A Roadmap for Online Course Development

The Online Course Design Process

Designing and developing an effective online course is a time-consuming process that involves significant planning and intentional decision-making. People who are new to online learning are often surprised that, as opposed to a straightforward process of “putting a course online,” the new modality challenges educators to transform content, activities, and their approach to interacting with students.

Many factors influence the time that is required to develop an online course, including: the maturity of the course materials and assignments, the type of instructional activities, and the faculty member’s knowledge of online environments and tools. As a broad estimate, a faculty member should expect to spend 4-6 months of regular work time to prepare an online course.

To estimate time to develop an online course based on your particular course and skills, download the Faculty Readiness for Online Course Design Self-Assessment.

Following is a roadmap for planning the development of an online course, including suggested timeframes for each phase of development.

Phase 1: Preparing for Course Design

(22-28 weeks before launch)

  • Review course objectives to ensure they articulate the desired priorities and levels of student learning.
  • Review alignment of course objectives with instructional activities and assessments to identify gaps.
  • First draft course map, including weekly topics, objectives and schedule for major course assignments

Phase 2: “Big Picture” Course Design

(20-26 weeks before launch)

  • “Chunk” course into weekly modules (or other desired unit)
  • Articulate objectives for each module/unit
  • Determine how major assignments and assessment fit into course schedule
  • Consider how to translate typical course activities to maximize affordances of online environment and maximize student interaction
  • Determine overall strategies for content delivery, instructional activities, and assessment
  • Identify appropriate technologies and pursue required technical training
  • Develop a schedule for course development

Phase 3: Module Prototype

(4 weeks to complete; 18-24 weeks before launch)

  • Determine structure of main menu and individual modules
  • Design & develop one full module, including examples of all content types to be developed, assignment instructions and module text
  • Evaluate prototype module and make any adjustments to course/module structure and project schedule.

Phase 4: Detailed Design and Development

(12-20 weeks to complete; 14-20 weeks before launch)

  • Complete detailed course map that identifies all components to each module: existing content, content to be produced, assignments, assessment activities
  • Build remaining modules and associated course materials, including:
    • Blackboard components
    • Media Components
    • Assignment instructions
    • Assessments
    • Rubrics and/or performance criteria
  • Set up Grade Center
  • Set up timed release of materials, if desired
  • Develop student introduction activity

Phase 5:  Preparing to Launch – Testing and Facilitation Planning

(2 weeks to complete; 2 weeks before launch)

  • Test course components
  • Develop explanation of how the course “works,” communication expectations & guidelines, and ways to get help
  • Consider creating a welcome video and/or screencast course tour

Phase 6:  Early Course Feedback

(4-6 weeks into course)

  • Gather early term student feedback and make adjustments as possible

Phase 7: Develop Plan for Course Revision

(end of first term)

  • Review student evaluations & feedback
  • Review student performance results
  • Identify revisions for second iteration