A recent survey from the WICHE Cooperative for Education Technologies found that more than 80 percent of institutions design their own content for more than three-quarters of their online courses.

With a third of American students taking at least one online course, the demand for institutions to create that content is high. But there’s more to making an online course than just replicating an in-class lecture.

design-online-courseJeff Bergin, vice president of Digital Design for Pearson, offers the following four keys that learning designers believe lead to effective online learning.

“I don’t think most people think about all of these categories,” he says. “You can have great experiences by just thinking about some, but I think you have a much stronger experience if you keep all of these in mind.”

1. Education Policy

Quality learning design must meet policies held by the federal and state government, as well as accrediting bodies and institutions, Bergin says.

“What I mean is that when someone is designing any kind of learning activity, that activity is going to happen within the context of some kind of policy,” he says. “And I use the phrase ‘education policy’ in the broadest possible sense. These are polices that affect learning such as accessibility or credit hour, even just institutional policies. It’s important to do your research so you’re adhering to these guidelines.”

2. Academic Research

The research doesn’t stop at the policy level, Bergin says. Strong learning design is based on academic research on instructional design, motivation, and multimedia learning to ensure that courses are engaging, intuitive, and meet student expectations.

“A vast amount of academic research exists for us, but often that doesn’t make its way into practice,” he says. “There’s research on learner behavior and pedagogical models, and that research is a really good way to ensure we know what types of design will work best. Going out and seeing what kind of research there is can be really helpful.”

3. Learner Centered Design

Online learning can sometimes make things easier for an instructor or an institution, but it’s important to remember that the experience isn’t actually about you – it’s about the learner.

Keeping the student at the center of the design process can be done by making use of surveys and focus groups to evaluate the design, engagement level, and usability, Bergin says.

“You could have a course design that’s structurally-sound and rigorous, but if it is not engaging to students, it’s not successful,” he says. “Our research has found that not all learning activities are created equal when it comes to mobile, for example. There are some things students would rather do on a tablet, and some things they’d rather do on a computer. If it’s not possible to make everything mobile-friendly, then it’s at least ideal to look at the learning activity in question and really ask what the best device is for the activity and the learner.”

4. Third Party Evaluation

“I don’t know if this is really it’s own category, so much as a part of every category that’s preceded it,” Bergin says. “I think everything we research should have some kind of validation. If there’s’ a study that says students would prefer to use flash cards on a mobile device and that’s three years old, it would be really good to validate that the study has held true over the years.”

Once you’ve developed your content, course, or technology, then it’s time have it evaluated as much as possible by a third party, he says, adding that “it’s one thing for me to say it works well, but it’s an incredibly different thing for users and other people in the field to say that.”


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