What’s in a TEL Lesson?

by | Mar 5, 2019 | Learning Design

I haven’t written much about our lesson design in recent months, so I thought it might be good to share some our design philosophy and talk about how that translates into TEL lessons, modules, and courses.

Let me begin by saying that, from the outset, we have a set of established goals toward which we design our learning experiences. These goals are related to:

  • Support for our intentional learning progression model
  • Support for learning tied to specific learning outcomes
  • Support for student demonstration of concept mastery tied to specific learning outcomes
  • Support for diverse learning environments, such as self-paced online, term and cohort-based online, and blended (online +face-to-face)

At the course level, we begin by creating an outline that consists of lessons with specified topics. We establish clear learning outcomes for our lessons and also align these with levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. These lesson outcomes tied to specific Bloom’s taxonomy levels guide our design of content, assessments, and evidence activities, ensuring that we are asking for appropriate types of content or learning evidence.

With a course outline in hand, we begin working with subject matter experts to create lesson content. The content development process adheres to TEL’s specific learning progression model that guides students through different stages of learning: Contextualization–>Elaboration–>Relevance–>Agency–>Mastery.


We begin each lesson with a brief overview and short video to provide context so that students can absorb more lesson information more easily. The goal with this content is to let students know what information is being presented in the lesson and why it matters. This context gives them an idea of how to categorize the information, as well as how they might apply it. I should add one important note related to this Contextualization phase — TEL lesson videos are not designed to be instructional. Rather, they are meant to be introductions to the core learning content provided in subsequent sections of our lessons.


Core lesson content, the content that presents and explains the lesson topics, is elaborated in the Read and Expand sections of each lesson. These sections provide the information that students must absorb in order to perform well on assessment and evidence activities. The Read section provides the primary concept explanations and examples for a lesson, while the Expand section offers a deeper dive into the concept and often emphasizes the application of the concept in today’s world. This information in the Read and Watch sections is generally presented in short blocks that are aligned to specific lesson topics. This facilitates the ease of study and review.


It is difficult for students to move from information processing (memorization) to actual applied knowledge without having some sense of relevance. In other words, if a student can’t see how the information might be relevant to their worldview or life they are less likely to be motivated to internalize the information and apply it in meaningful ways. We attempt to promote relevance by asking “Big Questions” at the beginning of our lessons, and by using polls that ask students to reflect on the personal impact of what they are learning. We also reinforce relevance through real-world concept applications discussed in our Expand sections.


We want to encourage students to internalize and take ownership of the information and skills we present in our lessons. In many ways, agency is motivated by making information personally relevant to students. We do this through our Big Question, Polls, and Expand sections. We also promote agency in other ways. In our lessons, we provide resource toolboxes that encourage students to explore concepts on their own, in personally relevant ways. At the module-level, we have students apply their knowledge in step-by-step, rubric-based activities that guide them through the knowledge-application process.


Finally, we want to be certain that students are actually mastering the information and skills we are covering in our lessons. There are multiple steps to this mastery. First, at the lesson level, we have students test their understanding of information by completing a short, “Check Your Knowledge” quiz. At the module level, we have student complete rubric-based, mastery-focused activities and take longer formative quizzes that cover all concepts presented across module lessons (usually 4-6 lessons). In addition, we ask students to demonstrate understanding and mastery by completing two summative assessments for each course.

Rob Reynolds, Ph.D.
Executive Director

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