2. Framework Mapping

With analysis complete, the next step is to design and create the course framework, mapping the information derived from your analysis to the course itself. Here’s an example of how the upfront analysis informs online course creation:

The source material is a three-credit lecture course that has been delivered, in one three-hour session, in a traditional classroom. This is often assumed that it is a week’s worth of content; however, the online student may be a non-traditional learner or one who is perhaps taking the online course for the first time in an asynchronous delivery. With one session a week devoted to the course, the three-hour lecture may represent too much material to absorb in one sitting. The lecture and supporting materials need to be disaggregated and redeveloped iteratively against the sectional/modular objectives and learning outcomes.

This conceptual approach will alleviate the cognitive overload that could result and transform into a poor outcome, such as a disengaged learner who ultimately underperforms and disengages. Designers must think through the best ways to present the material so that it’s understandable and digestible, without losing sight of the desired outcome.

If we’ve taken the time to understand the source material and the targeted user experience of the learner before we start designing, we’re better prepared to make sure that we’re providing the students with what they need in a sensible way.

3. Learner Experience

While determining how the course materials are presented is fundamental to creating a successful, high-quality online course, it’s also equally important to pay attention to the overall learner experience.

Many online learners are already facing challenges when they enter the arena. We don’t want them to be burdened with additional challenges when it comes to navigation, sequencing of materials, course expectations and assessment requirements, or even where and when they can elicit outreach to instructors or peers.

Too often learners are stopped in their tracks trying to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B. They may not know how to interact with one class in isolation, with their full course load, and with their overall experience as a learner within the online institution. Simplistic bridges that are designed purposefully can alleviate most of these gaps and provide an intuitive, insightful understanding.

There’s no reason why the online learning experience can’t be as seamless as that enjoyed by traditional students in an on-campus setting. In some ways–such as supporting the needs of those with diverse learning styles–online provides an even better medium than in-person. We need to design an experience that considers the multiple interactions that online learning requires (interactions that we take for granted in the face-to-face environment), including:

  • Learner to learner
  • Learner to curriculum
  • Learner to instructor

All three of these interaction types must be incorporated in online course design and development.

By analyzing the situation ahead of time, by using that analysis to carefully chart the course, and by never losing sight of the fact that what matters most is the quality of the overall learner experience, course designers can create the kinds of courses that engage and retain students.

There are too many students looking for online learning opportunities–and too many institutions competing to meet their needs–to ignore the fact that, now more than ever, the quality of the online learning experience matters.

About the Author:

Cheryl Cyrus is a principal strategist on Blackboard’s Enterprise Consulting team. In this role, she provides expertise and support to clients on eLearning, competency-based education (CBE), and a variety of other course design and development projects. Before joining Blackboard, she worked for the Florida Department of Education, the University of South Florida and the University of Memphis.