I work as an instructional designer and one piece of advice that I can share right off the bat is that without really thinking about the purpose, design and planning of your online learning provision, you will find it difficult to evaluate and may even find that in the worst case scenario that your online course is not fit for purpose.
Instructional designers use many different frameworks for constructing online courses and trainings. If we think of designing online learning as building an extension to an existing house analogy, we would need to begin with some drawings, figure out the depth of foundations, understand the scaffolding required (eg: steel beams), understand the planning implications and the permissions required, make calculations about roof projections, interior design all while coordinating the various professionals that are required to make the construction project a success. We would need to think about what the success criteria are for this building project: did the build come in on time and within budget? Is it weather proof? Does it meet the project brief? Is the client happy with the result? Is it aesthetically pleasing?
It is my view that if we view the building of online courses through the prism of building something tangible, such as a house extension, we can start to see that without a plan and understanding the prior knowledge of the students (the foundations), we may build something that doesn't meet the design brief.
So how do we go about planning online courses that meet the needs of all stakeholders?
ADDIE (Analysis-Design-Development-Implementation-Evaluation) is one ISD (Instructional Systems Design Model) that can offer a solid starting point for new and experienced instructional designers.
First developed in the mid-1970s, ADDIE was designed for the US Army. It is a hierarchical and linear approach that offers a clear pathway for instructional designers to build their courses. Let's explore each stage:
In the first instance, the instructional designer needs to identify the problem or challenge that needs to be addressed. So, for example, this could be that you need or want to create an online training to teach people in your organisation about a new digital product to help them design more engaging presentations.
The instructional design challenge is now identified: your training needs to explain clearly how to use this digital product so that colleagues can design engaging presentations.
You need to ascertain the prior knowledge of the prospective students so that you can pitch the level of training correctly - too basic or too advanced will demotivate your students which may result in many simply not completing the training.
Adopting a human-centric approach at the very beginning is key. If you steam roller ahead creating a course that you think will hit the mark based on your own (even well-intentioned) assumptions, you will find that you will spend potentially hundreds of hours developing a course that will fall flat. You can identify this prior knowledge using polls or simply speaking to people that you know will take your course.
It may be that you have a mixed ability group and so there may be a need to plan to create two streams of training where absolute beginners can feel supported in an entry-level course before moving on to the more advanced course. Advanced learners will also feel supported if they feel that they are not wasting their time and can access learning pitched at their level. Spending time on this stage is never wasted as getting this wrong will mean that your learning objectives are not meeting the needs of the prospective students.
Identifying constraints such as a lack of prior knowledge, access to IT equipment, time and motivation is essential at this stage of the instructional design plan. Once you have followed these steps, you can start to formulate a realistic timeline and costings for the delivery of the course(s).
The next stage in this linear process is designing the course. Now that you have identified the prior knowledge of your prospective students, you can start drilling down into the learning objectives. This will help you to design your content and instruments of assessments. A strategy for lesson planning happens at this stage and media can be selected in the form of video content, presentations, pdfs, templates etc. The design phase also includes graphic design. Canva is a great starting point for new and experienced instructional designers. Try to establish at this point the colours, graphics and buttons that will be used consistently throughout the training course.
Training delivery methods also need to be pinned down at this stage and the designer needs to consider various strategies such as webinars, lectures, quizzes, assignments, case studies, etc. Having a firm grasp of which elements of the course will be asynchronous (if any) and synchronous (if any) is essential in the design of an online course. These expectations must be crystal clear to all stakeholders, particularly in relation to the time commitment required and even aspects such as communicating explicitly the time zone of any planned live webinars or tutorials.
The design phase of ADDIE lends itself to storyboarding. Creating a storyboard offers the instructional designer a means of visualising the training. What will the interface look like? How will the training flow? What will the modules of training be? By spending time on this stage you can express clearly to other stakeholders (and allow yourself to identify) the user experience and the flow of the course. You will be able to identify any missing gaps or weaknesses in design and content at this stage.
Storyboards can be created in PowerPoint or other similar software. There are specific digital products that instructional designers use to storyboard and create their content, with the most well-known being Adobe Captivate and Articulate 360. Both of these pieces of software are industry standard and knowledge of how to use and work with such storyboarding tools is often a requirement for instructional design jobs. If you are just starting out or do not have a budget for such software subscriptions, PowerPoint or Canva presentations (my low cost preference) can be an effective starting point in this instance and your slides can later (if needed or permitted) be integrated into the industry-specific software packages mentioned above.
Now that a strategy has been created for lesson planning, content creation, resource gathering and visualisation of the flow of the course, prototypes can be made.
Now is the time to begin developing the course based on your analytical findings (Step 1) and your design strategy (Step 2).
The content that has been created needs to be collated and organised. If you have used storyboarding software, this content can simply be dropped here as the modules have already been organised in the design phase.
You are now ready to create the first prototypes of your online course which should then be tested and reviewed by relevant stakeholders.
Gaining feedback about course content, delivery method, user experience (UX), consistency in design, clear objectives and expectations, etc is essential to gather and work through before the next stage.
This stage involves the training of course instructors in how to deliver the course or training on a day-to-day basis. Training will also need to be given on acceptable and desirable methods and timescales of communicating with students and other stakeholders. Establishing such protocols will eliminate frustrations from all stakeholders in this virtual environment.
Students will need to enrol and then there may be a period (often known as an orientation week) in which students are walked through how to navigate the LMS platform on which the course is hosted. Expectations should also be laid out for students in terms of expectations and behaviours when communicating online with their peers/colleagues and instructors. Devoting time before the course begins for this purpose should eliminate some of the technical issues that students may encounter which would perhaps hinder their training flow if not worked out in this initial orientation phase.
The final stage involves both formative and summative evaluation of the course or training.
The formative evaluation of the course will be on-going and iterative and will take place throughout the process of design and development.
The summative evaluation includes testing that is done after the training has been delivered. By looking at the success criteria established at the beginning of the ADDIE process, you will be able to determine the success of the training. You can then begin to address some of the issues that may have arisen for students and instructors during the course of the training experience. Online feedback forms are a quick and easy way to collate such feedback upon which you can act to improve any area of the course that lacks efficiency, clarity or flow.
I hope that this overview of ADDIE gives you a starting point from which you can begin planning the creation of effective online learning programmes. Much like with the house build analogy we began with, failure to plan will result in an build that is not fit for purpose. Without a plan for such a build, you might not understand that you need to check the depth of the foundations (ascertaining any prior knowledge of your students), calculate the projections of the roof (learning objectives and training goals) or install a steel beam to keep the roof from falling (clear communication with instructors about the form of support that they agree to offer students).
ADDIE will help you to develop your course in terms of its purpose, structure, content and aesthetic quality, without which you may find that your offering will lead to a muddled online course and the collapse of trust and interest among stakeholders.
For more information about ADDIE, access the following links below: