8 Principles of Effective Online Course Design

Presentation shared at the 2013 National Quality Matters Conference

1. Consistent Design and Organized Content

Keep the students in mind during the development of your online course, remember that they are busy adult learners.  Organization of your content is very important to your learners.  Using a consistent design methodology allows instructors a simpler course development process.  This is often referred to as using a template.  The students benefit from templated course because they spend less time looking for essential content items and can focus on the content and required activities/interactions/assessments.


2. Digital Pedagogy

Your online course should not be a replication of your face to face instruction.  An effective online course is not lecture driven and new pedagogies are emerging. Connectivist and Social Constructivist pedagogies are leveraging the power of the learning technologies to expand the sphere of learning for each student and allow for learning to continue beyond the LMS in new ways.  This can include: blogging, connecting via Social Media, development of a Personal Learning Network to enhance to scope of the value of these social media tools and much more.


3. Multiple Measures

Teaching online does not limit the types of assessment that can be done in your course.  Formative and Summative assessments can be employed along with Peer evaluations and self assessments in your course.  More measures will ensure the achievement of student learning outcomes and allow learners to self reflect in the achievement of said outcomes.


4. Foster a Robust Intellectual Community

Educators are familiar with the Community of Inquiry framework where there is a focus on Instructor Presence, Social Presence, and Cognitive Presence.  Building the sense of community is a key element of an effective online course due to the fact that learner isolation is one of the key reasons for attrition online.

Social presence is “the ability of participants to identify with the community (e.g., course of study), communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop inter-personal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities.” (Garrison, 2009)

Teaching Presence  is the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001).

Cognitive Presence is the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001).


5. Encourage Active Learning
The profile of an adult learner is typically a working adult with children.  This type of learner wants to be able to apply what they are learner right away and by providing application or work based assignments they can take theory and turn it into practice immediately thus having a larger impact on our work force.  They need to be able to work in groups in the work place and therefore group work (where applicable) is encouraged.  It is imperative that rather than online courses being lecture driven that learners be given the opportunity to present their findings and key learnings to the class.  They will be better presenters and better at synthesis of information which is at the top of Blooms Taxonomy and leads to deeper understanding of the content.

6. Promote Reflection
Strategies can be employed in the online teaching and learning space to encourage learners to be reflective. These strategies include the use of peer reviews, discussion reflections, writing assignments encouraging student to make a personal connection to assigned readings, and even book reviews to name a few.  Reflection can aim to enhance the effectiveness of learning and/or promote metacognition or similar notions such as “learning to learn” or “self-regulation,” all considered as essential skills for knowledge workers.

7. Prompt and Meaningful Feedback
Set clear expectations for your students regarding how quickly and how often they can expect feedback from you in an online course.  The more quality, personalized feedback that you can offer to your students the more likely that they will feel a sense of connection to you, their professor, and the course.

8. Use Digital Technology to Support/Enhance Learning
It is imperative that the tools not be leveraged for the sake of “using technology”, rather they should be aligned with your learning outcomes and the technology should be transparent to the students.  The tools leveraged should not pose a challenge to learners that become a barrier to their success, they should simply be another method of achieving the learning objectives.


While we should prepare learners for their future, we must be mindful of the choices that we make and ensure that students have the necessary tools to be successful.


By wkilgore | September 22, 2013 | Distance Education, Higher Education, Instructional Design Models, Motivation, Online Teaching |

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