PP05-Course design


Detailed course design (duration, hours per week, structure of each weeks activities)

  • Design principles for online learning
  • Content
  • Activities (reading, watching, quizzing, reflective writing, commenting on others reflections). Informed by theoretical frameworks.
  • Interaction (build community, networking)

Design principles for online and hybrid (blended) learning

There are many different approaches to online learning, so it should be noted that this is just one set of ideas that we offer to help guide your thinking in this area (Stommel, 2013).

  • The best online learning should engage us in an immediate and physical way.
  • The openness of the internet is its most radical and pedagogically viable feature.
  • Academic rigor shouldn’t be built into a course like an impenetrable fortress for students to inhabit. Rigor has to be fostered through genuine engagement.
  • Don’t wield outcomes like a weapon. Online learning activities should not be overly designed or too-strictly standardized.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all approach to online education. Learning is not neatly divisible into discrete chunks (like courses).
  • Content-expertise does not equal good teaching.


Will you use existing material or start from scratch? As far as possible use what is available? Had anyone else offered a similar course? How was their course licenced? Do you have permission to reuse some of their content? Will you use text / audio / video? Will you host it yourself or simply link to it?

Another option is not to provide content, but topics. Participants should be expected to find their own content (to some extent) and feed that into the course. You will be surprised at what they find and share. It also allows them the freedom to use what sources suit them, rather than imposing the ones you think are best. This also speaks to the idea of reducing the effect of the "sage on the stage", who has all the answers.

Are the course materials available in a digital format? Do you have access to all of the materials? If the students access the course from campus, will they have access to materials e.g. journal articles, that they won't have access to if they connect from home?

Will the materials be available on all devices? Do you have flash video content that isn't possible to view on some devices? What will your content look like on a small screen? If you're pushing mobile access as an option, what will the experience be like for the participants?

Will you create the course so that components are available offline? Why should you consider this? If you decide not to make content available offline, are you disadvantaging the students who are not connected all the time? But also be aware that adding offline access adds several other layers of complexity, especially if there is interaction built into the course.

Authentic learning activities

We're suggesting that the following 10 characteristics of authentic activities serve as a useful framework for designing online tasks for course participants (Reeves, Herrington & Oliver, 2002). In short, authentic tasks:

  1. Have real-world relevance i.e. they match real-world tasks
  2. Are ill-defined (participants must define tasks and sub-tasks in order to complete the activity) i.e. there are multiple interpretations of both the problem and the solution
  3. Are complex and must be explored over a sustained period of time i.e. days, weeks and months, rather than minutes or hours
  4. Provide opportunities to examine the task from different perspectives, using a variety of resources i.e. there isn’t a single answer that is the “best” one. Multiple resources requires that participants differentiate between relevant / irrelevant information
  5. Provide opportunities to collaborate i.e. collaboration is integral to the task
  6. Provide opportunities to reflect i.e. participants must be able to make choices and reflect on those choices
  7. Must be integrated and applied across different subject areas and lead beyond domain-specific outcomes i.e. they encourage interdisciplinary perspectives and enable diverse roles and expertise
  8. Are seamlessly integrated with assessment i.e. the assessment tasks reflect real-world assessment, rather than separate assessment removed from the task
  9. Result in a finished product, rather than as preparation for something else
  10. Allow for competing solutions and diversity of outcome i.e. the outcomes can have multiple solutions that are original, rather than a single “correct” response


You should leave space in the design for alternative directions that the course could take. It is, after all, an open course. One way to do this is not to be overly prescriptive with the learning outcomes. One of the major benefits of open courses is that some of the best outcomes can't be designed or required. You could provide some learning objectives but also require that participants create a few of their own. This helps with developing skills outside of the formal curriculum. Setting learning objectives is an essential skill for lifelong learners.


Spend a few minutes discussing:

  1. The reasons that you are choosing an open online course. What benefits does this approach bring? What can you achieve with this that is difficult to do in a classroom?
  2. The content that you will use for your course. It should be openly licensed and freely available - both on and off campus. It should be available in a variety of formats (text, image, video). Are you aware of any of these sources? Will you have to find them? Will you have to create them?
  3. What teaching and learning frameworks will you use? How will you design tasks and assessments with those frameworks? Will you need to involve others with more expertise in pedagogical thinking?
  4. How will you encourage interaction among participants? Will you enforce it? What features does your online space have that would facilitate interaction? What are your thoughts on interaction - if one person helps another complete a task, is that cheating? What are the benefits of interaction?

For each of the topcs above, consider how a qualified professional approaches it, not as an educator, but as a professional practitioner. Where do you find your content for your own professional learning? Do you reflect on your learning process? How do you interact with colleagues as part of professional development? Share your ideas on the online workspace.