The Yin and Yang of Controlled and Emergent Design Process

May 4, 2014

Yin Yang symbol


When a hybrid course is developed using both a controlled and emergent design process, all of the pieces can come together for an effective learning experience for the students and an enjoyable teaching experience for the instructor. 

Controlled design and Emergent design may seem like opposite methods that would not necessarily behave harmoniously, but surprisingly each approach enhances the whole of a hybrid course in a way that each independently would not.

From the controlled design perspective, each hybrid course development MUST begin with a clear identification of the course objectives. Only after course objectives are in place should activities, assignments and assessments be considered. The course objectives are the foundation that ultimately informs pedagogy and how the content is delivered. 

Carman (2002) defines five key ingredients for a hybrid course: synchronous, instructor-led live events; self-paced learning; collaborations; assessments; and support materials. With objectives in place and pedagogy in mind, a course designer can determine the right blend of online and traditional instruction utilizing these five elements.

But here's the thing with hybrid course design - even the most articulated, defined plans may change along the way. Learning is messy. As a course unfolds, changes, adaptations and revisions may need to be made. Vella (2006) challenges instructors to consider that part of the process of creating a course plan is recognizing that you will be compelled to change your plan. Yes, learning is messy.

Hybrid courses are a work-in-progress from beginning to end. Student learning needs will require revisions and adaptations be made throughout the course. It is in this design-to-revise cycle that the emergent design process enhances the controlled design.


Carman, J.M. (October, 2002). Blended learning design: five key elements. Agilant Learning. Retrieved from

Vella, J. (2006).  Dialogue Education: What are the basics? Presented at Dialogue in Teaching and Learning: An Educational Framework for Linking Coursework and Community. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia.

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