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Start Strong: Build Your Online Course

This training presents a bird's eye view of teaching for instructors looking for a fast-start. Become familiar with the foundations of creating your course and engaging your students.

Designing Your Course

Are you ready to teach your course? Maybe not...but this section can help you lay the top-level structure.

You're the expert when it comes to the big ideas and lesson content. Now you'll hone additional skills to put knowledge to work and guide students as well as their learning. Start by looking at the ADDIE infographic below to determine how you could map your course. Next, read the Taxonomies of Learning. The lists of verbs will be your "go to" tool when you write the course learning objectives. Lastly, you'll find a brief mention of Backwards Design, another model for course development that some may find more flexible to use.

What is a taxonomy? Taxonomies are systems of classification. The purpose is to demonstrate connections and organize knowledge. The Dewey Decimal system, which is used by many libraries to organize non-fiction books, and the Taxonomy of Science, which classifies living beings by Kingdom, Phylum, Class, and so on, down to Species are examples of taxonomies. Learning taxonomies classify types of learning, such as cognitive skills, application, or foundational knowledge. Once you are able to discern the types of learning, you will use this new skill to write the learning objectives.

As our understanding of behavior, cognition, psychology, and sociology have expanded, so have learning taxonomies. The University College Dublin's chart below illustrates overlaps and extensions within the different taxonomies.

Overview development of learning taxonomies and their domains. From University of Dublin Teaching and Learning Resources

Chart source

Illustration of Dee Fink's Taxonomy of Significant Learning. The dimensions include learning how to learn, foundational knowledge, application, integration, human dimension, and caring.

Planning Your Course with Backwards Design

Backwards design model illustrates three steps. 1. Identify desired results. 2. Determine assessment evidence. 3. Plan learning experiences and instruction.

First, think about what your students should be able to do once they have completed your course. How will you know they can do these things? And, what learning events or activities will help your students achieve these goals?
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Next, ask yourself each of these questions before you start looking for course materials or writing assignments. Write down your answers. Your notes will guide you in mapping, or charting, your course.
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And finally, create a document (mind map, spreadsheet, outline, sticky notes on a wall) that clearly connects and aligns the objectives with outcomes. If you do this, you'll find it much easier to develop targeted lessons, write clear assignments, and select great resources.
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How: Intro to ADDIE

Planning your course is a multi-step process that can become overwhelming. Instructional design models offer a framework that can be adjusted to meet your needs. The most common model is ADDIE - analysis, design, develop, implement, and evaluate. It is commonly used in training, but works as the infographic below illustrates, ADDIE works within the classroom setting as well. Read through the stages, beginning with analysis, for an overview course development. This isn't the only path to creating a course and there is room for flexibility, but this is a good starting point and will provide you with some structure.

What do we mean by EVALUATE in ADDIE? In a sense, "evaluate" is asking you as an instructor to look back, based on a number of inputs, at what worked, what did not, and what needs to be changed, removed, or added. It is a replay of the ADDIE model, this time supported by additional data.

Much of that data comes from ASSESSMENT, the place of which can be visualized below:

The basis for at least student Assessment in your class will come from the materials and measures you select in the "2. Putting It Together" tab. Therefore, save your additional 'loops' through ADDIE until you've had a chance to fully design the class, including its methods of Assessment.

One helpful way to distinguish between Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes -- as well as to visualize the link between them -- can be seen in this image from  Learning Assessment Techniques.


Here, Elizabeth F. Barkley and Claire Howell Major clarify both the order and the perspective involved in these three views. Whereas Goals are akin to seeing the target, Objectives establishes your aim at that target. Finally, Outcomes are the measurements, through well-crafted assessment (see tab 2), that let one determine their accuracy -- where and how well they hit the target with their students.

Keep this usual visual metaphor in mind as you work through your design of the course. Do you know your target(s)? Is your aim sure and clear? Can you determine how precisely it was hit?

An Illustration of Course Mapping

This map illustrates how course objectives align with weekly learning objectives and the related assignments.

View full size

Time to Build!

Now that you have considered your approach both to the content of your class and the goals of your instruction, head over to the "2. Putting It Together" tab to engage in structuring the course itself!

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