January 29 2009
E-Coaching Tip 63 (#2 Spring)
Best Design Practices for Quality Course Experiences — “Designing with
Our tips for this spring are reviewing some of the basics of designing
online courses. This tip reviews a set of basic design questions and practices
for designing a quality course. This tip is probably most useful to use
as you are designing a new course, but you can use it also as a self-scoring
rubric while updating or refreshing an existing course.
Being “Pretty-Good” is Actually Pretty-Great
Just as many of our new tools enable everyone to be a “pretty good” at
lots of things, such as photography, preparing presentations, and cooking
(except for me!), today’s learning systems are so well-designed that most
of us can be “pretty-good” at instructional design and thus “pretty-good”
at designing courses that support quality and significant learning by
our students. But we can always do better.
This tip has three parts. The first part provides a set of four instructional
design questions that can guide your analysis of your course. These are
the basic questions that any instructional designer would use if you had
a designer working with you. The second part of the tip is a “Designing
with Threes” rubric for reviewing the design of your series of course
experiences. These practices cover the range of types of experiences,
and ways of collaboration, assessment and being present. Your task: Use
these five practices as a rubric for your course and check to see if you
use all “Designing with Threes” practices! You might even ask your students
to help and use this as part of your informal early feedback.
First Steps in Design — Instructional Design Questions
First of all, let’s review why the process of instructional design is
important. Instructional design is a process for improving the probability
that students will learn what they are intended to learn from a particular
learning experience. (Reigeluth, 1999) Obviously, it is the learner, by
virtue of time and effort who changes his or her internal knowledge structures;
but the course design helps learners by being well-structured, thoroughly
planned and a variety of individual, collaborative, and social experiences.
The instructional design process ideally happens a few weeks or even
months before the course begins. The instructional design process is
an analysis process focusing on the learner, the content, the environment,
and you, the instructor! This set of four instructional design questions
can guide this analysis. This week is not too late to tweak your course
a bit if you are so inspired.
- Instructional design question 101: “What knowledge, skills
and attitudes do you desire your students to develop over the weeks
of the course?” Note: I have started calling these performance goals.
You may be accustomed to calling them course outcomes.
- Instructional design question 102: What knowledge or skill does the
learner already have in this knowledge/skill area? In Vygotsky’s words,
what is the learner’s Zone of Proximal Development? Note: Again the
purpose of learning is growth; so you want each student to build and
grow from where they are starting.
- Instructional design question 103: What are the three levels of course
knowledge, skills and attitudes for this course?
- What are the core knowledge concepts that are the building
blocks for the course knowledge?
- What is the knowledge that can usefully applied in the
short term? In the long term? What kinds of problems or challenges
can learners develop confidence in during the course?
- What is the customized or advanced knowledge, including challenging
unsolved complex social problems that learners might identify in
the course and carry forward?
- Instructional design question 104: “Where is the learner doing
the learning? With what tools, resources, and with whom — including
other learners and the instructor ‑ is the experience happening?
Second Steps in Design — “Designing with Threes”
Designing a course means that you are actually
designing a series of learning experiences. In fact, one definition of
a course is a series of about 40 learning experiences. As with much of
life, variety adds spice and interest. We know that humans in general
are drawn to the spontaneous, the unexpected and even the unexplained!
So when designing your course, keep in mind that you want to provide consistency
and predictability as a frame for your course. Then within that frame
you want to ensure that wondrous things can happen with your learners.
Accommodating the individual learner’s minds and goals is the reason that
courses are so different from one term to another!
Here are a set of five design practices that
help you to structure your course while leaving it open for the creation
and integration of both old and new knowledge, and for the unique learning
community of a course.
- Design for a balance and variety of learning experiences
- Individual study and reflection with readings and other forms
of knowledge interaction, such as listening via recorded mini-lectures,
podcasts, and doing research
- Teams of 2, 3, or 5 for small collaborative work, including peer
assessment and course projects
- Large group experiences, including synchronous sessions, problem-solving
or demonstrations and external experts
- Plan for a variety of "time" tools
- Synchronous meetings which can be small and optional, even open
- Recorded/archived events
- Asynchronous events, such as discussion boards, blogs, wikis
and projects. Projects, of course, are ‘multi-experience” events,
using a variety of communication tools and time events.
- Strive for a balanced approach in assessment practices while designing
for students’ individual performance goals
- Fact-based knowledge acquisition, such as you might use in self-check
practice quizzes. Many core concepts have fact-based elements that
students must master. Short practice quizzes can be a tool for
students to practice these fact-based components and even apply
them in simple scenarios.
- Thoughtful and critical contributions to the learning community
are another level of assessment. The discussion board forum discussions
and other assignments, such as weekly summaries, podcasts are good
tools for this level of content engagement.
- Performance-based course projects that can be customized and
personalized to the learner
- Share the assessment and review processes
- Self-review – Part of the assessment process can include students
applying the rubrics for an assignment or exercise by themselves
and simply self-reporting their score with their assignment. This
encourages critical review of their own work and means you the instructor,
simply needs to affirm the learner’s own rating.
- Peer Role – Peer assessment is another good technique that encourages
both critical reviews of peers’ work with supportive and constructive
help. One strategy is to have your learners do the step of affirming
the self-review while offering constructive suggestions.
- Expert role – The expert role is usually the role of the instructor,
and is generally reserved for final assessment and review processes.
However, inviting an external expert to assist and to provide feedback
to the students is an attractive option, particularly for capstone
- Design with the “three presences” in the Community of Inquiry model
(Garrison, Anderson, Archer, 2000) Here are short definitions of these
three presences in case you don’t have them on the tip of your tongue
- Social Presence - Social presence is achieved by faculty and
students projecting their personal characteristics into the discussion
so they become "real people." This means planning experiences
and events so that students can get to know their fellow students
as individuals in real-world home, personal, and work environments.
- Cognitive Presence - Cognitive presence is the extent to which
an instructor and students are able to construct and confirm meaning
through sustained discourse (discussion) in a community of inquiry.
This means designing for extended discussion and analysis of topics
as the learning community develops. You don’t want to jump too
quickly on to the next topic. This means you do want to have a
certain flexibility in your course plan.
- Teaching Presence - Teaching presence in an online course consists
of at least two major categories: (1) All the course materials that
are prepared before the course begins, such as the syllabus, concept
introductions, discussions, assessment plans, resources, and (2)
all the monitoring, mentoring, and shaping of leaner’s understandings
based on the particular students in a course. Be sure to have your
course ready and then ensure that you plan your time to be the coach
and mentor of your individual students.
Classic Resources on Instructional Design
Here is a set of resources on instructional design that you may want
- This website — Instructional
Design Models — is maintained by Martin Ryder from the College of
Education at the University of Colorado at Denver. It is a good ‘first
place” to start when exploring instructional design processes. It answers
questions such as the following:
- What is design?
- What is Instructional Design?
- History of Instructional Design
- What is Instructional Design Theory?
- Another favorite site is Explorations
in Learning & Instruction: The Theory Into Practice Database
that is maintained by Greg Kearsley. The Theory
Into Practice (TIP) database contains descriptions of over 50 theories
relevant to human learning and instruction. For example, it has entries
on Vygotsky, Bruner and Lave (Situated Learning).
- An example of a structured design model is ADDIE that stands
for the five phases of instructional design: Analysis, Design,
Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. More on ADDIE and other
design theories and models are at a site called Learning Theories.
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000).
Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in
higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.
Accessed on December 11, 2008.
Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2009, January). At Learning-Theories.com.
Retrieved January 29th, 2009 from http://www.learning-theories.com. Accessed
on January 2, 2010.
Reigeluth, C. M. (1999). What is Instructional-Design Theory
and How Is It Changing? In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-Design
Theories and Models, Volume II: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory
(pp. 5 - 29). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Best Design Practices for Quality Course Experiences — “Designing
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