11 Tips for How to Design an Online Course

If you know it’s time to create an online course, but you’re just not sure where to get started or what tools to use to design online classes, then you’re in the right place!

How To Design An Online Course Your Students Will Love Taking

When you ask people who have taken an online course before if they enjoyed the process, their answer might be a resounding “no” or a lukewarm yes.

The truth is that online courses are not always designed with student learning in mind. Rather they are created without truly thinking about the online learning environment that they will be delivered in.

Couple that with students who have different learning styles, diverse learners interests, and technical skills.

Effective online courses take all of these things into consideration and deliver the learning experience through multiple and flexible methods.

Often that looks like different types of learning activities, providing multiple ways to consume content, and even a social presence through video conferencing for example.

Questions you should consider before launching an online course:

  • What are the goals of this design?
  • Who is your audience?
  • How much time will you need to spend on designing it and how quickly do you want people to complete their lessons?
  • Do you have any experience in teaching or training design skills that you could apply here as well?

Teaching Online Requires a Different Approach Compared to In-Person Instruction

It’s tempting to try to support students by delivering all of your resources through live video conferencing.

But teaching online is more about facilitating learning than it is delivering recorded lectures that you would traditionally give in person.

Designing your classes well takes practice as much as anything else, but the first step is to reverse engineer what learning outcomes you want to create for your students.

Just keep that in mind when you’re planning how to design engaging courses for students who may be taking them from behind their screens at home rather than sitting in class.

The learning process might look different at home, on the go, and with distractions in the online environment itself.

That’s why it’s so important to keep students engaged and to make the most of educational technology when delivering your online courses.

Let’s explore how to make your online course design effective.

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How to Structure an Online Course

Effective online courses are structured to deliver learning experiences that are memorable. These are all factors to consider when you build an online course.

Your instructional materials should always be designed with the learner in mind. The course design will be one of its most important features, as it can make or break how well students learn and retain the material you present to them.

When designing an online course:

1. Start by considering what you want your students to learn

The design of your course should be based on the content you plan to include.

One of the biggest mistakes that online instructors make is including too much course content in an online course.

It’s often not obvious that there are too many learning materials, but the student feedback you get might confirm that you were trying to teach too much in one course.

2. Plan a course outline that is clear and concise

One of the first things you need to do when designing an online course is to decide on the structure and organization of your content.

When designing an online course, consider what you want students to learn and how they will engage with the material. Organize a clear outline that is designed for effective learning experiences.

Keep in mind that design elements such as images and audio can make or break how well students retain information from their courses.

3. Organize content into logical steps

Will it be presented in modules? Chapters? Units? Lessons? It’s important that the structure is logical and makes sense both to you and your students.

Consider using headings and subheadings to help organize your thoughts and create a visually appealing layout.

One tip to help you teach online is to include an overview in the first module, that way if students don’t complete all of the course content, they will have a good overview of the course.

4. Assign readings, activities, and assessments accordingly

One way to keep learners engaged while taking an online course is through interactive design.

This involves using multimedia elements such as videos, images, infographics, audio clips, etc., which can help break up long chunks of text and provide diverse learning opportunities.

5. Consider adding discussion forums to encourage discussion

You can also add discussion forums to help with student interaction.

The goal of this design is to get students talking with each other and sharing their experiences.

This helps them feel connected, while also helping online instructors get a better understanding of how well students understand course content.

If your online courses require students to submit final projects or show new skills directly then using a community forum can be an effective way to have students showcase these resources.

You can have students create their own discussion thread for more intuitive organization.

Online Courses Don’t Need To Be Static

Instructional design would have you think courses are a set of learning objectives with support resources, but really design is an ever-evolving process.

You’ll need to use your critical thinking and assess student learning to decide what changes to make to your online course design over time.

Many design features that work well in a traditional classroom may not work as well online or even be possible.

Be open to trying new things, and don’t be afraid to scrap what isn’t working.

It’s tempting to want to design a comprehensive course from the get-go, but it’s important to start small.

Design one module or unit at a time and test it with your students.

This will help you avoid becoming overwhelmed and ensure that each component of your course is effective.

Use accessible learning activities in your course design to make sure your course will work for all types of students.

Test your course design with voice-to-text applications and screen readers, for students who are not going to be reading the text in your online courses.

Keep in mind that one universal design is not going to work for teaching and learning all types of courses. Some courses lend themselves well to one type of learning activity like quizzes, and another might do better with digital books.

How Do You Create an Effective Online Course?

Laptop with course design example

You don’t need a fancy design for your courses, but some simple tools can make all the difference. For one thing, just making sure that there’s good back-and-forth communication with learners can help them stay engaged throughout.

Good design also makes use of visuals where appropriate, which is important since most learning happens through visual means these days instead of text alone.

The visual design of your online course is important. You want to make sure it’s visually appealing and easy for students to navigate. Here are some course design tips to help ensure your courses are both enjoyable and educational for your students:

– Use a clear and consistent design throughout the entire course. This will help keep students oriented and make it easier for them to find what they’re looking for.

– Make use of multimedia elements, such as graphics, videos, and audio files, to enhance the learning experience.

– Keep the number of pages in each module relatively short – no more than five or six pages per module. Students tend to lose focus if there are too many pages read at once.

Online education is all about flexibility and convenience, so make sure to design your course with that in mind. By following these tips, you can create an online course that is both enjoyable and informative for your students.

Your online classroom should match the brand and topic of your course.

That means if you’re teaching to a particular audience, your learning objectives should cater to people with the same competency. Otherwise, you will risk creating some learning materials that are too advanced or too simple for the people taking your courses.

Student success depends on a variety of factors, but the design is one of the most important. If your design doesn’t suit the learning needs of your audience or if it’s not visually appealing, students won’t be able to focus on what you’re trying to teach them and will likely lose interest pretty quickly.

Include a course syllabus from day one so that your learners know exactly how long they have until the course ends as well as which topics will be covered each week.

Make sure that all deadlines are realistic for completing assignments and submitting work in time because otherwise, people might begin dropping out altogether before you even get started.

A great design can entice users into enrolling in an online class while at the same time discouraging those who aren’t serious to put in the effects to be successful.

What Learning Management System Will Support Your Course Design?

There are many tools available for online courses that can make life easier for both instructors and students.

Online learning management systems come in all sizes and price ranges.

There are a few different ways to go about researching online learning software. The first is to focus on the following elements:

  • Compatibility with other software you currently use
  • Barrier free learning experiences for your students
  • Adaptability to various scenarios, like creating courses, coaching programs, and ongoing memberships
  • Built-in engagement strategies
  • Ability to track and assess learning outcomes of students
  • Good communication options for teaching and learning

Some common misconceptions about LMS solutions is that they’re all the same, when you compare the features.

However, good online instructors know that helping students reach their learning goals starts with a solid technical foundation. After all, if a course platform is not built to scale or it doesn’t integrate with the necessary systems, students won’t be able to thrive.

Whether you’re creating a new course or considering upgrading your course content and moving to a new platform, it’s important to do your research.

One popular tool to consider is AccessAlly.

It’s an all-in-one learning management system that takes payments for your courses, drips upcoming content on a schedule, and includes gamification, too.

Effective online courses allow you to test new strategies that you know will help your students succeed.

So there you have it! 11 design tips for online courses that will help you create engaging learning opportunities for your learners – no matter what course platform or format they’re using.

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