How to Design an Online Course in 2023: Learn from the Experts!
When you’re responsible for training or presenting information, it can be tempting to wing the presentation, mainly if you are working on a familiar topic. The most effective training is conducted when the instructional design is incorporated. Simply put, instructional design is a strategy or framework to deliver training content. It considers learning styles, the material’s complexity, and the efficacy of different delivery methods in learning acquisition and retention.  Instructional design can help ensure the material is complete, engaging, and appropriate to the audience. It includes the design, creation, and delivery of an online course. 

Consider following these steps outlined by an instructional design company to design a successful online course.

Step 1: Online course designers analyze the students

For online course designers to create an effective course curriculum, they must know who the students will be. Consider your target audience for the course to ensure you are speaking to them at the right level, what baseline knowledge they come to the classes with, and how you can meet their needs and make the lessons valuable to them.    What You Need To Know About Your Students: 
  • Who is the course geared toward? 
  • Is prior knowledge of the topic required? 
  • Is there any special equipment required? 
  • How will they engage with the training? Desktop, laptop, mobile?  
  • Will they be working alone or in a group?  
  • Must any prerequisites be completed before the course? 
  • Do students have any preferred learning styles or methods 
  • Do any students have learning differences or disabilities? Can you accommodate them? 
  • For synchronous training, are all students located in the same time zone? 
  • How many students do you anticipate taking the class? Are there any space constraints to consider? 

Step 2: Online Course Designers create SMART Goals

Like creating a roadmap that will take you to your destination, you must create SMART goals for the course. Focus on developing specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timebound goals. Consider what skills the students will develop. Will the training teach them something new, help them solve problems more effectively, or address a difficulty they face?    In developing SMART goals, consider the following: 
  • What is the purpose of the training? 
  • How will you know if the goal has been accomplished? 
  • Can the students achieve the goal with the instructor and materials available to them? 
  • Does the course matter to the students? Can it improve their professional or personal life? 
  • How long is the course expected to take? 

Step 3: Design a Clear Course Structure & Syllabus

Begin with the basic structure of lectures and public speaking that dates back to Aristotle, who stated the essential features of a speech are “Introduction, Statement, Argument, and Epilogue.” This statement is better understood in plainer language: tell your audience what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.   With this advice grounding the undertaking, create a clear course outline as the next step in your instructional design process.  Ask yourself the following questions as you brainstorm:  
  • What needs to be covered in the course? 
  • How long will it take to teach? 
  • How can the material be broken into classes or modules? 
  • How many modules will the course require? 
  • How long will each module take to complete 
  • What support materials will be required? 
  • Will it be delivered synchronously or asynchronously? 

Step 4: Create Foundational Content

Now that you have an outline, you can begin creating content. Plan a curriculum and develop lesson plans. You’ll also need to create necessary support materials, such as presentation copies, transcripts, guides, self-assessments, etc.   Choose the Right Equipment  The simplest online content can be created on a smartphone or by recording a Zoom presentation, but if online courses are an ongoing part of your training methodology, it may be worth investing in equipment that will take the quality of your product to the next level.   When upgrading your equipment, your instinct may be to buy a state-of-the-art video camera, but your camera can be the last component of your equipment to be replaced. A tripod will give you the most bang for your buck, followed by lighting, which can improve the quality of the video. Later, you can add a good microphone to dampen echoes and enhance sound quality. Finally, consider upgrading your camera if you intend to create many courses in the future.  Add Interest With Editing And Effects  Talking head videos can get boring fast. Add exciting elements such as examples of discussion points, music, or special effects to emphasize key points. The best online course development services prioritize keeping content fresh and engaging. Follow this example if you want learners to resonate with your coursework.  Organize Content Logically  Make content easy to navigate. If you mention a term in class 7 that you discussed in depth in class 2, link back to the explanation so students can refresh their knowledge.  
  • Each module should build on the next to create a strong learning foundation.  
  • End modules with a Q&A or brief quiz before moving on to the next.  
  • Index content to students can go back to clarify information. 
Include Learning Resources  Students will appreciate downloadable content they can use to reinforce what they have learned or to dig further into a topic.  
  • PDFs of course content 
  • Recommendations for further reading 
  • Source links 
  • Workbooks and templates 
  • Quizzes and assessments 
Empower Students To Engage With Content  Online Discussions. Forums or message boards enable students to discuss lessons with each other. They can help each other understand the material. Today’s learners enjoy an interactive experience. Providing them with opportunities to participate in learning can help keep them interested, leading to better engagement, and improving retention.   Being part of a learning community allows students to support each other, become more invested in the outcome, and even sign up for future classes to continue their relationships.  

Step 5: Instructional Design Consultants Advise Setting up Assessments

An essential element of any course is ensuring students understand and retain the material. Students can gauge their progress and determine where to revisit or confirm information.  Assessment types include: 
  • Quizzes. Include short multiple-choice quizzes after you make significant points or complete a lesson. In a synchronous class, the instructor can adjust delivery to student performance. 
  • Assignments. Homework can reinforce lessons or allow students to apply what they learned. Include open-ended questions in their assignments. Students will have time to research and ponder, allowing them to put more thought into their answers. 
  • Final exams. A final comprehensive exam should be administered at the end of the course. Offer a certificate of completion to those who pass. Review the tests closely. If a significant proportion of students got the same questions wrong, revisit how that section of content was delivered. 
Assessments should ensure all intended learning outcomes are realized. As a result, what have they learned, what are they able to do better, and what can they now accomplish? 

Step 6: Online Course Development Services Provide Online Support & Assistance

No matter what supporting materials you may supply, the instructor is the best resource for any learner. In online courses, you must make yourself available to assist your students. Encourage them to ask questions, request clarification, and share thoughts as part of a group and privately. Create a dedicated email address to collect input. You can have students email you directly or through an online form.  Encourage input throughout the course rather than waiting until the end of the course. This will enable you to adjust the coursework as needed moving forward. If other students likely have the same questions, answer them in the group. Consider adding a Q&A section to future courses.  

Step 7: Evaluate Course Success

Solicit student feedback to assess their satisfaction with the course – what went well and what needs work. Ask for specific input and give respondents plenty of space to detail any pros or cons.  How to Evaluate Course Effectiveness: 
  • Ask students to complete a feedback form. 
  • Beta test the course before beginning. 
  • Evaluating whether students have achieved the goals of the course. 
  • Review analytics to see where students may be dropping off during the course. 
  • Create a Rubric to come outcomes against.  

Need help designing an online course? Partner with our Instructional Design Consultants to make it happen.

At Clarity, we have 30 years of experience in instructional design and every aspect of learning and development. Clarity helps instructional design companies hire more effectively, connecting them with the exceptional talent they need. When you’re ready to partner with an industry leader, contact Clarity Consultants. 

Contact Clarity

For over 30 years, we’ve managed projects touching every element of learning and talent development.