how an online module can develop from first ideas.

PS. Using Key Learning Situations as a starting point is just one way of approaching course design. There are many others.

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