Developing an Online Course, Part 5 (and Beyond!)

Dear Teachers,

I’m coming to the end of the 8th course in my Master’s program, and this one has proven to be among my favorites. It’s been all about building online courses, and everything I’ve learned and created has been very practical and directly applicable to my position. I’ve loved being (ahem) forced to create an online course on digital literacy; those of you who know me, know that the subject is my passion. But I needed the impetus to Just Do It. Which, to my great delight, I did! I’m continuing my progress toward my plot to take over the world plan to improve digital literacy for everyone, in whatever ways I can. The course for adults I’ve created goes along nicely with my passion project, CLICK.

In the inscrutable Timing of the Universe, I got an incredible opportunity just yesterday to apply my new knowledge when I was asked to help co-create a Professional Learning course on ISTE’s Digital Citizen student standard! I am so excited to help shape the digital citizenship conversation through a professional development course that will be viewed by an international audience. And I’m only a teensy bit intimidated by that prospect. Reflecting on what I’ve learned in my class has taken on a new depth of meaning as I consider how I might bring my learning to this new opportunity with ISTE. One of my main takeaways is that it’s all about design. From that bastion of Internet knowledge known as Wikipedia (n.d.), the definition of Instructional Design is the practice of creating “instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing.” And when I think about what I’ve learned in the past month, it’s definitely all about using design thinking to create excellent learning experiences for the end user.

I like starting a course of any kind with the Understanding by Design framework (Wiggins, G., and McTighe, J., 2011). We use this model for all the curriculum development in my district, and we’ve found it to be equally effective in planning Professional Learning experiences. I found myself returning over and over again to the question, “What do you want learners to be able to know and do at the end of your course” when I was planning my digital literacy course, and I expect I will continue to rely on that very effective framework for other courses in the future.

Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, especially as they apply to online learning, help to shape the trajectory of an online course (Pappas, 2015). From creating an attention-grabbing introduction through goal-centered content, assessments, and knowledge transfer, these components align nicely with the UbD framework. The ADDIE model of online instruction and the Dick & Carey model are other design tools (Morrison, 2013) that reflect the iterative, continuous improvement nature of creating and modifying online courses.

In addition to effective design theory, standards for online and blended learning and for professional development in general have played a big part in my growing understanding about what makes a successful online learning experience. The goal for each and every professional learning standard as outlined by Learning Forward (2015) is “increased educator effectiveness and results for all students.” If an online course does not lead to deeper understanding and the ability to transfer knowledge, there is no point in participating in it. It’s my hope that I have addressed – and will address in future courses I develop – standards for quality online courses by addressing the numerous elements of content, instructional design, student assessment, technology, and course evaluation and support that have been outlined by INACOL (2011).

I think that the course on Digital Literacy I created reflects my constructivist leanings, and I expect that I will continue to infuse that kind of constructivist thinking in future course development. Educators who enroll in my Digital Literacy course will have an opportunity, as I have had, to create materials that will be useful to them in their own situations, based on the information that they learn and reflect on. I definitely believe that this kind of learn-apply-reflect style of teaching and learning is what will most benefit the smart, dedicated teachers who work in my district. Additionally, it models for them what they should be doing with their students! That has been another important takeaway from all of the classes I’ve been enrolled in so far; I guess we pay forward what we have experienced ourselves. Should you be interested in taking a look at the Digital Literacy course, hop on over to and create yourself an account. The code for my class is XMWSG-QTZKJ.

I’m not yet convinced that online learning in and of itself would be a viable way for all of our students to learn, because I believe so strongly in the importance of social learning and relationships. Those things are a little harder to pull off for the littles in an online environment. However, older students could really benefit from the self-pacing and personalization potential of online courses. The asynchronous nature of many online courses along with choices in assessing what has been learned make online learning a great fit for many kinds of students today. I think that online courses have a lot of appeal for adult learners as well. People are busy, and just the time factor alone is enough to make an online course appealing.

In my evolution as an instructional designer (Hey! Another skill I can add to my resume!), the enduring understandings that I will take with me from this class are:

  • Begin with the end in mind
  • Attend to design principles and standards: design matters!
  • Make frequent modifications in the interest of iterating towards deeper learning for all course participants.

Fondly yours in constant iteration,



Instructional design (n.d.). From Wikipedia. Retrieved from
Morrison, D. (2013, December). How to design an excellent online course. Retrieved from
National Standards for Quality Online Learning. (October 2011). Retrieved from
Pappas, C. (2015, November). Applying Gagne’s 9 events of instruction in eLearning. eLearning Industry. Retrieved from
Standards for Professional Learning. (2015) Retrieved from
Wiggins, G., and McTighe, J. (2011). The understanding by design guide to creating high-quality units. ASCD.

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