The role of the instructional technology coach as learning designer

Throughout the DEL program, I have developed a deeper understanding of instructional design principles that have advanced my pedagogical practices. I have become confident in my ability to model these principles and support educators in designing student learning experiences and virtual educational environments based on my knowledge and skills in creating virtual learning environments and my understanding of the Backward Design and Universal Design for Learning Frameworks.

The International Society for Technology in Education Coaching Standard 4.4 states that “Coaches model and support educators to design learning experiences and environments to meet the needs and interests of all students” (ISTE). Following, I will provide evidence of my understanding of the four learning designer performance indicators.

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PI 4.4a: Collaborate with educators to develop authentic, active learning experiences that foster student agency, deepen content mastery and allow students to demonstrate their competency.

For as long as I have been an educator, I have been a staunch proponent of active learning experiences as a preferred avenue for students to deepen content knowledge and demonstrate mastery of learning. But until COVID-19 changed the learning environment landscape, my understanding and expertise in experiential learning was primarily rooted in in-person learning activities, such as field experiences, onsite simulation activities, etc. Throughout the DEL program, I have acquired knowledge and skills in how to structure active learning in online learning environments, as demonstrated in the following blog posts:

Additionally, I have become an even stronger advocate in planning voice and choice in instructional design to foster student agency.

 In a blog post titled, “Voice and choice in a digitally enhanced leaner-centered curriculum,” I discussed how voice and choice is a component of a student-centered curricular model, which enables students to be self-directed in their learning and empowers students by giving them freedom to explores topics that they are interested in and are passionate about. This approach to instructional design is thought to increase student motivation and engagement in the learning process.

Further, in a blog post titled, “Project-based learning: A recipe for student autonomy, voice and choice, and sustained inquiry,” I explored project-based learning as an example of a teaching method that reinforces student autonomy, voice, and choice as components of the learning process. There are rich opportunities to integrate digital technology into project-based learning, including demonstrating learning through blog posts and websites, which can deepen content proficiency while demonstrating competency.

PI 4.4b: Help educators use digital tools to create effective assessments that provide timely feedback and support personalized learning.

One of my biggest take-aways from the DEL program was learning about the Backward Design Framework developed by Wiggins and McTighe (Bowen, 2017). This framework of instructional design begins by determining the desired results of learning followed by developing assessment and evidence criteria. Once those steps are completed, the learning plan is developed. This conceptual framework of instructional design is important because it puts student success (i.e., outcomes) in the forefront of thinking and the learning activities and instructional strategies on the back burner, at least initially, until student outcomes and evidence of learning are conceived.  To demonstration my understanding of this performance indicator, I explored utilizing the Backward Design Framework, including considerations for developing student assessments, in the following blog posts, “Pedagogy before technology: Why the cart shouldn’t be put before the horse when integrating technology into student learning experiences” and “Teaching students to teach effectively on Zoom.”

Additionally, I explored the value of peer assessment digital tools, with a specific investigation of PeerGrade, in my blog post titled, “Integrating online peer review tools in higher education to reinforce digital citizenship skills.”

PI 4.4c: Collaborate with educators to design accessible and active digital learning environments that accommodate learner variability.

Learner variability is a broad term that encompasses students with learning disabilities as well as other learning needs related to social-emotional health, language abilities, and the processing of information. The American Disabilities Act states that all learning environments, including digital spaces, must be structured to accommodate learner variability.

In my blog post titled, How does Canvas learning management system support learner variability? I explored learner variability by researching how the Canvas Learning Management System is designed to support students with varying learning needs. Sub-topics included the following:

  • course layout/navigation
  • adjustable timeframes and due dates
  • accessibility (e.g., closed captioning, alt text, an audio feature built into the chat tool, font size, high contrast user interface, and compatibility with screen readers)

I also explored supporting learner variability in asynchronous learning experiences, which addresses socio-emotional health, information processing, and flexible timeframes for students balancing school and work.

Lastly, I explored the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, which provides guidelines for structuring the learning environment to reduce barriers for supporting learner variability. I learned about the three principles of UDL, including examples of instructional design principles that can be implemented in Canvas to reflect these principles:

  • Multiple means of representation (e.g., deliver content in a variety of ways, such as text, images, and audio)
  • Multiple means of expressions (e.g., allow students to complete assignments in multiple ways, such as a preparing a video or writing a paper)
  • Multiple means of engagement (e.g., allow voice and choice in topics to research)

In a related blog post titled, “Integrating digital technology into teaching and learning: A reflection on what the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced,” I explored student support through assistive technologies. Examples of assistive technologies I learned about that are used to support learner variability include:

  • Screen readers
  • Closed captioning 
  • Graphic organizers
  • Text-to-speech software
  • Notetaking aids 

Another topic I explored that addresses learner variability is sensory sensitivity. In my blog post titled, “Sensory sensitivity in the digital age: How can instructional technology coaches assist?” I explored how adjustments to the digital learning environment would benefit students with sensory sensitivity. I discovered several assistive technologies (e.g., screen enlargement software) and modifications to the digital learning environment (e.g., positioning the computer to maximize natural light and minimize glare) that can support students with sight-related, hearing-related, and/or writing-related sensory sensitivities.

PI 4.4d: Model use of instructional design principles with educators to create effective digital learning environments.

In addition to my previous discussion on designing effective digital learning environments to accommodate learner variability, the research for my blog post on the Canvas Learning  Management System taught me a lot about how the course layout and navigation can affect a student’s experience in a digital learning environment. Something that was reinforced to me through my research is how many tools are built into Canvas that can support asynchronous student collaboration.

Beyond the Canvas Learning Management System, I investigated simulation learning by taking a deep dive into options available in the clinical nutrition realm. In my blog post titled,  “Simulated learning in dietetics education: What options are available?” I discovered that there are many types of simulated learning environments, including digital, that are available for dietetics students to practice their skills in clinical nutrition. They include laboratory simulation with robots, laboratory simulation using human actors, computer software programs designed with 3D virtual simulation learning environments and avatars, and computer software programs using a case study approach in a virtual learning environment.

In summary, I have learned that design considerations for an effective digital learning environment need to take into account the formatting and navigation as well as the needs of diverse types of learners. Student assignments should include active learning activities, offer voice and choice to foster student agency and engagement, and desired student outcomes and assessment/evidence criteria should be determined before learning activities and instructional strategies are developed.


Bowen, R.S. (2017). Understanding by Design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

International Society for Technology in Education. (2022).

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