#Take5 #71 Gilly Salmon: Five steps forward

This #Take5 blog post is brought to you from Gilly Salmon – and we are so delighted to be able to present her latest thoughts on the 5-stage model for online learning. If not now – when?

The 5-stage model: Carpe Diem

The 5-stage model for online learning was first built nearly 30 years ago from grounded and action research. (Sure, cue violins!).  It was rooted in social constructivism, learner engagement and scaffolding  when content was still king. Initially, I deployed it to support tutor development – the term I called ‘e-moderating’. 

Fast forward through three editions of the book, another on the way, and the birth of Carpe Diem Learning Design  – a team-based approach to learning design. Many colleagues across levels, disciplines and geography,  have recently discovered or revisited the five stages to support their rapid pivot to quality online, blended and hybrid education. Now teams use the model (and its sister framework, e-tivities) for both design and teaching development. 

So,  I thought you might like a 2022 , and beyond, reminder.  

Gilly Salmon
Picture of Gilly Salmon

Five steps to Mega Learning in 2022

I first encountered the idea of networking remotely for learning purposes in the early 1990s, when I was working at the Open University Business School.  With others, I had  responsibility for extra large numbers of super diverse and distant students. I explored what on earth (or rather, what in ‘cyberspace’- as it was then called) we could do with the  remote ‘computer mediated conferencing’ that was available to us as course teams and tutors . Maybe you’ll be convinced I must actually be a dinosaur – but this was before the World Wide Web.  It’s OK, I’ll call it online learning from now on.  

Anyway, I started some research. I undertook content analysis of messages and focus groups over a two year period. The analysis built a grounded model, known as the five stage pedagogical model. I discovered that given appropriate technical support and a good purpose for taking part online that nearly all learners will progress through the stages. At first, I used the model internally to train hundreds of Open University tutors to teach and support online, but after the model was first published in 2000, lots of people from different disciplines and contexts started using the five stages as a design scaffold too.  

Widespread deployment has occurred since then. I can confirm that the model has stood the test of time and was happily romping around over the last two years during ‘you-know-what’.  Many people in different disciplines revisited the model during the pandemic, and others adopted it for the first time.  It’s adapted well to newer technologies including mobile learning. It’s even tackled the key differences between synchronous and asynchronous for blend, with a bit of help from its friend ‘storyboarding’. 

So if you’d like to try it, here’s some key ‘fives’ for you. 

Here we go with the 5-stage model:   

For online or blended learning to be successful – and happy – students need to be supported through a structured developmental process. I know you know that, but as you found when you moved entirely remote, it’s complicated to make good choices of components  and activities and then put it all together coherently.  And unexpected things happen. The five-stage-model provides a framework or scaffold for  enabling a structured and well-paced programme, and makes assuring quality a little easier.

​The five-stage-model offers essential support and development to participants at each stage as they learn. Design these five stages in advance of your students’ arrival. Plan and build them in your VLE  to hang together to form clear, scaffolded, learning pathways.  Make good choices of the mode for each element – fully digital, e-synchronous or face-to-face, or mobile. Then, each stage requires different interventions and skills from the ‘online human’ once the students arrive and you move from design to teaching.   

Stage One

From their first log in, enable participants to see the technology ecosystem as a valid, active, interactive and supportive learning environment. Design for promoting motivation to take part, not just once, but again and again. The e-moderating staff act as ‘host’.  Then…

Stage Two  

Think about building a ‘third culture’ for your  mini-community. Enable participants (and yourselves) to create common understandings and expectations.  Start to establish identities through relevant interesting but fairly easy activities.  Learners will then find peers with whom they can interact. Take this opportunity to start promoting diversity in knowledge exchange. Then…

Stage Three

Build in information exchangeIf Stages 1 and 2 have gone reasonably well then you can expect cooperation at this stage between peers.  They are likely still to be in pursuit of their individual goals but starting to get the idea of a ‘learning community’ – and thus developing some responsibility for others. Then…

Stage Four 

Here you can expect collaboration – some commitment to others and to group achievements. You can design to enable learners to be able to manage their time together better and make good contributions to learning outcomes. Truly encourage, and demonstrate the great value of, diverse multiple perspectives and working together.  Staff role shifts to facilitation and feedback based on work completed. And assessment too. Then don’t forget…

Stage Five 

This is where you can encourage and enable meta-cognition. In other words,  encourage learners to look back and understand not only what they’ve learnt but how: An important marker of a more mature learner! This can easily get lost in the rush to the end but have a try – it makes a big difference. 

Diagrams here

So,  as we’re thinking in fives,  first five key tips, learnt over the years

Tip 1: Start with the end in mind: create super good achievable relevant learning outcomes.  Essentially these are your ‘design brief’ and your teaching focus.  One example which started as emergency teaching during the pandemic, was the Peer Enhanced E-placement (PEEP) project. We started by meeting the exacting criteria requirements of Allied  Health bodies, a very traditional area. The five stage model ensured much improved peer working, compared to face to face placements and, importantly, equivalence in outcomes. 

Tip 2: Use student planned total study hours as your currency.  Work out who is going to do what and by when. Online and blend takes a little longer for everyone. Yes, sorry, it just does. But it focuses the mind on what’s important.  You can see more about storyboarding here

Tip 3: Design and deliver for viability for academic and tutoring staff.  Build in clear roles, activities and timings. Undertake some personal development to save time and increase academic presence. A recent research project has updated the roles of the online tutor, you can see a bit about it here

Tip 4: Be purposeless and relevant throughout. (OK, I know that’s easier said than done.) There is a framework called ‘E-tivities’ that helps you to do this at each stage of the model. You can see some examples of this in practice, and some comparisons, here: and here

Tip 5: For online and  blend,  build in tutor and peer feedback to small groups every week from the start. (Watch students flock in for these). Make it easy on yourself- video and audio feedback may be quickest for you and most liked by students.  Please give it a try. More about video feedback here


My aim throughout all of the ongoing deployment of the 5 stage model is to meet the mantra that almost everyone asks me about in workshops and keynotes: ‘But how do I get them to engage?’  There are no silver bullets but the 5 stage model  will take you further and faster I promise.  And critically, uses your time productively. 






Professor Gilly SalmonPhD, PFHEA, NTF. is CEO and Principal Consultant at Education Alchemists Ltd. Professor Salmon is one of the world’s leading thinkers, researchers and practitioners in learning futures.   She publishes, blogs & presents on pedagogical innovation & learning transformation. Her books ‘E-moderating’ & ‘E-tivities’ are considered seminal texts. Her ‘Carpe Diem’ learning design methodology is extensively deployed internationally.  She has 30 years’ experience, in universities in Europe  and Australia. She has implemented significant educational change. She is now Adjunct Professor at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, and Visiting Professor at the Universities of Law, Derby and Edge Hill, in the UK.

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