of Good Online Course Design
1: Learner-Centered Outcomes-Based Instruction
should be described and clarified in the:
- The student should be informed
in detail about what is involved in the course
- You need to decide, on personal
philosophy, the pace of the course and if students are to
move as a cohort group or individually.
- Grading Rubrics
- Ideally a rubric explains
assessment of assignments and the basis for the overall
- Models of quality work
- Explanations of the relevance
of course materials to past and future learning.
does a clear and thorough syllabus look like to the student?
A clear and thorough syllabus should
contain an effective orientation to the course and to the course
tools. CVC2 provides resources to help faculty with these
explanations. Many colleges also provide orientation materials
to their students. Be sure to take advantage of offered
resources and add to them descriptions of materials unique to
For advice on syllabus design and
a sample syllabus see the materials available in Module
5, Read 2.
What are Grading
4faculty also provides advice on
grading rubrics, in both the Syllabus Description and in
key to learner-centered outcomes based instruction is the use of
Ideally, assessment tools should be used:
- At the opening
of the course to gain a sense of what students already know
and how you may be able to facilitate their learning:
of learning style http://www.metamath.com//lsweb/dvclearn.htm
or similar tool
of skill/knowledge level
- A brief, ungraded, current
knowledge quiz related to the subject provides an
opportunity to identify and help at risk students.
offering students the option of taking the syllabus
test more than once to relieve stress and help ensure
may wish to password protect the first quiz
with a password that you include in the syllabus
or read me first section.
students are asked to write a few lines (possibly
about themselves and what they hope to learn) their
writing skills will become apparent.
- Be careful
to ensure that all the early assessments are brief,
fun and non-threatening. Do not include them in
the final grade.
frequent self assessment
- Be sure to design questions
to reward what is understood and offer opportunities
to correct errors by explaining answers (keep facts,
context and process in mind)
- Remind students to build
upon learning from prior modules.
- Clarify Current
- Demonstrate relationships
- Be sure to include multiple
options for performance of skills, knowledge and understanding.
What do assessment
tools look like to the student?
You observed several assessment tools
in this course. You can learn more in Lesson 8 of 4faculty.org.
Be sure to check for publisher resources when you choose your
textbook. Many publishers have test banks designed for online
Opportunities for Students to Construct and Experience Their Own
lesson we have learned is that we all learn differently.
It is very important to be clear about this. The process
by which we learn something and the outcome of that learning
are not the same. For example, some students
need to "read the manual" and reflect upon their reading
before they can think about assembling a computer. Other students
only need to watch you (or a video) once, and they can replicate
assembly. The different approaches to learning do not necessarily
symbolize different abilities to complete tasks once learned.
Many fields require that students
be able to perform their tasks utilizing the specific processes.
Common task performance does not necessarily necessitate common
pathways to learning. Students will learn more quickly
and more easily if we provide opportunities for students to construct
and experience their own knowledge acquisition process.
How can you do this without exhausting
yourself in the course development process? You might give students
problem solving opportunities. Think about this in
practice. Let's imagine that you teach math. You show
your students a problem and ask them to solve it. You provide
clues as to how to solve the problem. If your problem is
both familiar and challenging (it looks familiar, but asks students
to use processes they have not applied in the past), your students
can begin to solve the problem and will try various approaches.
Perhaps several will answer the question correctly. The
key here is that each student will explore the question differently.
Exercises offering students opportunities
to construct and experience their own knowledge include:
Another approach to providing an opportunity
for individual expressions of learning is to encourage analysis.
You can encourage analysis of readings, of student discussions,
or of a real time “chat” experience.
Learning modules designed to appeal
to differing learning styles, and those which require students
to explore modules that stretch beyond their preferred learning
style, encourage students to grow and gain confidence. Applicability
of this principle may vary depending upon subject area.
Courses addressing the introductory
needs of students should address multiple styles and offer the
most options. Advanced and specialized courses may focus
on approaches and skills relevant to a narrower skill set.
Faculty should carefully assess the skills necessary in practical
applications of their disciplines. For example, a law class
may justifiably focus on reading skills, as reading comprehension
and analysis are key skills in the legal profession. A public
administration course, while specialized, relates to a field in
which those with differing learning preferences can succeed.
In short, most courses should address the needs of multiple learning
preferences and offer multiple options for processing new learning.
in the name of offering students options, faculty “document
dump.” That is, they offer a massive number of pages
and links. This can be disastrous early in an introductory
course. Students usually don't have the skills and knowledge
base to sort through the information and focus on key content.
Frustrated, students will drop the course assuming that it is
just too hard.
It is usually best to offer resources
slowly and over time. Students will probably appreciate
a comprehensive list of web links, but wait to offer this until
at least the middle of the course.
for Students to Become Increasingly Responsible for Their Own
Encourage students to become increasingly
responsible for their own learning. How can you achieve
- Provide early and extensive input
on the discussion board to model effective discussion, analysis
and other communication skills
- Include examples of good posts
from past classes
- Encourage student analysis of
discussions and reward students for becoming more skilled over
time. How? Peer pressure works wonders online.
Students know they have a real audience. If you or other
students ask questions about posts with unclear sections, students
will quickly learn that poor writing undermines clarity and
their ability to influence others. Ask increasingly challenging
questions about students' posts. If intrinsic motivation
is insufficient, you can inform students that you will raise
your grading standards over time.
Open Entry/Open Exit courses
can be designed to give students responsibility for their own
learning, but assessment usually requires objectively demonstrable
skill based learning. Class discussion on the discussion
board is usually not effective if students do not form a cohort
and interact. If they enter and leave a class at their convenience,
the reality that they are in different places in the material
during different weeks substantially undermines the opportunities
for interaction. Please do not interpret this as a negative
view of open entry/open exit courses. Some skill acquisition
is often best achieved without regard to cohort, timeframe or
Include meaningful assignments and,
when possible, allow students to develop their own pathways to
learning. Divide content into small modules so that students
may move quickly thorough skill portions and explore new learning
and analysis portions in more depth.
does the provision of choice and responsibility look like to the
Choice can and should be obvious
to students. It might appear as options for assignments,
group projects, or service learning experiences. It
may be as simple as provision of a text document, PowerPoint
with voice over, or an audio track reviewing the
same materials. Students can chose to gravitate to the format
most suitable to their preferred learning style. If they feel
they haven't grasped the material by reading, for example, they
can turn to the PowerPoint option.
Students may not recognize that they
are taking responsibility for their own learning. Increasingly
challenging webquests that require students to find their
own resources may encourage more self direction. As students
take more responsibility for the class and for their own learning,
they often play a stronger role in the discussion board.
If you offer frequent posting requirements, students will become
comfortable with interaction. You can participate in the
conversation frequently at first and slowly pull out over time.
You might even consider using a "fake" online student.
This can allow you to make observations or ask questions without
the god like role of instructor. Increased student interaction
will allow you to pull out of the conversation. You may
find by the end of the course you need only say, "Great work
5. Options for
Demonstrating Learning Outcomes (if appropriate)
Students learn most easily when presented
with materials appealing to their learning preferences.
Performance options often inspire students. During the learning
process, encourage higher order learning rather than memorization
by questioning preconceptions and asking them to evaluate their
new learning. Ultimately, however, you must consider the
real world needs of your students. Introductory courses
often lend themselves to the creation of multiple options.
Advanced courses for students seeking work in a particular profession
may require consistent outcomes. If your students will need
to rebuild an engine, analyze a blood sample, or give shots, assignments
that encourage differing outcomes may be unwise.
What does the
opportunity to provide differing evidence of outcomes look like
to the student?
is probably obvious that differing evidence of outcomes implies
the offering of different types of assignments. How you
do this may vary dramatically from discipline to discipline, but
it generally appears to the students as one assignment with options
for completion and achievement. For example you could offer
students the opportunity to do a research project, engage in service
learning and write about the experience, make observations and
then draw a cartoon or collage illustrating their view, and so
forth. Charts, drawings and other illustrations can
be scanned and submitted online as an attachment or as a link
to a website the student has created.
Higher order learning requires reflection.
Students need time to digest each piece of new learning.
You will do them a good service if you explain
the value of reflection and remind them to pause at regular intervals.
You can also "encourage" reflection by limiting forward
movement for a set period of time if the course management system
in use allows you to set up time sensitive files.
What do opportunities
for reflection look like to the student?
Encouragement for reflection can
appear in many forms:
in journaling options that are not graded by the instructor
but require sharing on the discussion board or require students
to keep a journal that is sent to the instructor. You
might require input before the student can move forward, particularly
in courses that are open entry/open exit.
how this lesson or module relates to prior learning.
- Encourage sharing of reflections
on what was learned through analysis of materials on the discussion
- Remind students to evaluate both
content and process. They may understand facts or terminology,
but have difficultly with context or processing relationships.
If students are required to respond to one or two of the other
students' posts and to make those comments serious and thoughtful,
students will reflect on the materials and also reflect on the
You may wish to set up your Discussion
Board with topics for each lesson and threads for each topic.
student support services
Many colleges offer online students
a host of support services. Be sure you know what is available
and how students can access those services. If your college
does not use a home page template which includes these services,
be sure to set them up as links from your homepage or syllabus.
Online tutoring and online counseling
are increasingly considered a normal institutional responsibility.
In addition to services provided
by your college, it is important to think about an orientation
to your course and the online tools you plan to employ.
While it may be difficult to design a frequently asked questions
(FAQs) page for your first course, you will quickly find that
developing a FAQs for tools and procedures and another for course
content can save you from answering the same question numerous
Another aspect of student support
services is the inclusion of an established regular response time
Students will appreciate knowing when they can anticipate hearing
from you. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, you
will model good time management.
Clear and Captivating Instructional Design
8. Clear and Captivating
Clear and captivating instructional
design is difficult to describe, but we know immediately when
we see it. That is because there is no one right formula
for clear and captivating design. Key considerations
usually include a sense that the course is tailored to its audience.
In other words, the writing style, the images and
plug-ins selected, and the layout are appropriate
to the intellectual sophistication, technical savy
and needs of the audience. For example, take a look
at the CNN homepage http://www.cnn.com.
Lets imagine that this is the homepage for a course. Overwhelmed?
Probably, unless you view the CNN homepage regularly and know
just where to look for information of interest to you. Because
the CNN homepage attracts regular users, the content filled page
serves them well and saves viewers from having to click through
multiple pages to find the headlines of interest to them.
The same is true for your course. Future lawyers may find
reading page after page of illustration free text clear and captivating,
but most introductory environmental science students would likely
drop the course at the end of the first lesson - they demand images.
Think deeply about your students and what they are attracted to
and need. Look at other courses, Merlot,
and publisher prepared materials in your discipline for ideas.
What might clear
and captivating instructional design look like to the student?
Please send recommendations for additions
to this list to Kristina Kauffman: firstname.lastname@example.org,
using the subject line: examples of excellent online
A Pathway to Guide Student Learning
You will recall that
in Module ___ we discussed the importance of pathways to learning.
Provision of a pathway to guide student learning has eased many
students through their first online course and provided them with
the confidence to pursue other courses. Just what is a pathway?
You are already familiar with the DREAM pathway through 4faculty.
Many other options are working effectively across the nation.
pathways currently in use include:
- The FAST Online
Academy which won the California Community College Chancellor's
Office Focus Award in 2001. It has been used in the Contra
Costa System to quickly orient faculty to online teaching. That
pathway includes Foundation, Application, Sharing, Test
Community College's DAPIR MAN Modular Structure used in
the Radiology training program employs a far more sophisticated
structure than the others:
Layer: Overall Description of the Material
Layer: Packet Layer with primary contents
Layer: How the material integrates with other modules
Layer: Vocabulary and sources for the material in the module
- Media Layer:
Contains all the media for the module
Layer: Contains all the rules of articulation and matriculation
Layer: Contains all of the internal management of material
information (such as URL’s and update routine, information
search and update utility).
does a pathway to guide student learning look like to the student?
The pathway should
- A clear orientation
to course materials and online tools (FAQs)
- Time management
recommendations (or requirements)
- A syllabus or
calendar that is reinforced in each module or lesson
- Clearly established
objectives which visually stand out
- Navigation tools
that guide you through the lesson and from lesson to lesson
- Integrated discussions
- Assessment tools.
Be sure to "chunk"
materials into digestible bites. Small increments alleviate
stress and apprehension and help students learn to break down
learning into manageable increments.
It is wise to give
more time for the first lesson. Students need time to get
comfortable with the course tools before they can focus on the
To insure an appealing
presentation, think carefully about the selection of color and
layout design. Use effective imagery to enhance your presentation.
While you may occasionally wish to select an image style different
from the rest of your course, use differences for emphasis, not
as a regular choice.
If you don't have
a good eye for design, consult your colleagues in the graphics
or art departments, your campus webmaster, or online course support
staff. Keep in mind that not everyone likes the same colors
or layouts. While you want to let your personality and discipline's
image shine through, you don't want to chose a style that is distracting
to your learners.
Keep in mind that
consistency of presentation will have a calming effect on your
learners, giving them the opportunity to focus without distraction
on course content .
does an appealing presentation look like to the student?
In addition to the
color and layout considerations mentioned above, think about:
- Using multi-media
accessible to both those with 28K modems and the visually impaired
- The importance
of addressing multiple learning preferences, particularly in
for interaction with the content, exploring various scenarios
and making choices.
Does this seem repetitive?
If it does, this means that you have mastered the material and
integrated it into your understanding of a good online course.
It is not rocket science. If you have been teaching for
a long time, you probably knew most of this on an intuitive level.
Forms of Interactivity with Material, Other Students and the Instructor
11. Regular Communication
with peers and instructor
It is important
to design a communication process that supports learning, not
only in terms of content and analysis, but also in human terms.
Seed discussion, encourage and reward students for “teaching”
each other, and plan for regular and predictable response times.
Communicate concern for students' learning and their development
of self-motivated learning.
What is regular communication?
This will vary depending upon the discipline and the length of
the course. For a standard three unit course offered in
a regular semester format, questions should be answered at least
twice per week. Three times per week is the best approach.
Comments on work submitted for a grade should be made within a
week. At least one peer to peer communication per week should
be encouraged or required. An informal study done at Riverside
Community College early in the development of their online courses
revealed that courses with the largest and fewest posts to the
discussion board also had the highest drop rates. It is
possible to overdo interaction. Typically, successful online
faculty interact extensively early in the session and withdraw
to just a few posts per week (or lesson) at the end of the course.
What does communication
with peers and the instructor look like to the student?
Students will appreciate
- A personalized
introduction to the instructor offering a sense of the instructor's
expertise, interests and world view as they relate to the course.
A video introduction is an excellent enhancement.
- Early, extensive
instructor input on discussion board modeling discussion, analysis
and other communication skills
- A process of turning
analysis of student discussion to the class over time
- Structures that
encourage peer support (i.e., an early requirement to ask questions
and offer recommendations for improvement to one or two other
student's posts on each lesson)
- The construction
of learning communities or cohorts
- Rapid responses
to personal e-mails
- Guidelines on
ethics, clarity, grammar, netiquette, conversational style
- A unrecorded discussion
room, just for students, allowing the building of relationships
in the "hallway" of the online course.
If the first discussion
item is a self-introduction, you can ease students into the
online writing process. Think of this as an ice breaker.
You might wish to pose a question or two that is easy for everyone
to answer. You can use their self introduction as an assessment
tool to identify writing difficulties.
Interaction with Content
to interact with content can be a challenge. Often, real
interaction with content will not be a feature of your first online
course. In the past, few plug-in options existed and publishers
rarely had information worth adding to a course. Today that
is not the case. You can offer opportunities for interaction
with the content without designing them yourself. Use materials
from Merlot or publishers. If you are quite sophisticated, you
can also design your own.
does interaction with content look like to the student?
interact with content can include exploration of the consequences
of various scenarios and choices. You can design these using
web links or more sophisticated authoring tools. If you
did not view them earlier in this lesson, the two examples below
offer interaction with the content:
Another opportunity to interact can
come in the form of a WebQuest
(be sure to check the link for ideas). A webquest might
ask a student to go on a sort of cyber scavenger hunt to find
data or expand their understanding of an issue. A basic
webquest might look like the one below:
BACK TO TOP
Copyright: Riverside Community College
Copyright: Suzanne Miller, Kristina Kauffman
Sinclair Community College
These recommendations are the result of:
series of California Virtual College Region 2 sponsored
work for 4faculty.org
about good online pedagogy held by the author at several
section proposes a set of guidelines for Community College
faculty preparing online courses. Your comments are welcomed.
Please forward recommendations to Kristina Kauffman via
Copyright to this section is held by Kristina Kauffman.