Few institutions have reported research on students' use of orientation programs designed for mature students returning to study in contemporary learning environments now regularly amalgamating distance and online strategies. We report within a design-based research framework the student experience of GetLearning, the third stage of an innovative online orientation program. Integral to the design is active student engagement with activities to extend their skills whilst still supported in a risk free environment. Analysis included observations of the patterns of student activity, students' responses in evaluation instruments, our reflections, and identification of the limitations to deployment of such orientation programs. We also provide a set of design principles to guide further development work and research.