The process of developing online course is quite complex, and it may include several stages such as proposing a course, planning, developing the content, teaching, evaluating, and revising. Previously, educators were having an impression that online course development means just a digitization of the course material offered in the classroom environment.
It turned out that the task is complex, and it requires different thinking, planning, and decision-making regarding the content presentation to learners, interaction design, and assessment strategies. In this post, we’ll look at the main stages of the online course life cycle and discuss some considerations and recommendations regarding online content.
The starting point…
Before the course design starts, it is important to understand why the online delivery is beneficial for this particular course. Important to consider that the online course development is more expensive than preparing teaching materials for in-class delivery. But the course delivery online is cheaper than face-to-face teaching. One of the factors that make online delivery preferable is its ability to reach a wider audience in geographically distributed locations.
It is important to estimate how suitable is online learning for the given course. Usually, online delivery works well when the course aims to develop knowledge, understanding of concepts, procedural skills, thinking, and decision-making. Online delivery can work effectively when developing interpersonal skills providing that respective interactive activities are included in the course content.
The decision to be made on the mode of online delivery:
- Self-paced – when learners are studying on their own in terms of time and space, their activities and progress can be monitored using tools offered by the respective learning management platform;
- Instructor-led – when the course is scheduled and led by an instructor, the online content is enhanced by lectures, and the final step of the course is an assessment to measure the learners’ achievement.
Online course development time is an important factor. The course development time is influenced by many aspects such as the maturity of the course material, type of instructional presentation, types of assessments, and the level of knowledge of the online environment and respective tools. From the practical perspective, faculty readiness for online development self-assessment forms is used to get estimated time which might be needed to design and develop a new online course.
Components of online learning
Online learning approaches can combine different components, including:
- online learning content;
- learning support (tutoring, advising, coaching);
- collaborative learning; and
- virtual classroom.
Online learning content can include online text for reading, interactive elements (tasks, questions, quizzes), simulations, and job aids – special learning tools which provide quick answers to the specific questions.
Learning support – services (tutoring, coaching, mentoring) which can be offered to learners individually to support learning experiences, provide performance feedback and encourage improvements.
Collaborative learning comprises different activities from discussions and knowledge-sharing to working together on a project. Discussion forums, blogs, chats, social media platforms are used to support collaboration.
Virtual classroom supports content delivery similar to traditional in-class learning. The difference is that an instructor teaches remotely and in real time to a group of geographically distributed learners
Resources required for online course development
First, the team of developers with the required skillset should be established. Depending on the size of the project, nature of the course, and content requirements, the following roles need to be assigned to the team:
- Development Manager/Project manager – to conduct needs and target audience analysis before starting the project, and coordinate and evaluate all activities in the different stages of the course development.
- Instructional designer(s ) – to work with managers and subject experts to understand the course goals, knowledge and skills to be covered in the respective online course, select the appropriate instructional strategy, and design online learning materials and activities;
- Subject matter expert(s) contribute to the content of the specific course by developing modules and assessments;
- Media specialist(s) – to assemble course elements, develop media and interactive components, create the courseware, adapt the interface of a learning platform;
- Course administrator and tutor support learners during course implementation;
- Technical support specialist(s )- to assist both development team members and learners.
Technology is required to produce and deliver online courses. Technology offers different tools to develop the content; the selection of tools depends on the nature of the course and activities planned. Important to mention courseware authoring tools are used to create interactive content:
- Add text, graphics, and other media;
- Organize pages and lessons;
- Incorporate assessments and quizzes.
Many educational institutions are using learning management systems (LMSs) to support online learning and training course development and delivery. LMSs have different levels of complexity but contain similar core feature:
- Curriculum mapping and planning;
- Learning content management;
- Learner engagement and tracking;
- Collaboration tools and services.
Online course development phases
Online course development process is usually based on one of the adopted models. Despite different naming and description, they are usually represented by five phases. Depending on the specific requirements of the projects, some phases can be skipped or combined.
Below, I’ve provided the description of all five phases. The names of the phases I use are common for different types of projects.
Like for any other projects, the first task is to conduct needs analysis and define:
- Target audience;
- Why online delivery is the best solution for the given course;
- Required skill training for the development team;
- Course goals and objectives.
Further analysis should determine:
- List of topics to be delivered – the scope of the course content;
- List of skills learners should obtain during the course – course learning objectives.
During the design phase the following activities should take place:
- identify and formulate course learning objectives required to achieve;
- define the sequence in which the objectives should be achieved; and
- select instructional, delivery, and evaluation strategies.
The outcome of the design stage is a course specification that will be used as guidelines for the course development.
The development phase is when the online course content is produced. The content development consists of three main steps:
- collecting/writing course material;
- developing storyboard which describes all the components of the online course – integration of instructional approaches and media elements;
- developing media and interactive components.
Online course delivery to learners. Administration, support, and advising activities should take place.
Depending on evaluation purpose, collect feedback from learners:
- learners’ experiences when taking the course,
- the achievement of learning objectives,
- the transfer of knowledge and skills.
In this post, we discussed the basic online course development approaches starting with the intention to develop the online content. It was highlighted that online course material is not just a digitization of the content which was delivered face-to-face in the classroom. It is the more complex process, and online pedagogical approaches differ from traditional teaching and earning methodologies. Developing online course, it is important to efficiently integrate content, media, and teaching strategies.