Essentials of Online Course Design

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The current era is the era of knowledge and information, the need for education and learning through new technologies is inevitable. E-learning is subset and the common denominator of IT and educational technologies. E-Learning can be viewed as an innovative approach for delivering well-designed, learner-centric, interactive, and facilitated learning environment to anyone, any place, anytime, by utilizing the attributes and resources of various digital technologies along with other forms of learning materials suited for open and distributed learning environment. It extends the boundaries of learning so that learning can occur in the classrooms, from home & from the workplace.

E-Learning deals with open and distributed learning environment, different than our traditional closed system of Instructor-led classroom-based instruction. It represents a paradigm shift not only for learners, but also for instructors, trainers, administrators, technical and other support services staff, and the institution. E-learning materials must be designed with proper instructional design principles and learning theories by addressing critical issues encompassing various dimensions of open and distributed learning environment.

Designing and delivering instruction and training on the Internet requires thoughtful analysis and investigation, combined with an understanding of both the Internet’s capabilities and resources and the ways in which instructional design principles can be applied to tap the Internet potential.

Distributed learning is an instructional model that allows instructor, students, and content to be located in different, non-centralized locations so that instruction and learning occur independently of time and place. The distributed learning model can be used in combination with traditional classroom-based courses, with traditional distance learning courses, or it can be used to create wholly virtual classrooms.

The most important part of the framework is the design of its main components namely education, research, and entrepreneurship. In traditional education systems, only the two components are considered: education and research. But now serving the community; knowledge, technology, and entrepreneurship in a word as an inseparable part of the educational system is considered. Each of these three components in suitable form should be developed for the design of the educational system.

The factors essential for online/e-Learning are clustered into eight dimensions: (Badrul Khan Model)

  • Pedagogical
  • Institutional
  • Management
  • Technological
  • Ethical
  • Interface design
  • Resource support
  • Evaluation

Each dimension has several sub-dimensions. Each sub-dimension consists of items or issues focused on a specific aspect of an e-learning environment.

Pedagogical: The pedagogical dimension of e-learning refers to teaching and learning.
This dimension addresses issues concerning content analysis, audience analysis, goal analysis, medium analysis, design approach, organization, and learning strategies.

Content analysis: It concern about what types of content are appropriate to teach via a variety of e-learning approaches.

Audience analysis: It concern about the learners and the adequate information about them.

Goal analysis: Its need to provide clear expectations of what the student is required to do.

Medium analysis: It analyses the multimedia attributes of the Internet and digital technologies.

Design approach: What should be the instructor’s role? More facilitative than didactic either more didactic than facilitative or a combination of both.

Organization: e-learning program should provide a sense of continuity.

Methods: What are the methods e-learning program promote.

Technology: The technological dimension of e-learning examines issues of technology infrastructure in e-learning environments. This includes infrastructure planning, hardware, and software.

Planning: Proper planning of manpower is required to assist learners to set up for starting the course.

Hardware: hardware requirements for the e-learning program need to be clearly stated.

Software: software requirements for the e-learning program need to be clearly stated.

Interface design: The interface design refers to the overall look and feel of e-learning programs. Interface design dimension encompasses page and site design, content design, navigation, accessibility, and usability testing.

Page and Site Design: The appearance and functionality of the screen should look good.

Content Design: Content design should follow “one idea per paragraph” rule.

Navigation: The program provides structural aids or site map to guide learner’s navigation.

Accessibility: The program designed to be accessible to a wider user population.

Usability Testing: Usability testing should be done before launching the program as How quickly users find answers to the most frequently asked questions about the program?

Evaluation: The evaluation for e-learning includes both assessment of learners and evaluation of the instruction and learning environment.

Assessment of Learners: Proper mechanism should be integrated into the evaluation process.

Evaluation of Instruction & Learning Environment: The program should have a system to accept student’s evaluation of the followings

  • Content
  • Instructor
  • learning environment
  • learning resources
  • Course design
  • Technical support

Management: The management of e-learning refers to the maintenance of learning environment and distribution of information.
Content Development: There should be a project support site for e-learning production team.

Maintenance: The program should notify students about any changes in due dates or other course relevant matters via e-mail, SMS or phone call etc.

Resource support: The resource support dimension of the e-learning examines the online support and resources required to foster meaningful learning.

Online Support: The course should provide troubleshooting assistance or a help line.

Resources: The program should provide examples of previous student’s work available in digitized format.

Ethical: The ethical considerations of e-learning relate to social and political influence, cultural diversity, bias, geographical diversity, learner diversity, digital divide, etiquette, and the legal issues.

Social/Political Influence: The institution has to get approval from any external entities to implement e-learning.

Cultural Diversity: To improve cross-cultural verbal communication and avoid misunderstanding, the program should make an effort to reduce or avoid the use of jargon, idioms, ambiguous or cute humor, and acronyms.

Bias: The program should not present more than one viewpoint on the controversial issue.
Geographical Diversity- If the program offered to geographically diverse population sensitive about students from different time-zones.

Learner Diversity: The program should design to have patience for learners who adapt to individualized distributed learning environment slower than others.

Digital Divided: Information accessibility issue must be expressed in terms of digital “haves” and “have-nots,” a gap expressed in the term “digital divide.” The digital divide issue should consider in designing the e-learning content.

Etiquette: The program should provide guidance to learners on how to behave and post messages in online discussions.

Legal Issues: The program should get students’ permission to post any of the following on the Web i.e students’ photographs, students’ projects etc.

Institutional: The institutional dimension is concerned with issues of administrative affairs, academic affairs and student services related to e-learning

Administrative Affairs: The institution ready to offer e-learning?

Academic Affairs: The e-learning program should provide academic quality such as one would expect in a traditional course.

Student Services: Instructor/tutor and technical staff need to be available during online orientation.

About the Author

Dr. Suman Bhattacharya, National Head, Open & Distance Learning has 18 years of experience with seven years in Research & Teaching and eleven years in Industry.

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