Simplifying success: Designing learning with the CAFE Model 

a laptop computer, cup of coffee and sketch of four coloured squares on a piece of paper

Here at the University of London we’ve been providing distance education for over 100 years, and we started navigating the complexities of online education in 2016. We do this on a large scale, serving around 40,000 students across 190 countries with more than 100 distance and online learning programmes.  Despite our rich history and experience, issues such as complexity and inconsistency in learning design still challenge us. In pursuit of a solution to these challenges, we are proud to introduce the CAFE Model: a streamlined approach to learning design that emphasises the essential elements of what it takes to learn.  

Our challenge: Designing online learning at scale

Designing good online learning at scale is difficult. We have a large team of experienced professionals including learning designers, videographers, librarians, and learning technologists. Academic direction comes from academics at our federation members; they bring knowledge and expertise from their disciplines, but are not always familiar with designing online learning. We found that the learning design process was time consuming and complex and resulted in inconsistencies. To address this we sought improve the quality and consistency of our learning designs by making the process more straightforward and streamlined.  

Our solution: The CAFE Model

We’ve developed a learning design framework which organises learning into four stages: engaging with content, completing an activity, receiving feedback, completing evaluation. We’ve called this framework the CAFE Model – an acronym based on four elements of a simple learning design.  

Four stages of the CAFE Model: Content, activity, feedback, evaluation.

The model is intended to make learning design more consistent and accessible to novices, allowing academics to focus on creating engaging learning activities and high-quality content without getting bogged down in administrative details.

In collaboration with a learning designer, we ask our academics to plan their teaching by devising an activity for each stage of the model. The activity sequence ensures that the learning design always includes the elements students need to learn in any discipline.  

Here’s a description of the purpose of each stage and how it is achieved: 

Four benefits of the CAFE model

The CAFE Model is a direct response to the need for a simpler, yet effective, framework that not only maintains high quality standards but also enhances engagement and efficiency in online learning.  It provides the following benefits: 

  1. Simplicity and accessibility
    The CAFE Model simplifies the learning design process, making it easier for academics to adopt and adapt. This reduces cognitive load and training time, allowing academics to focus more on developing engaging and high quality learning experiences. 
  1. Consistency and quality
    By standardising the learning design approach, the model ensures consistent quality across all modules and improves the learning experience for students. 
  1. Enhanced student engagement
    The structured yet flexible framework supports the creation of effective learning activities that engage students and promote a deeper understanding of the topics. 
  1. Efficiency in development
    The model addresses key obstacles in the learning design process, streamlining development through reusable learning activities. This efficiency reduces the time and effort required for module development. 

The CAFE Model represents a significant step forward in our approach to online learning. It not only supports high quality education but also fosters innovation and engagement in the learning process.  We invite you to explore the CAFE Model and see how it can enhance the design and delivery of your online courses.

CAFE Model © University of London 2023