10 rules for developing your first online course

Rule 3: Design for the Web
I remember building my first online course by transcribing the lectures from my face-to-face course into text. Somehow the students managed to get through them, bless their hearts. But, of course, the online environment is fundamentally visual, built on videos, interaction, exploration, etc. All effective communication requires an understanding of the rules of that environment. Don’t view the online environment through the paradigm of the face-to-face environment. Rather, design for the web.

Rule 4: Account for Different Systems
It’s easy to forget that web pages operate differently on different browsers, and especially on different devices. Ask your instructional designers to go over your course to confirm that everything will work on different systems. It’s a good idea to check in with them before designing content so that they can give you a template that will work.

Rule 5: If Someone Can Say it Better Than You, Then Let Them
The first time I taught medical ethics, I wrote a long description of the Human Genome Project for my students to read. It took me hours and was boring. Then I discovered that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had a beautiful website covering everything in my document and more. I could have saved myself a lot of time and provided better content by sending them to the NIH website.

Faculty often think they must develop every piece of content from scratch, but nearly all of the information in their head is available somewhere else. Use the web to your advantage by curating, rather than creating, content whenever possible.

Rule 6: Use a Consistent Format
Humans are fundamentally pattern-recognition animals, meaning that we will look for patterns to help guide our actions. Create a template of what you will want from students in each module and follow it. It might be that your modules start with a video overview of the material, links to various content, three discussion questions, etc. Changes in midstream invariably lead to students missing content or assignments.

(Next page: Rules 7-10)