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[Research] Courseware’s 6 Foundational Learning Design Principles

[Research] Courseware’s 6 Foundational Learning Design Principles

Today's classrooms incorporate blended learning with digital learning environments, and students are becoming tech-integrated learners. At Edmentum, we strive to enable students to embrace a sense of empowerment over their own education, and we want our online curriculum to be research-based to better support teachers in creating successful student outcomes, no matter the educational setting. 

In this post, we’ll give you an overview of Edmentum’s six research-based learning design principles—mastery learning; active, engaging learning; deliberate practice; explicit instruction; scaffolding; and metacognitive strategies—and show how each principle is applied within Courseware. For a deeper dive into these principles, insight into the needs of today’s learners and educators, and a better understanding of the role of Courseware in learning environments, read our Learning Design and Research Base white paper.


 Courseware 6 Principals

Mastery Learning

Mastery learning, also referred to as competency-based learning, is the focus on efficient learning. This principle supports the message that every student can achieve content mastery if provided with enough time and the right learning approach. If students can work at their own pace and can show progress (through small assessments), they can invest their learning time on studying skills that they have not yet mastered. With mastery learning, the pace of instruction matches what each student is ready to learn at any given time.

How this principle is applied in Courseware?

  • Unit pretests
  • Backward design: starting with the learning goals of a unit and then working backward to create lessons to achieve those goals
  • Tight state and national standards alignment
  • Mastery tests

Active, Engaging Learning

Active learning is a method that encourages students to directly engage in the process of their own education. This contrasts with a traditional learning format, which lends itself to passive learning, where the teacher delivers instruction and the student consumes the information. Active, engaged learning promotes higher-level learning skills and empowers students to think critically about what they are learning and to independently seek resources to achieve their learning goals.

How is this principle applied in Courseware?

  • Warm-ups and check-for-understanding questions
  • Interactive reading tools (e.g., highlighters, notebook tool)
  • Augmented reality
  • Real-world examples

Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is intentional, structured, and sustainable. This form of systematic practice requires a mix of reinforcement with immediate feedback to remain engaging to students, which then supports the shift of newly learned skills from surface-level knowledge to long-term memory. This principle supports the idea that once engaged in deliberate practice, students will be motivated internally by the desire to continue improving.

How is this principle applied in Courseware?

  • Check-for-understanding questions 
  • Intentional use of varied question item types to build mastery
  • Immediate feedback within practice questions, including explanations of answers
  • Feedback incorporated into automatic grading

Explicit Instruction

Explicit instruction supports successful learning by providing clear skill statements, modeling of learning outcomes, and reducing cognitive load.

How is this principle applied in Courseware?

  • Clearly stated objectives in every lesson
  • Varying interfaces to break down skills into feasible steps to reduce cognitive load
  • Focused text-analysis activities on specific concepts
  • Guided practice problems


Instructional scaffolding facilitates moving learners to more challenging material while still providing instructional supports along the way so that students remain challenged but are not needlessly struggling. Instructional supports are there when learners need them but are systematically removed at an appropriate pace, enabling learning independence. Ideally, learners should stay in Lev Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, which maintains that content needs to be enough of a challenge to keep students from becoming bored or apathetic but not be so challenging that it causes anxiety and frustration.

How is this principle is applied in Courseware?

  • Glossary links for vocabulary development
  • Text-to-speech audio supports
  • Interactive tools (e.g., translator, highlighters, calculators, etc.)
  • Video clips to support a different learning modality
  • Guided notes

Metacognitive Strategies

In an educational context, metacognition refers to a student’s self-understanding and knowledge about themselves as learners. These skills enable students to self-reflect on what learning strategies work best for them, monitor their own understanding of topics, and reflect on any misunderstandings they may have that stand in the way of them achieving content mastery. Thoughtful self-monitoring strategies empower students to be the drivers in their own strategic path to learning.

How is this principle applied in Courseware?

  • Clarifying Big Ideas tutorials
  • Think-alouds which are thought-bubble pop-ups associated with student characters within lessons, designed to have students reflect on whether they agree or disagree with the character’s thinking
  • Informational generalizations that support steps for solving problems and the thinking behind them

Read more about these six design principles and the role of Courseware in blended learning environments in Edmentum’s Learning Design and Research Base white paper.