This course will become read-only in the near future. Tell us at if that is a problem.

*Wk 2-Instructional Design

As you think about your course, the first thing you'll need to do is to identify the content area, grade level, and specific content objectives. You'll also need to think about how students will use it (when, how, what will it take the place of, etc.).

Then think about a syllabus or outline for your course. Depending on your course, this might include a pacing guide or it might be more flexibly self-paced. Regardless of the format, you'll need to think about instructional design, content, assessment, and student engagement.

Of course, you'll also need to identify the platform in which you'll host your materials. For this course, you may develop in any platform. Your choices may include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Any online learning platform your school uses
  • Moodle (either hosted at your school, on a 3rd party site such as one of these, or at K12 Open Ed, providing that you will not need accounts for children under 13, which we are not equipped for)
  • Blackboard (either hosted at your school, on a 3rd party site like CourseSites)
  • P2PU (again providing that you will not need accounts for children under 13)
  • A wiki (free, hosted options could include Wikispaces or PBWorks.)

These are all tools for the asynchronous part of the course. There are also tools that you can use for synchronous web meetings. Some of them are:

* These are free, open source tools that we'll try out in this course for webinars. Perhaps others in the course would like to host a session on other tools so we could see a variety.

(Please feel free to add any other favorite tools to either of these lists.)

hands on work iconPost a brief description of the class (and/or subset of learning materials) you are focusing on building for this course. (Again, you may do this on your own blog and post a link here if you prefer.) Include the target audience, your specific learning goals, and the platform you will use, as well as any additional thoughts you have on instructional design at this point.

PLEASE NOTE: Your project for this course can be as big or small as you like. It doesn't have to be a whole course or webinar. It can be something as small as an assessment activity or a set of rubrics. Do whatever works for you, and choose something manageable given the timeframe and your other commitments. :)


What makes a good online or blended course?

Whether online or blended, some of the characteristics of high quality courses are that they:

  • can be used anywhere and anytime
  • allow students to guide their own learning through options and differentiated learning opportunities
  • are more student-centered, less focused on content transmission, and more interactive than traditional classrooms
  • allow students a high degree of interactivity with the teacher and other students
  • include formative and summative assessment

Here is a rubric that can be used to evaluate online courses: Checklist for Evaluating Online Courses (Southeast Regional Board of Education; all right reserved; pdf)


hands on work iconHow do your own ideas about quality map to the rubric shown above? What is included in this rubric that you had not considered before? Post your thoughts about what is important in building high quality online course materials.

Use the rubric iteratively as you develop your own course materials and refine them accordingly.

Instructional design

Often when we think about instructional design, we begin with a list of the content that has to be covered. However, there is a different approach that begins instead with the goal.

This is the idea behind "backward design" approach to learning.

As you think about the content you will include in your course, begin first by thinking about the learning objectives and how you will assess that those objectives have been met. After you have done that, begin to think through what activities will support the objectives and what content students need to complete those activities or projects.

As you think about the learning experiences students will have as they move through your course, you will also want to think about differentiating instruction and how to engage students.

Course navigation and look and feel

One important part of course design is the navigation of your course. It should be clear and easy to follow. Students should readily be able to figure out where to go and what to do.

How you organize your navigation will depend on the specifics of your platform.

Similarly, you will want to think about the look and feel of your course. Some platforms give you more or less control over this, but most include a way to set things like banner art, button design, etc.

Keep your course look simple and make sure it is age appropriate. If you are designing for young, elementary-age children, try to keep the amount of text reasonable. For younger children, larger fonts and bright colors or animations may also add an element of fun.

Once you get your course navigation and look and feel set up, try it out with students typical of those who will be actually using the course. Get their opinion, see what problems they have, and then iteratively revise your course accordingly.

In designing online materials, whether it is navigation, content, assessment, or other course features, iterative design is the rule!

Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle

Credit: Karn G. Bulsuk, CC BY

Additional resources

Task Discussion

  • Matt Huston   Oct. 13, 2011, 3:38 p.m.

    Such a great list of resources! SREB's checklists and backwards design have been indispensable to me and will continue to be. I hope to add more thoughts on these Instructional Design ideas...but first wanted to re-post something I put in Links to our Online Courses today:

    I've posted the start of my Moodle course. P2PU-ers are welcome to check it out and play around. Here's the info.

    Effective Online Learning, a Moodle shell (goal + 2-3 pieces), is online. All feedback welcome. Access at -- guest access enabled (you will need the key "P2PU") or you can create an account and then return to log in with key "P2PU" Logged-in folks have Teacher role, which means they can edit, create, delete stuff.

  • Anonym   Oct. 12, 2011, 2:28 p.m.

    I am planning on doing a unit on the four music instrument families.  I am going to use a Moodle account.   I am planning on incorporating multimedia and an assessment for each section of the unit.  This is geared for middle school students, however it could also be used for high school.

  • karen   Oct. 13, 2011, 12:50 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Anonym   Oct. 12, 2011, 2:28 p.m.

    This sounds great. If this publicly available, I know a few other teachers who would love to see this.

  • karen   Oct. 8, 2011, 2:32 p.m.

    On the course rubric from SREB, one thing I have a hard time getting my hands around is accessibility issues. I know it is very important; it's just not something I've had an opportunity to delve into and figure out what I should be doing.

    Do any of you know much about accessibility or have any resources that make this easy to understand and begin to implement?

    I also found this interesting: "Privacy policies are clearly stated."

    This is so important now, but not something I had thought of in terms of online courses. (I will say that this is something that folks at P2PU think a lot about.)

  • SandyJ   Oct. 8, 2011, 6:10 p.m.
    In Reply To:   karen   Oct. 8, 2011, 2:32 p.m.

    Here are two versions of ADA statements that one could use in a syllabus.

    If you have, or believe you have a disability, you may contact the (person)  ___________________at (building)  _____________, (phone) _______________, or  (email) __________________. Appropriate accommodations may then be provided for you. All medical information will be treated confidentially. Questions regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the American with Disabilities Amendment Act and/or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 should be directed to ____________________.


    If you have or believe you have a disability, you may wish to self-identify. You can do so by providing documentation to your school. If you are not sure how to do this, contact your site coordinator or your building principal so they can help you.  Appropriate accommodations can then be provided for you. 

    If you have general questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), go to this link and help site-

    Accessibility information using Blackboard Learning Management System can be found at

  • karen   Oct. 8, 2011, 7:19 p.m.
    In Reply To:   SandyJ   Oct. 8, 2011, 6:10 p.m.

    Thanks. That's useful. I'm wondering how this relates to purely online courses or ones in environments when support services aren't available.

    I was thinking more of technical accessiblity issues, like alt tagging images, close-captioning videos, etc. I know that the accessibility info provided by Bb and other LMSs addresses that, but it's also highly dependent on how course developers like us actually format our content.

  • karen   Oct. 5, 2011, 6:39 p.m.

    In remixing a full year textbook into a Moodle course, what are the pros and cons to putting it all in one course vs. putting major sections (e.g. fractions) into separate courses?

  • Anonym   Oct. 5, 2011, 8:53 p.m.
    In Reply To:   karen   Oct. 5, 2011, 6:39 p.m.

    I believe putting it into major sections is more manageable!  

  • Nan Lynnette   Oct. 6, 2011, 8:26 a.m.
    In Reply To:   karen   Oct. 5, 2011, 6:39 p.m.

    My concern with this wouod be that those sections might not align to the requirements of the Common Core State Standards that most states are adopting.  It would be important to ensure alignment, therefore we wouldn't just include all the textbook chapters without evaluating this...Lynnette

  • karen   Oct. 6, 2011, 10:41 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Nan Lynnette   Oct. 6, 2011, 8:26 a.m.

    Good point. The first thing I'm starting with is Common Core alignment. (Fyi, both OER Commons and Curriki have Common Core alignment tools for open resources.)

  • karen   Oct. 8, 2011, 7:22 p.m.
    In Reply To:   karen   Oct. 5, 2011, 6:39 p.m.

    One thing that is really striking me as I'm beginning to reformat this textbook into an online course is how helpful it is to chunk information.

    Textbooks (even online ones) tend to be so long-winded. Just by breaking down a chapter into smaller pieces and adding more practice opportunities and other interactivity, it helps so much!

  • Nan Lynnette   Oct. 10, 2011, 11:59 a.m.
    In Reply To:   karen   Oct. 6, 2011, 10:41 a.m.

    Thanks, I will look at these.

  • Matt Huston   Oct. 13, 2011, 3:30 p.m.
    In Reply To:   karen   Oct. 5, 2011, 6:39 p.m.

    If you have a fair bit of content...

    Putting it all in one course  -advantages:

    • Might be easier for the teacher to make, and the students to see, the'flow' from one section / module to another (assuming there is flow...)
    • Whoever enrolls, enrolls once into one course.
    • One gradebook for Jimmy's semester or year of learning, and the whole class's too
    • If the Big Course corresponds to a semester or year of work, progress over time may be easier to assess / see
    • Kids can refer back, within the single course. to prior ideas / discussions / illustrations
    • Teacher can link back, within the single course, to prior ideas / discussions / illustrations
    • Backup is a one-step operation, resulting in one file.

    Putting each major section in its own course - advantages:

    • Less content, at a glance, may be less overwhelming for learners
    • Navigation will be simpler, shorter, easier in a smaller course (this is a serious advantage in Moodle 1.x, as the navigation-system leaves a bit to be desired -- and I'm a big Moodle-fan ;)
    • It is possible, in Moodle and other LMS's to allow Joanie to enroll in Course 2 only after passing (or completing) Course 1. If the modules are sequential -- if Course 1 is truly a prerequisite for Course 2, this can be useful. (Note: this sort of dependency-permission thing is also possible within a Moodle course, so this is a possible feature, and perhaps a plus, for the Big Single Course approach too)
    • When sharing content with another Moodler -- highly recommended to save teachers' precious time! -- it may be more useful to have smaller modules to share. "Here's my fraction unit." Sort of a learning object approach, and probably a lot less intimidating to a colleague than saying "Here's my year of Grade 5 math."

    The good news is that if you choose the Big Course approach, it is easy at almost any point to break it apart by exporting a module at a time and importing each chunk into its own Moodle course. And if you choose a Small Course approach, it is similarly easy at almost any point to export each small course, create a Big Course, and import all the little pieces into it.

    In other words, you can change your mind ;)

  • karen   Oct. 14, 2011, 1:31 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Matt Huston   Oct. 13, 2011, 3:30 p.m.

    Lots of good points to consider.

    I think that since the fraction unit is seeming like "enough" to tackle at this point, i'll stick with a smaller section and then combine later as necessary.

    Ultimately, it would be nice to offer downloads to people in both formats.

    And, hurray for being able to change our minds. :)

  • karen   Oct. 4, 2011, 8:31 p.m.

    One challenge I always have is naming courses. For materials that will be used beyond a single class, I hate to include grade levels. The whole idea of differentiation is that different students have different needs (often irrespective of what grade they are in).

    Case in point -- I need a name for my math course (based on The textbook is labled as 6th grade, but topics like fractions, ratios, integers, equations, etc. could be covered higher or lower.

    What should I call this?

  • karen   Oct. 6, 2011, 8:09 p.m.
    In Reply To:   karen   Oct. 4, 2011, 8:31 p.m.

    OK, I've gotten a rough outline of the math fraction unit up here:

    (You can click guest access.)

    Let me know if you'd like access to help edit or build this with me.


    I started with the Common Core standards and did a little rearranging and reprioritizing of the textbook content. I'm going to think about "acceptable evidence" to demonstrate learning mastery of the objectives next, and then jump into a topic and see if it holds together.

  • karen   Oct. 1, 2011, 3:13 p.m.

    So I haven't upgraded to Moodle 2 on my own site? Should I do it now before starting this next big project or wait?

    Love the new tools that are integrated with 2, but worried about the learning curve.

  • Anonym   Oct. 5, 2011, 8:55 p.m.
    In Reply To:   karen   Oct. 1, 2011, 3:13 p.m.

    I am not familar with either version yet.  I am sorry I have not been very active in this course.  I am extremely busy until the week of 10-17 and just have time to check in every now and then.

  • Matt Huston   Oct. 13, 2011, 3:14 p.m.
    In Reply To:   karen   Oct. 1, 2011, 3:13 p.m.

    Got to see a Moodle 2 course last night and it was very well-done -- both the course and what it revealed about Moodle 2.

    The theme (background / chrome colors) really popped and there is a new "Block" I loved on sight: Navigation. It shows you, using an expandable 'tree' diagram, where you are in a course whenever you have a document / page open -- and it allows one or two-click access to any other page, doc, or place in the course. (I love this b/c this has long been one of my main frustrations with Moodle 1.x -- navigation is too clunky. I have to spend way too much time helping people with navigation...)

    Our ISP has provided us with Moodle 1.9.7 but as soon as they have 2.0 I'm heading us there.

    I bet the learning curve is not so bad, given you know Moodle 1.x well Karen.


  • karen   Sept. 30, 2011, 2:28 p.m.

    Question for you all -- what do you think about "build and reveal" as a design for online courses? (This is a model in which content is only shown to students as each week comes about.)

    What are the pros and cons of this?

  • Matt Huston   Oct. 13, 2011, 3:03 p.m.
    In Reply To:   karen   Sept. 30, 2011, 2:28 p.m.

    Build and reveal (showing current week, and past weeks, but not future weeks) can help to keep a group together and focused. I've found it especially useful if the course content relied on discussion.

    I have had pushback from students and adults (mostly students) who wanted to race through curriculum at their own speed. For a course that doesn't rely on much interaction or collaborative work, showing all of the curriculum from the get-go could be the way to go.


  • karen   Oct. 15, 2011, 11:53 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Matt Huston   Oct. 13, 2011, 3:03 p.m.

    Intereting comment, especially on the focus issue.

    So much of the work I do is focused on differentiation, that I tend to push back on "build and reveal" myself. To me, I guess it seems over-controlling and doesn't give enough credence to learner independence and self-direction.

    On the other hand, if learners are scattered all over and not focused on any content at all (as I've seen in many online courses....some of my own included), that certainly isn't rpoductive. :)

    I'm going to reflect more on this....