A successful online course — that achieves the desired learning outcomes while keeping students engaged — starts long before the first student signs into the learning management system. Like any course, student success depends on the course’s design.
While it’s less common now than it once was, many faculty still have little experience creating online courses, which requires a different process than developing in-person courses. As such, it is important for inexperienced faculty to learn what they can about online instructional design before they embark on their first course.
Following is an overview of some of the most important work in the area of online course design and instruction, from professors as well as course designers themselves. These experts have done research and learned from their own firsthand experience what it takes to develop an online course that is engaging and effective.
Marjorie Vai, MA Series Editor, Online Learning & Teaching at Routledge
Kristen Sosulski, EdD Clinical Associate Professor of Information Systems, New York University
First published in 2016, Essentials of Online Course Design: A Standards-Based Guide is one of the more recent additions to the course design oeuvre. Co-written by two highly experienced online education experts, the book includes an overview of the essentials of online learning, then dives deeper into how to best design an online course for positive student outcomes. The book covers both how to write course content and how to design the visual components of a successful online course that keeps learners engaged.
Essentials of Online Course Design: A Standards-Based Guide
Lynna Ausburn, PhD Professor of Occupational Education Studies, Oklahoma State University
Online learning can be an effective choice for students of all ages, but the fact remains that the majority of online learners are non-traditional learners who are older than a “typical” college student. In fact, this paper from Dr. Lynna Ausburn from Oklahoma State University, notes that “non-traditional working adults over age 26 [comprise] over 50% of the American post-secondary student population.” Because these learners are so prevalent in online education, it is important that online course design address their needs. Course Design Elements Most Valued by Adult Learners in Blended Online Education Environments: An American Perspective addresses some of the common preferences for adult learners, such as autonomy, self-direction, and affinity for real-life learning, and how course developers can address these needs when creating their online courses.
Course Design Elements Most Valued by Adult Learners in Blended Online Education Environments: An American Perspective
Robin Smith, PhD Speaker & eLearning Consultant
In her 2008 book, Dr. Robin Smith covers the essentials of online course design, including: assessment, organization, navigation, process, and the all-important content. The design of the book is LMS-agnostic, giving thorough tips that can be applied to course design that uses any technology for course delivery. While much has changed in the world of online course design since its writing, Dr. Smith’s book can still serve as a foundational resource for those developing online courses today.
Conquering the Content: a Step-by-Step Guide to Web-based Course Development
Karen Swan, EdD Stukel Professor of Educational Leadership, University of Illinois Springfield
Co-Authors: Daniel Matthews, Leonard Bogle, Scott Day University of Illinois Springfield
In this paper, Drs. Swan, Matthews, Bogle, and Day analyze “how faculty in a fully online graduate program are using a collaborative, design-based approach grounded in both instructional design theory and the Community of Inquiry framework to incrementally improve their courses over time. ” By using both empirical research and learning theory, the two postulate, online educators are able to improve their course designs over time, and the feedback that students give on each course only serves to strengthen the approach.
Improving Courses Across an Online Program: A Design-Based Approach was presented at the 28th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning.
Improving Courses Across an Online Program: A Design-Based Approach
Matthew J. Koehler, PhD Professor, Dept. of Counseling, Educational Psychology & Special Education, Michigan State University
Punya Mishra, PhD Professor, Leadership & Innovation, Arizona State University
For course designers, administrators, and students, one of the most frustrating parts of implementing an online learning program can be the lack of buy-in from faculty. Professors and instructors who are unwilling to learn the technology necessary to design functional courses can be a bottleneck for many institutions. In their paper, Drs. Koehler and Mishra highlight the importance of faculty familiarity with technology along with the active participation of students in online course design. The approach assessed in this paper “has faculty members and graduate students participate in a unique seminar where they work collaboratively to design online courses.” When there is this type of collaboration in the design of courses, the theory is that courses are that much more effective. Ultimately, the paper “posits successful courses require the careful integration of three components that coconstrain each other: content, pedagogy, and technology.”
With a Little Help From Your Students: A New Model for Faculty Development and Online Course Design
Amy Rottmann, PhD Assistant Professor of Education, Lenoir-Rhyne University
Salena Rabidoux, MA Instructor & Instructional Designer, University of North Carolina Wilmington
Not every professor or instructor will have the time or inclination to read all the available academic materials on online course design before they are tasked with designing one on their own. To deal with such an issue, Dr. Rottmann and Ms. Rabidoux put together a short, actionable list that could be extremely useful to first-time course designers. Included in the list are four steps the can act as guideposts to a successful online course design:
- Involve the learner
- Make collaboration work
- Develop a clear, consistent structure
- Reflect and revise
4 Expert Strategies for Designing an Online Course (see also: ADA-Compliant Inclusive Design)
Sharon Dole, PhD Professor of Special Education, Western Carolina University
Lisa Bloom, EdD Professor, Special Education Program Coordinator, Western Carolina University
Case studies can be one of the most effective ways to look at data. While a case study like this one from Drs. Dole and Bloom is just one example of a certain type of course design, its findings can still be useful. The case study was published in the International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and delves into the How People Learn (HPL) framework as the conceptual model. According to the data assessed here, “The design of the course appeared to have a positive impact on student learning as far as complex problem solving and collaboration with peers. Results of the study demonstrate that the HPL framework provides a powerful structure for creating and assessing environments conducive to the work of prospective professionals.”
Online Course Design: A Case Study