Design Your Online Course

Successful online courses start with effective planning for overall design and outcomes. By identifying your course goals and learning objectives, you achieve a clearer picture of how to best design a structured and engaging course. A strong understanding of the needs of your learners and how your course can meet those needs is important to the success of your course delivery. Therefore, it is essential to consider what you want your student outcomes to be at the conclusion of your online course.

Why Identify Course Goals?

When you are creating a new face-to-face (F2F) course, you begin planning your course by identifying overall goals and analyzing the purpose. An online course is no different. Consider what you want your students “to walk away with” at the conclusion of their coursework. All your course objectives, instructional strategies, content, and assignments should facilitate your learners to attain your course goals. Some questions to consider as you begin planning your course are:

  • What are your learners’ characteristics?
  • What types of learning are involved?
  • What content and information is needed to facilitate learning?
  • What tasks do learners need to master to achieve the overall course goal(s)?
  • What sequence of content and activities is needed?
  • What technologies are available and best suited to present the content to facilitate learning?

Learning Objectives

Learning objectives are especially important in a distributed learning environment where the instructor and students may have little or no F2F time. Functioning as guideposts, learning objectives help students organize their efforts toward accomplishing the desired behaviors. Learning objectives also help the instructor identify whether students have gained the appropriate skills and knowledge. A learning objective is a statement that:

  • Specifies in measurable terms what a learner will be able to do as a result of your instruction,
  • Describes the intended outcome of the course rather than a description or summary of the content, and
  • Details the intended results rather than the means of achieving the results.

Mager (1984) states each learning objective has three parts:

  1. Performance: what a learner is expected to be able to do.
  2. Conditions: the environment under which the performance occurs.
  3. Criterion: how well the learner must perform for it to be considered acceptable.

What Should Be Considered?

Once you finish analyzing and writing your course goal(s) and learner-centered objectives, you are ready to begin designing your course. Similar to the analysis phase, several concepts need to be considered in the design phase:

Course Design

Transitioning to an online environment is much more than simply creating electronic versions of hard copy content. Visual aspects of course design in online courses are as critical as the content for effective student learning.

Content Sequencing

Content sequencing efficiently organizes the content of your course to facilitate achievement of the learning objectives. Learning objectives (cognitive, affective, psychomotor), as well as the delivery mode (F2F, M, W, R/V) chosen for your course content, can influence the content sequencing. For example, when designing a course based on psychomotor learning objectives (like taking a patient’s blood pressure), it would seem most appropriate to begin with identifying the tools needed before teaching the learner how to perform the task.

Instructional Strategies

Instructional strategies are the learning events you design to accomplish your course objectives. The strategies you choose will be determined by the type of learner-centered objective (cognitive, affective, psychomotor) specified as well as the delivery mode (F2F, M, W, R/V) chosen for your course content.

Course Layout

When the first group of faculty went through IDL6543 in 1996, they adopted specific course component standards. Standardizing components provides consistency for the student and ensures ease of use when interacting with Webcourses@UCF. Distance education research continues to support standardizing online course components.

Assessment Strategy

The course design focuses on optimizing student outcomes, captured by students’ performance on assessments. You can design assessments aligned with content to meet course objectives using an array of options. Review these to select online course assessments (i.e. activities, reflection, quizzes, assignments) that sync with the design of your course.

Course Management Plan

As you analyze and design your online course, consider how different tasks will be performed and managed, as well as by whom. For example, if your online class has an enrollment cap of 100 students and you do not have a teaching assistant to assist with the grading, you may not want to create gradable discussions. Such considerations are called a course management plan.

This plan should include training the facilitators (including Teaching Assistants – TAs and GTAs), preparing learners, and organizing the learning environment.