Design Challenge


LearningWellness – The Prototype

As partners in this design challenge, we (Kristin and Sandra) were able to imagine a prototype to address a problem we both see as pertinent to our current employment focus. With Kristin as a senior secondary teacher and Moodle administrator at a public distributed learning (DL) school and Sandra as the learning specialist teacher at the same site, it was a relatively smooth process to align the two needs. The design process brought to light a challenge both educators have been facing for many years; students with mental health concerns choose distributed learning (DL) but often have the lowest completion and grades of the student population, despite being a growing percentage. The imagined solution is an overlay program that can be plugged into any course. This plugin software would consist of four pillars of research-based mental health strategies paired with known learning frameworks. This plugin (working title; LearningWellness) would hopefully work toward helping educators address increasing anxiety and depression among secondary students in DL environments while at the same time giving the students the skills they need. While current global events undoubtedly exasperate this need, these mental health concerns have been an increasingly difficult issue among youth for many years. Below is outlined the imagined prototype and how it might alleviate low completion and achievement rates in students with mental health concerns by improving community connectedness and strengthening student coping mechanisms.

To address the need to support students with mental health issues, we developed a plugin prototype that consists of four pillars to be integrated into online courses. These elements are essential practices, such as mindfulness exercises, journaling, counselling, and community-building. The goal is to build strategies for students to better manage mental illness and provide support for teachers working with them. 

mock Moodle plugin

The Context for LearningWellness

The context for this design challenge is a BC secondary DL school that delivers provincial curriculum courses using Moodle 3.8. This DL school is often referred to as the school of first choice and last resort. Students chose DL to avoid conflicts with peers or staff. Other students choose it as the anxiety of the brick-and-mortar building is too great. The current pandemic has also meant that many families have chosen DL to avoid the face-to-face environment. Other than deciding to attend a DL school, other students enroll after being expelled from the only non-alternative, brick-and-mortar high school in the district. Due to enduring budget cuts, the DL school has lost many supporting staff, such as an education assistant, counsellor, and full-time administration. These cuts have put more pressure on the teaching staff to address students’ mental health issues. This has led to feelings of hopelessness among all members of this school community. The isolation and increased screen time for online learning also are negatively associated with mental health. This prototype could potentially combat these issues while providing skills for students’ mental wellbeing.

Pillar One: Built-in Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the newest buzzword of our current world zeitgeist, and working with students and mental health concerns, it would be amiss to not pave the solution with its findings and supports. Recent research is shining a positive light on how mindfulness practices can help young people engage in their schoolwork and manage anxiety and depression (Borquist-Conlon et al., 2019). In this prototype design, this plugin program would build in specified breaks in learning and guided mindful activities that need to be completed to unlock continuing coursework (this would be a slow build-up with positive reinforcement to strengthen buy-in). Pairing with known platforms like Calm, Insight Timer and Mindshift, who have already shown proven successes in these areas, would be beneficial.

Pillar Two: Teamwork Capacity

The use of journaling and mindfulness tools in the LearningWellness plugin is meant to lead students to the point of working in small, face-to-face groups. In order to scaffold to small group work, students would first be invited by the mental health clinician to meet on or off-site. Once the rapport is developed, face-to-face interactions can be expanded to include the teacher and peers with similar struggles. This scaffolding of strategies aligns with similar theories such as Tompkins and Barkin’s “act-brave ladder” (2018). External motivating factors such as activities, outings, and meals can provide rewards for positive behaviours and not perpetuate avoidance behaviours. The group meetings allow students to not only learn from their experiences, an important part of mindfulness (Yeganeh & Kolb, 2009) but learn from others’ experiences too. Recognize the importance of community-based programs (Christensen et al., 2010).

Pillar Three: Monitoring

A critical aspect of this prototype add-on software would be a monitoring system. The educators using the program, already too busy, cannot also monitor all aspects of the usage and data it provides. With mindfulness, goal setting and breaks built-in, a caring adult on the other side of the screen has positive benefits for struggling youth (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2015). Many community-based and even Ministerial programs are available (Government of Canada, 2020), but what the youth need is connectivity. This prototype proposes that socially, community-driven programs are connected to this add-on and offer services through linking portals. This way, the student has access and is automatically connected to (as soon as they are identified as needing this additional support) all the local mental health programs in his/her area. It also gives the teacher peace of mind that other caring adults are looking out for these vulnerable youth.

Pillar Four: Journaling and Goal Setting

Journaling and goal-setting promote self-reflection and more effective use of mindfulness strategies such as goal-setting and behaviour monitoring. The idea here is that student journals could achieve multiple functions, such as reflection, goal-setting, and communication. Journaling is frequently used in counselling to help manage positive self-care habits such as proper diet and sleeping. Journaling also allows youth to identify and correct negative thoughts (Tompkins & Barkin, 2018). Other benefits of journaling include a channel for communication between students, educators, or community support. Communication through journals can also provide early warning for more drastic interventions. Students also recognize and celebrate growth and accomplishments through journaling, which would then motivate them to continue. Journaling plugins already exist for Moodle; however, the learning wellness plugin will also incorporate the previously mentioned features. 

LearningWellness Focus Group

Thank you for taking the time to read our prototype outline. For us (Kristin and Sandra) to evaluate our design, we invite the following discussions:

  • Would educators be willing to add yet another layer to already often robust online Learning Management Systems? If not, why?
  • What’s missing? In your perfect learning world (as an educator or student), what would you like to see embedded for wellness into coursework?
  • Please share any experiences (positive or negative) with wellness EdTech that you have had.

Tools of Interest

For Further Reading

Analysis | A trauma-informed approach to teaching through coronavirus — for students everywhere, online or not

An informal online learning community for student mental health at university: a preliminary investigation.pdf

E‐learning: Depression, anxiety, and stress symptomatology among Lebanese university students during COVID‐19 quarantine

The potential impact of mindfulness on exposure and extinction learning in anxiety disorders

Youth perceptions of positive mental health – Samantha Hall, Carol McKinstry, Nerida Hyett, 2016

MindShift CBT Groups 

School Mental Health: A Necessary Component of Youth Mental Health Policy and Plans 

The Program Evaluation of “Go-to Educator” Training on Educator’s Knowledge About and Stigma Towards Mental Illness in Six Canadian Provinces 

Mindfulness helps children as young as 3 manage their emotions during school

A school mental health literacy curriculum resource training approach: effects on Tanzanian teachers’ mental health knowledge, stigma and help-seeking efficacy


Borquist-Conlon, D. S., Maynard, B. R., Brendel, K. E., & Farina, A. S. J. (2019). Mindfulness-based interventions for youth with anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Research on Social Work Practice, 29(2), 195–205.

Cascio M., Botta V., & Anzaldi V. (2013), The role of self-efficacy and internal locus of control in online learning. Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society, 9(3) 95-106.

d.School. (2018). Design Thinking Bootleg. Stanford d.School.

Government of BC. (2020). Students, staff supported by new Mental Health in Schools Strategy. BC Ministry Website Retrieved January 03, 2021, from

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2015). Supportive Relationships and Active Skill-Building Strengthen the Foundations of Resilience: Working Paper No. 13. Retrieved from

Stanford University Institute of Design. (2016). A Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking. Stanford d.School.

Tompkins, M. & Barkin, J. (2018). The relaxation and stress reduction workbook for teens: cbt skills to help you deal with worry and anxiety. New Harbinger Publications.



Exploring Design

What is Your Process? 

“First Processed HDR Image Using Rokinon 14mm 2.8 Wide Angle Lens” by Captain Kimo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

We are asked to discuss instructional design, and design processes as they relate to our own sphere. Rothwell’s (2015) definition resonates with me because I find it is precisely how I approach the work:

…analyzing human performance problems systematically, identifying the root causes of those problems, considering various solutions to address the root causes, leveraging organizational and individual strengths, and implementing the interventions in ways designed to minimize the unintended consequences of actions. (p. 3)

Currently, my job often requires me to re-design curriculum or design programs within existing programs (not computer programs – I am no programmer, that is for sure!) for students who have exceptionalities. Thankfully, I am given autonomy, which affords me the ability to trial ideas and change design flaws on-the-go. None of the designing I do is terribly innovative. I am typically bound by budgets, time and resources on hand. Nevertheless, I do tend to have a set of guidelines that I follow when I am working. The following is a set of questions or principles I tend to go through before I set to work on designing or re-designing:

  1. Who is the learner, and what are their specific learning parameters (i.e. gifts or deficits)?
  2. What outcomes are expected to be taught?
  3. What resources do I have available?
  4. What is the timeframe I have to put this all together?
  5. Does the learner have support, or are they expected to be autonomous?
  6. Is the learner online? If so, how comfortable is either a) the support person (i.e. the teacher, the parent or educational assistant) or b) the learner?

Once I have answered the above questions, I set out to find the best fit for all the players involved.

Instinctively, because I am a trained educator and have enough years of experience with special education, I rely heavily on learning theories such as cognitive constructivism and social constructivism to guide my practice. My resource library consists of old tried and true methods such as inquiry-based learning and a few newer, more innovative approaches such as gamification.

If I were to analyze my process, I follow very near to an ADDIE model of design, though I have never implemented this formally. I suppose I would say Bates (2015) has it right by adding ‘planning’ to the acronym, as I often spend the most time in that stage. It is yet to be seen how my approach may differ in design with technology at the core, but what is clear is that no one process of design can be exactly replicated to fit the next design (Dousay, 2017).


Bates, T. (2015). Chapter 4.3 The ADDIE Model. In Teaching in the digital age. BCcampus.

Dousay. T. A. (2017). Chapter 22. Instructional Design Models. In R. West (Ed.), Foundations of Learning and Instructional Design Technology (1st ed.). Available at

Rothwell, W. J., Benscoter, B., King, M., & King, S. B. (2015). Chapter One – An Overview of Instructional Design. In Mastering the Instructional Design Process: A Systematic Approach. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.