Depending on your organization, institution, or preferred learning methodology, the workflow for designing and developing online courses can vary. There might be more or fewer phases, or the activities within each phase may occur at different times. Regardless of these variations, there are several activities and deliverables that are fundamental to online course design.
In this guide, we offer an example process flow for designing, creating, and managing the lifecycle of your online course. We provide a list of activities and deliverables for each phase to help you sufficiently prepare for your course.
There are four general phases of online course development, including:
- Planning and designing
- Developing and implementing content
- Finalizing and delivering the course
- Ongoing course maintenance
Phase 1: Plan and Design
During the planning and design phase, you create the foundation on which the course content is based. As you get started, consider the broader context in which your course lives. If the course is part of a program, the course goals must be aligned to the overall objectives of the program. The assessments, activities, and projects must also be mapped back to the program objectives.
You should also determine where your starting point is. If you create a new course from scratch or use preexisting materials, this affects how you work through each phase in the course design process.
Once you determine the greater context of your course and your starting point, use the backward course design methodology to design the course with specific learning outcomes in mind. Use these learning outcomes to ensure that the activities, quizzes, projects, and material you develop map back to the end goals of the course and the overall considerations for the program. If you use preexisting materials, you can still use backward course design practices to review and improve the course by identifying gaps and developing the appropriate content to support those gaps.
- Create a project schedule
- Define course competencies and learning outcomes
- Determine how you will assess learning outcomes and develop an assessment plan
- Create a course map, and then map your competencies, learning outcomes, and assessment plans together
- Identify materials needed to support the course
- Project schedule with key dates and deliverables
- Course map
- Assessment plan
- List of required supportive material
- List of technology and resources for the course
Phase 2: Develop and Implement Content
After the foundation of the course is established and you know what the learners should accomplish after taking the course, begin to develop a structure for your content. Use a modular approach to break content up into broader categories. Clarify objectives for each module and align the modules to the time restraints of the course, if applicable.
As you make your plan and develop your materials, add content to the Learning Management System (LMS). Be sure to periodically review the learning outcomes and compare content to program goals. This helps ensure alignment between the course and the overall program.
It’s best practice to develop assessments and rubrics in tandem with the development of your course content to remain aligned with learning outcomes. If this seems like a lot, pace yourself and use your project schedule to stay on track.
- Outline the structure of the course
- Organize content into modules
- Define objectives for each module
- Review alignment of course content to program goals
- Add content to the modules
- Create graphics, illustrations, or diagrams to support the course
- Develop additional instructional material, such as videos or screencasts
- Author assessments and rubrics
- Schedule activities and assessments throughout the course
- Outline of course modules with clear objectives
- Course content (authored) and put into the LMS
- Graphics, illustrations, or diagrams
- Videos or screencasts
Phase 3: Finalize and Deliver the Course
As you prepare for course release, we recommend that you:
- Test your course content
- Get a peer review
- Provide additional instructional material to guide your users through the experience
Leading up to course delivery, we recommend that you test course components, modules, and supportive material frequently and often. It is frustrating and time-consuming to troubleshoot issues when the course is live or in progress. Test your course on a consistent cadence to ensure it is free of any glitches or errors that may cause your learners confusion and frustration.
Although you may feel crunched for time before release, peer reviews help to identify gaps, spelling errors, missing instructions, alignment to the program, or more. Schedule time for at least one peer review before releasing the course to catch any outstanding issues.
Finally, check your course to determine whether any instructional material might be required to guide your users through the LMS once the course starts.
After you finalize all the elements in your course, the course is ready for release.
- Review course content for clarity, consistency, and preciseness
- Review alignment of course content to program goals
- Review course content for spelling or grammatical errors
- Test course components, such as accordions, carousels, videos, graphics, interactive diagrams
- Test all links
- Verify that all attachments open and, if applicable, download properly
- Review course content for missing navigational support or queues
- Schedule and request a peer review
- Final course
Phase 4: Maintain and Improve Course
After your course is released, it is important to continue monitoring it. You may find that a link has changed, or there is a compatibility issue with a video in the browser.
Additionally, be sure to request and gather feedback from your learners. Use any feedback to help identify gaps in course content and better meet learner needs.
- Review and analyze learner feedback
- Review best practices and verify that your course aligns with them
- Feedback tracking spreadsheet
- List of enhancements
A Roadmap for Online Course Development. Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research. (2021, January 19). https://learning.northeastern.edu/roadmap-for-online-course-development/.
ADDIE Model. InstructionalDesign.org. (2018, November 30). https://www.instructionaldesign.org/models/addie/.
EDUCAUSE. (n.d.). Online Course Development Process Guide. https://events.educause.edu/ir/library/word/EDU07104D.doc
Rottman, A., & Rabidoux, S. (2017, March 15). 4 Expert Strategies for Designing an Online Course. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/advice/2017/03/15/4-expert-strategies-designing-online-course.