Planning Your Online Course


Course design for online and hybrid courses begins with many of the same steps as course design for face to face classes. It is advisable to first sketch out the learning goals and objectives, focusing on student knowledge, skills, and abilities. Then, this information naturally leads to the answer to such questions as how many assessments are needed, what students need to be told, and how students will practice. Since the course delivery and student practice take place online, however, there are significant differences from face to face classes. Fortunately, instructors have a wide variety of tools to choose from in bringing active learning to the online environment.

Goals and Objectives

Goals are large, overarching ideals that an organization "reaches" toward, but these are not "to do" items that can be checked off as though accomplished overnight. The UCF Goals provide a good example of the broad language often used in goals. Since goals cannot be "met" per se, related pursuits commonly called objectives are drafted. Often, two or more objectives are written for each goal. In contrast to goals, objectives are measurable, and can definitively be said to be achieved or not achieved. If objectives are being met, the organization can reasonably claim it is working toward its goals.

University courses also contain larger goals and measurable objectives. In this case, the learning objectives usually follow the formula of "By the end of this course, students will know how to perform [Task X]."

It is advisable for instructors to become thoroughly familiar with the specific learning objectives of a course. It is not sufficient merely to teach material and explain concepts. If the learning objectives are to be met, the classes must unfold with these objectives in mind. This way, instructors only spend their time working toward the objectives, which provide a focus for the class that is otherwise absent.

Verifying that Learning Objectives Are Met

All instructors want to know that students are learning. Having a focus on the objectives for the course leads to a need for even more specific assessments. Instructors should ask themselves: "How will I know that students have met Objective #1 on the syllabus?" or "What kind of project, or report, or test, or performance will argue convincingly that students really have mastered this Objective?"

In this fashion, the nature of the objectives dictates what the assessments should look like, and how many there are. If the objectives are knowledge-oriented, tests may be more commonly employed. If the objectives call for performance or are task-oriented, assessments might be projects, labs, or performances. For online courses, performances are often captured digitally and then submitted via an electronic drop box.

Dividing Up the Semester

A working knowledge of the learning objectives also provides the instructor with the tools needed to schedule the semester. If students are to perform Task X, how long will the class need to adequately read about, discuss, and practice this task before the students are assessed in doing it? That answer might suggest how long to spend on each chapter of a book, and in some cases argue against trying to assign an entire textbook in the course of a single semester.

The objectives also imply what students will need to be told in order to perform the learning activity. If they are to do Task X, what must they be told about (or read about) before they are in a position to accomplish the task? Similarly, the nature of the objective sometimes dictates what the students will have to practice before they can be assessed on the task at hand. If practice is warranted, some instructors opt to build that into the course plan from the start, rather than rely on students to recognize on their own that they should practice the task.

Mixed-Mode ("M") and Fully Online ("W") Courses

Courses with reduced seat time have the advantage that students still have live interaction with the instructor, and your course design may wish to capitalize on this advantage. Consider which elements of the course can happen outside of class, via the students reading in the textbook or interacting in Webcourses. In some cases, the presentation of the content can remain the province of the textbook, leaving more time in the face to face sessions for active applications and practicing of the tasks.

Fully online courses often turn to different tools in Webcourses, or other online tools available outside Webcourses, to approximate the interaction and practice that would otherwise be done in face to face classes.

Continue to the next section: Designing Modules


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