Designing Successful Online Courses, Part 1

Designing Successful Online Courses, Part 1

Step 1: Define the livable phase approach. The phase approach begins by encouraging educators to recognize that designing their online course is only Phase One of their efforts. By organizing the progress of the work into phase two, phase three, etc., it frees instructors from feeling that everything must be accomplished in their first development effort. Especially if teachers don’t have a full-time instructional design team, progressive development is liberating and reassuring. Each part of the course can be addressed first, especially when redesigning: content sections, sequence or specific tasks. So in Step 1, decide which aspect of the course to redesign first (perhaps the final project, the assignments, the discussion, or the assessment). Then decide what to do second, third, etc. This approach becomes a preliminary plan and can be modified as needs arise.

Step 2 Consider the course content. Transforming a course into an online format can provide an opportunity to include additional content that is too difficult to include in a traditional classroom (Conrad & Donaldson, 2004; Simonson et al., 2009). Because of the extraordinary amount of freely available online resources, the ability for students to watch a greater variety of primary source videos, listen to audio, and read additional material is easily woven into the online platform. As content experts, educators are best able to select those online resources that are valid and effective. Such content can create invaluable opportunities for discussion and learning how to weed out the fallacies from the facts.

Step 3 Rework and redesign the activities.Based on the examples provided in the sections above, consider which course activities should be redesigned so that in-depth discussions and dialogue can take place in an online environment. Identify two or three activities that can be used in the first round of your course redesign. Using a variety of activities is helpful. However, activities should be based on the expertise of the instructor and refrain from overwhelming learners with too many types of tasks to master or technical details that are too complex.

Step 4 Release the crowd. Even if educators have never used group assignments in class before, online environments provide a variety of advantages and means to facilitate them. Group interaction in the online environment provides another critical space for dialogue and discussion of content (Luppicini, 2007; Palloff & Pratt, 2005). In addition, groups, by their very nature, include opportunities for mutual learning. When students have to explain their understanding, choices, and reasons to their classmates, they explore content and process more fully.

Step 5 Present expert content with new capabilities. One of the biggest frustrations with poorly designed online courses is that some don’t provide students with teacher-created content. Somehow these educators believe that students having to read the textbook and answer its questions will be sufficient to adequately achieve the learning objectives. When designing online courses, consider how you can use the online environment to share your expertise. First, decide which modes to use. For example, perhaps these will be audio lectures, PowerPoint or multimedia presentations, presentations accompanied by audio narration, video presentations of your lectures or discussions, or visual presentations of lecture notes. One of the most powerful strategies is to incorporate a select few of these approaches and change them. Not only do you keep students engaged more fully by switching from videos to audio and then text, but you also appeal to different learning styles and preferences (King & Gura, 2009; Simonson et al., 2009). This experience can be quite pleasant; instructors have the opportunity to incorporate and develop material that would be impractical in traditional settings.

These five steps to success set you on the path to planning and designing your online courses. In future installments, we will continue this vital discussion. I’ll see you then!

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