Faculty and instructors are challenged with the task of putting their courses into an online learning environment and to do so rapidly. What’s the best way do this? What does an efficient and effective process look like?
A Ten-Step Process
This ten-step process ensures your online course is designed to meet the needs of your students and the educational requirements of the course.
Click on the ten steps below to read the full process.
In this example, a course for a Certificate in Human Resources is developed. What are the program requirements this course is intended to meet? What are the overall intentions for this course – its “grand” objectives and how do these relate to the program the course is part of.
This may appear a simple step. But some thought needs to be given to the decision to develop a course from a “conventional” classroom to an online course. Not all courses convert (e.g. field biology, though many components of such a course can be converted and with the growing availability of animation field biology could be seen as a virtual course at some point in the near future) and some courses require more work to adapt than others do.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Given the overall learning objectives for the course, is it possible for a student to complete this course by online learning, with effective interaction with peers and the instructor? Is it a course where you can “design in” student engagement? To do this, you need to specify what the “grand” objectives are and how the course links to the program in which it is placed (e.g. prerequisites).
- Who are the target students for this course – what are their characteristics? Is this target group likely to be able to use online learning resources with ease? What are their barriers and how can you work to overcome them? Do they have access to the technologies you intend to use (e.g. powerful computers if there are a lot of simulations and games)?
- What are the assessment requirements of this course and how could these be completed through an online learning experience? How can you leverage assessment as a support for the process of learning?
- Are student numbers over the next 3-5 years sufficient to justify an online learning conversion? This may seem like an odd question, but if there are only likely to be 7-10 students a year, is it really worth all this work? Why not just have an online self-study/reading course or a Zoom-based course with readings and a catalogue of student activity? If there are a lot of people taking this course, then you need to think about the ways in which different sub-groups of students use and learn with the materials you want to use.
- If the course is a part of a program, what percent of courses in the program could the student take through online learning? Are there some standards being applied to the program you should be aware of? Are there rubrics and rules?
Once you are satisfied the course you have in mind is suited, then you are ready to move to step 2.
Collect and review all of the available assets associated with the course – course materials, videos, PowerPoints, texts, simulations, games, assessments - everything.
These assets normally include:
- A course textbook or similar resource. This may be a digital text or a collection of chapters or a collection of open education resources. There are some excellent open education resources now available (see here).
- A set of required readings, videos, PowerPoints and other learning materials students must have access to and be able to use repeatedly, if they are to be successful in completing the learning objectives.
- A set of suggested readings, videos, PowerPoints and other learning materials students may like to explore but are not essential to the task of successful course completion.
- Activities which students could engage in as a group in class or in pairs or as self-study activities.
- Assignments and assessments, which lead toward the final grade for the course.
- Self-assessments, which help the student, test their own learning or skills.
- Audio or video materials which aid the students learning during the course, but are not readily available online, that you need to “get” online for their use
- Web references and sources (known generally as “URLs”) to which students can be referred. These can include learning materials from other course’s online, materials from open educational resources or other sources (see Appendix 1).
List (and preferably) assemble these assets and review them. Ask “if I were developing this course from scratch, do I really need all of these assets?” Identify core (required) and non-core (nice to have) assets and decide whether these latter assets are valuable to include.
Look very carefully at the textbook – often both a great asset (how else would all of the key knowledge be available in one simple place?) and a problem (they keep changing it; it is expensive for a student and for an online learning student difficult to obtain). Some colleges and universities are moving to textbook free – preferring to move to online textbooks or online resources, which cover the work just as well.
Now what other assets are available for each week of the course as “readymade” learning objects – see Appendix One 1 a list of open educational resources related to human resource management).
So, you can really design this course for the online student, you need to understand the learning objectives for the course as a whole and how these relate to time. You need overall course objectives and these objectives linked to how the student use their time.
Objectives are written simply and directly. Here is a sample taken from a course on Organizational Theory and Behaviour. Each week of activity is referred to as a lesson and the explicit assumption is each lesson – a block of work – is a 25-hour commitment each week. Here is what the objectives look like for a sample of “lessons”:
Lesson 3: Inter-Organizational Relationships.
At the end of this lesson, you will be able to do the following:
- Describe the different types of inter-organizational relationships;
- Explain how alliances, constellations, and communities of practice structures impact inter-organizational relationships;
- Assess the success of different forms of alliances;
- Identify potential inter-organizational relationships and alliances through different forms of competitive intelligence; and
- Collect competitive intelligence.
You need learning objectives for each week of the course.
The trick here is simple. Teach less and learn more.
Rather than develop 25 objectives for each week, think about time and reality. A student, who has 5 or 6 hours a week for the course, cannot successfully complete more than 4-6 objectives. What are these? A 10-week course needs no more than 40-50 objectives at most – but less is more. Every time a new objective is presented, there are activities and readings to complete – a student is more likely to master 20 objectives than 200.
Here is an example of a set of objectives from an MBA course:
Lesson 4: Technology, New Organizational Forms, and Knowledge Management.
At the end of this lesson, you will be able to do the following:
- Examine the alignment and fit between an organization’s context and its structure;
- Identify the new organizational forms resulting from technological advances and the resulting knowledge management challenges;
- Explain the impacts of manufacturing and service technologies as design elements and the degree of technological interdependence needed; and
- Assess the impacts of information technology on organizational design.
Notice objectives are expressed in action verbs for behaviour or skills – explain, assess, identify, examine – as opposed to adjectives, which are vague.
Here is a template we can use for this step of the process (duplicate this template for each week of the course):
The Student Question
What I am expected to learn this week?
Outcomes: By the end of this week, what should students know, be able to do and understand?
State the key outcomes for this week’s work. (By the end of this week, you will be able to…)
Why am I learning these things this week – how does it connect to the purpose of my program?
Overview: Why are these outcomes important for the program(s) of studies this course relates to?
Provide a short rationale for this week’s work suggesting its purpose in terms of the program of studies.
What do I have to read and what am I am supposed to do with this reading (review, critique, challenge)?
Read: What do students need to read this week?
List required readings (URL links or other ways of accessing materials).
What do I have to watch or listen to this week? When I watch or listen, what do I need to focus on?
Watch / Listen: What video material or audio material do students need to view / hear this week?
List any video / audio material you are asking students to view / listen to - include here any videos you have recorded (provide URLs).
What am I discussing with my fellow students this week? What is the conversation?
Discuss: What questions should students be discussing with each other on the discussion board for this course?
List discussion questions which students will respond to and discuss with each other online.
How will I know that I am learning what I need to learn?
Do: What quizzes (if any) or other activities should students complete this week to evaluate their own progress? How will they know they are “on track”?
List self-assessments or other activities (e.g. student individual project, group project, challenge) you expect students to do this week.
What do I actually need to do to practice the skills and capabilities for this week’s learning?
Practice: Are there practical activities (tasks, labs, fieldwork), which students must do this week? If so, what are they and what specifically do they need to do, bearing in mind social-distancing?
Describe the practical activities students are expected to complete this week.
Do I have to complete some sort of graded assessment this week?
Assess: Is there a graded assignment this week? If so, what is the assignment and when does it need to be submitted?
Specify the graded assessment activity (if any) for this week and when it is due.
What’s the face-to-face session about this week?
Share: What will you focus on during your FaceTime with the students?
Briefly describe the topic(s) you will focus on during Adobe Connect session(s) this week:
Are there additional materials that I can explore if I have time and want to do “extra”?
Supplementary Work: If students want to do more to ensure success, what materials and resources (e.g. reading, video, audio simulations, games) do you recommend?
List all useful resources which students will find useful here.
If I am struggling, what can I do? (I already know about office hours.)
Help: If a student is struggling, how should they seek help?
Other than office hours, what else can students do if they are struggling?
Given the objectives just outlined, how are these objectives assessed?
Students need to know just what is expected of them for an assignment, how it is graded, when it is due and what to expect from their instructor in terms of feedback.
Online assessment may look different from the way you might assess students in a face-to-face environment, for example, while some online proctoring systems are available, they are expensive.
Are you using continuous assessment? Are there grades for participation and for student presentations / activity? You need to make choices. Students need to be crystal clear what is expected and when.
Here is a sample assignment specification from this same course.
Example: Assignment 1
In Assignment 1, you analyze Walmart’s competitive environment. You need to do some research, and you probably need to make some assumptions as sensitive information may not be accessible.
In this assignment, we want you to demonstrate what you learned to this point of the course regarding strategy, structure, design, effectiveness, environment, and inter-organizational relationships. You are expected to use the competitive intelligence tools described in the previous section, to apply your new theoretical knowledge, and to draw from the course materials.
Put yourself into the role of an organizational consultant and consider the competitive environment of Walmart.
Describe the industry within which Walmart operates. Identify the major competitors. Describe the major trends, risks, or uncertainties facing firms operating in this industry. Choose and discuss the most important sources of risk and uncertainty to Walmart.
How well has Walmart dealt with these key sources of risk and uncertainty? What effect has competition, uncertainty, and risk had on the organization’s strategy, structure, and overall effectiveness?
Describe Walmart’s major stakeholders (e.g., competitors, suppliers, customers, employees). How has Walmart managed its inter- and intra-organizational relationships?
Use the theoretical materials and the competitive intelligence you collected to frame and make sense of Walmart’s competitive environment.
What recommendations would you provide to Walmart?
Present your ideas in essay format. Your analysis should be well thought out, and you should use relevant course concepts/materials to support your statements. Be sure to correctly reference all sources used. Also ensure you edited your paper thoroughly and your paper contains an introduction, conclusion, and reference section as appropriate.
Assignment 1 is graded as follows:
The overall value of this assignment is 30 per cent of your total course grade. Prepare your assignment in Microsoft Word and submit it in a .doc format in week 5 of the course. Your paper should be no less than 2,500 words and no more than 3,000 words.
This is a very explicit rubric. When we then ask students to participate in an online conversation about the assignment – discussing with peers – and say we will assess participation, what does this mean?
Some students think we count the number of postings – even if they just say “great point!” or “good idea!”. What they need to understand is participation is assessed in terms of how they create “added value” conversations – how they challenge, add new content, suggest a different perspective and so on. Some faculty members use 360 assessment so students assess each other in terms of the value they gained from the contributions their peers made.
From your own experience of teaching this material, what does the successful student look like? What knowledge should they have of the issue/subject matter of the course to ensure success? What are the needed behaviours required during the course? What role should they be willing to play with respect to initiating contact with peers and others? Are case studies required to be submitted, and if so, what skills do you expect the student to bring.
What is needed here is a profile of a successful student – the characteristics – so students can make a reasonable assessment of whether or not they are ready for this course.
This step is important to ensure the course is created using a clear understanding of what a student will actually do.
Ideally, you pilot a course and see what happens and adjust it accordingly. In most cases, however, this is not possible. So, you use this step to simulate this and explore what supports a student will normally take through the course and what additional help they may need (optional routes through).
If a student is making solid progress in the course and wants to extend their learning, what supplemental activities do you suggest they do each week of the course? How do you challenge the best in class and how can you use their knowledge and skills to help others – team leadership roles for class projects, evaluation roles for participation and so on.
Make clear what these activities are, where the student can access the needed materials and what they should do with them once they find them. Express some basic learning objectives for these supplemental activities.
A student who is struggling needs help. For each week of the course, what do you suggest a student, who is finding it difficult, do to help themselves? Are there activities, readings, self-tests, online resources to help the student overcome their learning difficulty? For example, if the courses is statistics, we know from experience that students will have certain problems – if the student self-assesses and find they are not doing well, have you created a remediation and support route to get them past this hurdle and on to the next?
These materials are likely to be different from those you recommend to a student who is successfully mastering the lesson for the week – they are likely to be remedial activities, more in depth explanations. Have you sourced these materials (e.g. online statistical labs - http://onlinestatbook.com/2/ or https://cognitiveclass.ai/courses/statistics-101)?
In online learning, there are two kinds of interaction. The first is synchronous – when instructor and students are able to interact with each other in real time, either through audioconferencing, videoconferencing or web conferencing (often supplemented by audio and/or video).
Not all courses require such interaction – many are just as effective with what is known as asynchronous, when students interact with each other and the instructor anytime/anywhere within a given timeframe (say a week) and engage on a dialogue which all in the course can see.
In this step, there are two questions to answer:
- In which weeks do you require synchronous interaction?
- For each of these synchronous interactions:
- What are the objectives?
- What are the requirements for this interaction to be successful – e.g. audio, video, PowerPoint, other.
- What are the consequences for someone unable to attend?
- What added value will the student receive from attending?
- How long does this interaction really need to be?
Most conferencing systems permit the session to be recorded and viewed for a period of time after the class (you can specify how long the video recording is available). Do you intend to do this and make the video available to all, whether they attended or not? If someone cannot attend, what should they do with the video – is there an activity or task to go with it?
This step asks you to look at asynchronous interactions. These are intended for students to interact with the instructor – asking questions of clarification, deepening their understanding of a subject, overcoming a learning difficulty etc. As well, these interactions could relate to group work or activities between students.
For each week, identify required interactions.
For each of these interactions, answer these questions:
- What are the objectives of the activity or interaction?
- What are the requirements for this interaction to be successful – are some activities to be designed, is this an open forum, etc.?
- What are the consequences for someone unable to participate? Does this impact their learning?
- What added value does the student receive from attending?
- Is participation in this activity something which carries a grade or mark?
- How long do you make this interaction available – e.g. if participation is expected in week one, is it still valuable in week 6
Look over each lesson and all of the components of that week of work and ask – when do these materials need to be modified or changed?
Some Additional Observations
This approach to course design simplifies the process, focuses on time (weeks, hours of study) and processes interactions. Many academics do this naturally in classroom teaching (you only have twelve weeks, three hours a week – what are you going to teach?) and some do not. In online learning, you have no choice. You have to get systematic.
Where you can accelerate course development is by:
- Using a systematic, focused approach to the design process.
- Using existing learning objects from around the world that teach to the objectives set. This requires real clarity about the learning objectives, good research as to what is available and a willingness to accept the work of others (especially from major institutions) is likely to be just fine for the purposes of learning.
- Designing for different categories of learner within the course – no one size fits all – so the course is designed fundamentally for the “average” learner, with loops for those who struggle and loops for those who excel.
- Thinking through student engagement – let them create part of the course, use their activities to enhance learning and to find knowledge and skills that matter.
- Think through the implication of the idea “teach less, learn more” for the process of learning.
- Focus assessment and evaluation activities and be explicit about the assessment rubric, especially for vague notions like “participation”.
Key to all of this is focusing not on instruction, but on learning. It is quite a challenge. But there is no reason a twelve-week course, in a subject taught around the world, could not be developed from scratch in a month or less.
This is a rapid process – you can do this quickly and get your course ready to load on your college or university’s learning management system.