Learning 5 MIN READ

Here’s What Makes a Good Online Course Design (In 2020)

How do you design a course?
How do you assess students?
How do you teach online?
How do you evaluate outcomes?

These are questions every instructor asks herself before creating an online course. But, how would awarded online instructors answer here?

Εducational researchers Martin, Ritzhaupt, Kumar, and Budhrani (2019), interviewed eight award-winning online instructors. The instructors were awarded by three large professional organizations dedicated to online learning and teaching (Online Learning Consortium, Educational Communications and Technology, and the United States Distance Learning Association).

The findings offer specific professional advice in:

Award-winning online instructors can become a unique source of useful insights and practices on how to best design and deliver effective online courses. Their daily creative instructional practices can inspire and improve your online teaching environment.

How to Plan the Course Content

Writing course content is simple when you have a plan for it. Knowing who you are writing for and having a well defined structure will help you make your content faster and improve the quality of your online course.

Here is what you need to do while planning your course:

Approach content design systematically

The design of a course should be approached in a very systematic manner, beginning with the course description and objectives, and drafting a syllabus before working on the online course.

This is why it is recommended to start with a road map (perhaps a storyboard) before uploading material on a platform (we will discuss storyboards in a later article).

Before drafting the storyboard, consider what your learning objectives will be for each module.

– What do you expect your students to know?
– What do you expect your students to do?

The learning outcomes you wait, the assignments, and other learning activities you should all be aligned within the course and with your initial goals. This frequently requires a backward design.

Organize content

Chunk the course content meaningfully. The consistent organization, whether in a modular or weekly format, is helpful to students, so they know where they are in the process.

You can create a screencast of the course architecture so that the students know where to find things.

Are there any responsibilities or deadlines?

Make them specific to your students.

Meet learner needs

Understand your students’ demographics and specific needs.

– Who are they?
– Do they have any prior knowledge?

According to these, you can include a variety of instructional materials to ensure learners can learn in different ways that work for them. You should take into consideration your target audience all the time.

Make sure that when students come out of your course, they’ve got the proper knowledge to step into whatever job they desire.

Induce student interaction

All the participants mentioned community as a critical element in designing learning activities. Collaborative projects, discussion forums, or peer review activities are necessary for students to interact with each other and the course content in different ways.

It is essential to think about ways in which there is some community built into the course so that students interact with each other, reacting to issues and responding to each other or cooperate in projects. Read here why building an online community is that important.

How to assess students

Student assessment is a very important part of the learning process. This is where students have the opportunity to test their skills before moving on to the next learning activity and can serve as reference points of their progress.

Assessment can also lead to certification or goal completion, depending on your course’s objectives.

So, what is the best way to assess your students?

Use a variety of course assessments

There is a variety of assessment activities you can include in your course: Discussion forums, exams, final papers, position papers, final projects (text-based or multimedia), self-assessments, personal reflections and a lot more.

As Martin et al. (2019) underline, all the awarded instructors apart from quizzes use also discussion forums in several ways so that students in their courses:

Use authentic assessments

Students must engage in activities where they connect theory to practice. Let students research a bit, and create content to “demonstrate mastery” of the topic. Or give reflection assignments that take the form of a creative project (e.g., videos, songs, infographics, etc.)

Use rubrics

Rubrics are a set of parameters that show both expectations and grading criteria for assignments and discussion forums. They are tied to student outcomes are used to identify whether students have met the desired learning outcomes of the course. It is best to also give those rubric to the learners in advance.

How to Evaluate Course Effectiveness

You are the subject-matter expert, but what if you asked another person’s opinion about your course? You can find thousands of advice from instructional designers or even take feedback from a test audience.

Also, student feedback is essential, as students evaluate effectively whether student learning outcomes are being met in an online course.

Feedback and testing before launching are important to deliver quality educational material. When evaluating a course after its release, you can also evaluate the content based on the completion rate, student feedback/surveys and examination results.

How to Facilitate Online Learning

Online learning requires a different kind of facilitation, and might be even more important to show a strong instructor presence while teaching online.

Instructor-student interactions, personal or mass communication and the sense of availability play an important role to keep students engaged.

Timely respond and give feedback

Successful instructors check in to the course at least once a day. They begin their workday by reading student messages or responding to student discussion posts in the morning, and then check in again later in the evening and sometimes during the day.

Timely responses and feedback are critical.

The award-winning instructors suggested to respond to student messages within 24 or 48 h, and grade student works within 48 h. Post (or email) weekly or even daily announcements with reminders of what is expected of students that week or the content of the new learning activities.

Students need to feel supported; they need to understand that they do indeed have a mentor by their side.

Be available and present

Make sure that your presence is intense in your course. Being visible means showing yourself in videos so that students can hear your voice and see your body language.

With the use of that warm presence and with empathy, let the student know that you are there. Learn more about instructor’s presence in videos here.

Availability and presence by phone and email are necessary. Build awareness, create communities, and bring students together from the first 2-3 weeks.

Summing up …

Digging deeper into the approaches and strategies used by award-winning online educators in online courses was necessary to identify what makes online educators not only effective but exemplary.

All in all, online courses should be carefully designed before, facilitated with intention, systematically evaluated after, and revised accordingly to support the learning objectives (Martin, Ritzhaupt, Kumar, and Budhrani, 2019).

These findings help online instructors create a culture of intentionality with carefully constructed learning outcomes connected to engaging learning materials. They also give them incentives to focus on quality and pertain an ongoing evaluation and revision of their courses.

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Martin, F., Ritzhaupt, A., Kumar, S., & Budhrani, K. (2019). Award-winning faculty online teaching practices: Course design, assessment and evaluation, and facilitation. The Internet and Higher Education, 42, 34-43.

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Course Designer & Content Creator at LearnWorlds

Anthea is a Course designer and Content Creator for the LearnWorlds team. She holds years of experience in instructional design and teaching. With a Master of Education (M.Ed.) focused in Modern Teaching Methods & ICT (Information & Communications Technology), she supplements her knowledge with practical experience in E-Learning and Educational Technology.