Design Process: What we learned

Designing an online course using Course Builder is both similar to and different from designing for any other learning environment. This section contains advice we've gleaned from creating online courses, such as Power Searching that handled thousands of students. Much of what we describe is fairly standard instructional design methodology, modified to support the demands of this different venue. Some of the differences took us by surprise.

We are not experts in instructional design or in creating online courses. We offer this advice in the spirit of lessons we've learned that may be useful to you. If you have other lessons or more effective ones, please share them with us on our discussion forum.

Our design process has four simple steps, which get iterated multiple times:

  1. Plan before you start.
    Before you start creating your course, take 30 minutes to think about the following areas and write down your answers. Eventually, you'll spend much more than 30 minutes on planning; this initial time is to get you oriented in the right direction on all aspects of your course.
  2. Develop the content without technology.
    In the first parts of development you expand on the information you determined during the planning phase. After that, you start deciding precisely what you want students to learn and how you’ll motivate them do that. You create a detailed set of objectives, ways you'll evaluate whether your students satisfied those objectives, and develop the content for lessons, activities, and so on. When you're finished with this step, you have a "mock up" of your course that you can show to others to test whether it provides the material needed for your students to satisfy the course objectives. You can use the mockup when you get down to writing software, recording video, setting up email lists, and so on.
  3. Implement the course with technology.
    The first iteration of the theoretical development is now done. Now, it’s time to "implement" it. During this phase, you write the text content of your lessons, create videos, and setup assessments and activities within Course Builder. You also set up your groups, organize online office hours, arrange for teaching assistants, and do all that other fun stuff.
  4. Pilot with your target audience.
    We strongly encourage you to pilot your course by having people go through the entire course before you release it to actual students. You may find, as we have, that a large percentage of your work comes after the first pilot, when you see how people actually interact with your material. Be sure to include extra days or weeks in your development schedule to make the necessary changes you discover while piloting.