Many higher education (HE) institutions struggle to connect their lofty goals for exiting students with their operational decisions around programming, especially when those programs are offered fully online. Scholarship is showing that the root of this disconnect often lies in the instructional designs (ID) of programs and the teaching and assessment approaches these designs support. The study forms part of a larger study whose aim was to apply a macro/meso/micro-driven action research initiative to align ID models being used by instructors with 21st century goals and contemporary learning theories. The aim of the study was to determine the impact of this initiative on learner profiles. The study focussed on working adult students (n=2,300), the majority from socially and academically disadvantaged backgrounds, enrolled in a 2-year full time technical institute in Chile. An action-based research approach was used involving both qualitative and quantitative data collection tools including focus groups, extensive field notes, observations and surveys. The data collection took place over 8 months, between 2020 and 2021, during which time changes to the ID model, teaching approaches and virtual pedagogical resources were mediated. Perceptions of students and teachers of the changes were collected through pre, mid and post questionnaires and in-depth interviews. Results show a salient transition among students from thinking and learning autonomously, i.e alone, in isolation, to self-directed behaviours that involve engaged participation in social collaborative learning opportunities within and beyond the virtual learning program. Importantly, evidence also revealed many students evolving from positions of disadvantage and lacking to ones depicting confident, communicative, involved and aspiring identities. These findings underline the potential that wider application of such ID models in online learning practice could have for educational development. The research could be a contribution to the emerging instances of online learning which are increasing rapidly in the wake of the COVID pandemic both in Chile and abroad. The results not only have theoretical relevance for e-learning research, but also provide empirical evidence for understanding and effective decision-making in a cross-section of institutions that offer programs through this modality.