Online course creation is an inalienable part of online learning implementation and development. It takes a lot of time and effort so mistakes are really expensive. However, novices, as well as seasoned online course developers, still make a lot of mistakes during the process.
In this post, we are going to share with you an online course creation step by step guide to help you craft the course that is relevant, engaging and as a result - successful.
By emphasizing foundational theory and best practices, the guide presents specific course-building activities designed to assist instructors with course development, organization, and evaluation.
There are many instructional system design models, most of which are based on popular ones such as the ADDIE model.
In this article, we’ll base our step by step guide on ADDIE model.
We’ll also describe each step from the perspective of needed roles and their responsibilities using RACI Matrix and give you the estimated time frames for each stage based on our online course development costs estimator.
ADDIE Model: The process, Roles and Responsibilities
The basic explanation of the ADDIE model is described in the infographic below. In this article, we'll dive deeper into each of these stages.
To perform the ADDIE model activities you should coordinate your course development team and set the main roles and responsibilities. We highly recommend using a RACI matrix to simplify this process and indicate main team roles and workforces.
Terms of reference should be drawn for the following set of team members: instructional designer, subject matter expert, technical developer, translator, media creator, technical support specialist, course administrator, LMS administrator, and instructor.
Instructional designer (ID) is responsible for the overall instructional strategy. The ID also plays a major role in the media production as the ID manages and validates the assets and deliverables for design and development steps. During the analysis and course design, the ID works with Subject Matter Experts (SME) to define which skills and knowledge need to be covered in the course, choose the appropriate instructional strategy and support the team in defining delivery and evaluation strategies.
Subject Matter Expert (SME) contributes to the knowledge and information required for each course. SME collaborates with the ID to design the course and define evaluation strategies. Depending on the course developed, the SME may supply the texts for the eLearning lessons.
Media Creator is responsible for the creation of media content for the eLearning course.
Technical Developer (TD) is responsible for the technical implementation of the online course content (or online course media) delivery. Therefore, TD is expected to work in close liaison with media creators.
Translator (optional). Translation is a part of the localization of the online course. The localization is done by the TD with the contribution of the translator. Translators may also be used to produce translated text for narration or scripts for video clips.
Technical Support Specialist (TSS) is responsible for ensuring that necessary software tools are working properly and assist producers and users of the online course at every stage of the process.
Course Administrator isthe Product Owner and individual that manages an online course and its users. The course administrator either enrolls trainees to the course or validates requests to enroll the course.
LMS Site Administrator isa staff member responsible for managing the eLearning platform and providing daily support as well as keeping the ongoing operations the eLearning platform LMS stable. The LMS Site Administrator creates the area on the platform for the e-learning course and may assist with the publication of courses to the platform.
Instructor is a trainer for the course. In the case of blended learning, they play an important role for the course support. Whereas in the case of self-paced learning, the role is more oriented towards providing answers to the learners through the communication channels (email exchange, discussion forum etc).
Now, we are ready to describe a step-by-step guide for online course creation. Let’s consider each step in detail to help you go through the whole process without hassle.
We'll use the ADDIE Model Navigation Board displayed below to help you orient better in this "long read".
ADDIE Stage 1: Analyze
This stage is an essential basis for any project. An online course isn't an exclusion.
Every effort needs to have a positive effect. Your online course creation efforts will not bring you the positive effect if it doesn’t cover some actual need.
In our case, need is the gap between the current level of skill and knowledge and the desired level of performance the organization wants to achieve. After the needs analysis, you will have a great foundation for your learner persona.
Need is the gap between the current and desired level of skill, knowledge and performance
Analyze Target audience
Every student is different, so it’s a good idea to make your course suitable for your target audience from the behavioral perspective. Shift LMS creators propose a classification of learners from a behavioral perspective:
Goals are general statements about what you hope students will gain from your course and which “gaps” will be filled. Generally, a course goal is stated as “Students will gain an understanding of …” or, “Students will develop an appreciation of …”The nature, definition, and assessment of goals will vary depending on defined Gaps. As a result, there are a number of different ways goals can be articulated:
Focusing on benefits: You should define course goals in broad terms, focusing on the anticipated benefits to students from participation in a course program. For example, after finishing this course, students will get such skills as Critical thinking, Creative writing, Research skills, Communication skills etc. depending on the learning discipline.
Focusing on the action: Defining a course goal course owner should formulate a statement and include an action verb and the competency required by the graduates of a program or a course: “By the end of this program, students will be able to <<action verb>> <<something>>.”
You should complete the phrase describing what students should and/or will be able to do by the end of the program.
When your audience’s needs, personas and course goal(s) are defined, you are ready to start the Design step.
ADDIE Stage 2: Design
You now know why you’re creating the online training program, how it is going to impact students and what goals should be accomplished for that.
The next step is content creation. But before starting to create learning content, you need to define the structure of the course and types of content you should employ. This cannot be done effectively without clearly stated Learning Objectives.
Setting Learning Objectives
Learning goals and learning objectives are directly connected. To understand the connection between them, think of learning goal as a strategic category and learning objective as a tactic category: What objectives should you state to reach the goal?
Learning Objectives are specific statements that include both an action verb and a content reference. Objectives are not broad long-term goals such as "improving students’ ability to communicate." According to the Carnegie Mellon University, effective learning objectives should be compliant with the following statements:
Learning Objectives must be student-centered
Learning Objectives must be both observable and measurable
Learning objectives should be formulated in a way that helps the learner understand how it will help him reach Learning Goal. Such learning objectives will motivate learners to move towards the Goal.
Articulating your learning objectives can be challenging at first. Here are some resources to help:
When the objectives of the online course are determined, you can move to the next step: create a course outline. This can be something as simple as a topical outline, or as detailed as a storyboard (or both).
There is a great course outline template from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. As you create such an outline, be sure that the content ties back to the learning objectives (and ultimately learning goals) you have established.
Defined learning objectives are the basis for course structure and sequence. There are different methods that can be applied to design the best structure for your course. Course structuring methods depend on the learning goal(s).
In a job-oriented course, the content can be organized to follow the order of the actions in the real job environment; this is the job-context principle.
In a non-job-oriented course, concepts can be organized according to their structural connections, such as by:
describing the characteristics of a class before describing its members;
providing examples first, then definitions;
starting with concrete or simple information and then proceeding to abstract or complex concepts.
The outcome of the sequencing is a course structure where each element corresponds to a specific learning objective and contributes to the achievement of the overall course goal(s).
Once the course structure has been defined, the instructional designer must propose the best mix of methods and techniques to use in each segment of the online course structure.
Define Instructional strategy
Instructional strategy is a long-term, high-level plan of how to accomplish course goal(s) through use of available learning resources (the methods, techniques, and devices used to instruct learners).
At this stage, the purpose of creating the strategy before developing the materials themselves is to outline how the instructional activities will relate to the accomplishment of the objectives (Gagne, 1988).
To create the instructional strategy, ID should bind the knowledge of learning and design theory with accumulated information from learning goals, learning objectives, and target audience analysis.
The instructional strategy states what instructional methods should be used in some particular online course. There are three types of instructional methods:
Expositive methods emphasize “absorption” of new information. Expositive methods include presentations, case studies, worked examples, demonstrations.
Application methods emphasize the active processes learners use to perform principle based tasks and build new knowledge. Application methods include demonstration-practice method, job aids, case-based or scenario-based exercises, role play, simulations and serious games, guided research, project work.
Collaborative methods emphasize the social dimension of learning and engage learners sharing knowledge and performing tasks in a collaborative way. They include online guided discussions, collaborative work, and peer tutoring.
Let’s recap what we need to have at the end ofthe Design stage:
Gaps in knowledge/skills are defined
Types of learners are defined and general approach to them is chosen
Online course goals are set according to Gaps and types of learners
Learning Objectives and online course structure are stated
Instructional strategy is chosen
Having all the above on your plate, you can move to actual content development.
ADDIE Stage 3: Content Development
Using Learners needs analysis you are able to identify how your target audience will study better. ID guides you with eLearning strategy, and you are almost ready to create really great learning content. To success, you should use the best practices of 70:20:10 model and create course content and activities according to Bloom’s taxonomy.
If you’re new to online course creation, consider Bloom’s Taxonomy as an approach to balancing your course activities while also engaging a diverse group of learning styles with one, all-inclusive curriculum. Traditional educators have been using Bloom’s Taxonomy since the late 1940’s.
In the taxonomy, learners start at the base layer, or the “Remember” step, and work their way up as they master the content in the increasingly complex layers. The infographic includes a few suggested activities that apply to the experience of learning online.
But how Bloom's taxonomy can be used in content creation practice? Actually, it is directly connected with Course Outline and Learning Objectives:
Your course outline is a sequence of content materials aimed to reach your learning objectives
Action Keywords represent your learners’ checkpoints that help them achieve Learning Objectives
Use action keywords described above to create pieces of content that are most effective to reach some checkpoint on the way to the Learning Objective.
Below are some examples of how to choose applicable pieces of content for some real-world cases of online course creation:
Effective learning comes down to getting the mix between formal and informal learning just right with the 70:20:10 model. 70:20:10 is a ratio of McCall’s research which revealed that informal learning (70% experiential learning and 20% social learning) is responsible for a 90% of what learners know. Informal learning is usually less structured and more spontaneous than formal training.
The last 10% comes from learning where the content is based on theory and facts. Formal learning gives the facts, figures and solid foundations on which to build the remaining 90% of students’ development.
The exact figures of the 70:20:10 model are not the “golden ratio” but very useful as landmarks.
Experiential learning - 70%
A massive 70% of what students know is learned through hands-on experience, daily tasks, and challenges. You should think about how to create the best learning practices to improve your students’ skills in the real world. Virtual Reality and work simulation are great tools for the modern learning and development world. Using such tools you can bring amazing learning experience in a safe virtual learning environment
Social learning - 20%
Learning doesn’t happen in isolation. McCall’s research discovered that students learn through their relationships by sharing knowledge and observing others one. Social learning is another type of informal learning because it is usually self-directed, spontaneous and less structured than formal learning. You can use social features to encourage your students and share the course content. For example, you could create chat rooms where organization staff can share their specialist knowledge and know-how with others and answer questions. All this collaboration and communication feeds into 20% of learning that comes from social interactions.
Formal learning - 10%
Formal learning is an essential part of any learning strategy. It forms the basis of successful learning.
Formal learning is a support frame and amplifier for learning. Whatever you create you should make sure that this essential part of learning is engaging. This helps make the benefits and purpose of the training clear and shows learners why their development matters. Mobile learning technologies can deliver the essential formal training wherever and whenever learners need it – straight to their smartphones. So, whenever students need help all they will have the formal training to hand.
Let’s recap what should be ready at the end of the Development stage:
Needs and audience are defined
The Learning Goal and the general approach to learners are defined
Learning Objectives and Online Course Outlines are ready
Instructional Strategy for each Learning Objective is chosen
Action Keyword for each Comprehension Level of each Learning Objective is chosen
Applicable pieces of content for each Action Keyword are planned
Course content is created using 70:20:10 approach
The next step is to create an environment, or online course infrastructure to deliver your content to learners - “Implement” stage.
ADDIE Stage 4: Implement
The implementation phase is actually delivering the online course content to students. To do this, you need to create an infrastructure that includes the following elements:
Learning Management System (LMS)
Course Content Delivery Tools
A learning management system, or LMS, facilitates delivery and management of all learning offerings, including online, virtual classroom and instructor-led courses. It automates the learning course and easily delivers training, manages learners and keeps track of their progress and performance across training activities, which reduces administrative overhead.
There are two types of LMS:
Proprietary LMS are licensed under the exclusive legal right, restricted from modification, further distribution, reverse engineering, and other uses. They are closed-source with license costs per user. Some popular Proprietary LMS: TalentLMS, Litmos, iSpring, NEO LMS
Open-source LMS work under the terms of the GNU General Public License. The license is intended to guarantee freedom to share and change the program and ensures that it is free for all users. Good examples of open-source LMS are eFront, Moodle and the LMS that we are focused on - Open edX.
There are a lot of resources that can help you choose the LMS that would suit you best. Please Contact Us so we can help you understand whether Open edX is a way to go.
For some projects, LMSes have all the necessary content delivery tools. However, a lot of organizations use additional tools for content digitization, online webinars, files/video hosting etc. Let’s discuss them in more details.
Apply Course Content Delivery Tools
eLearning activities can be set by using a range of communication tools. The most common tools are:
Chat and instant messaging
Audio and video conferences
Rapid authoring tools
Such tools can greatly support your course delivery activities. These tools and their applications in online courses are described further.
Chat and instant messaging
Instant messaging (IM) is one of the most popular applications on the Web. It allows two or more people to exchange text-based messages in real time, using a Web or desktop application. A group of people can start a text conversation online in a space commonly called a “chat room”. In a typical chat session, everybody sees all the messages. However, some chats allow private messaging between two session members. The Chat and instant messaging tools that can help you: Slack, Rocket,Chat,Ryver,Fleep
Application sharing lets the presenter share programs, windows or screens with learners. Learners can watch the presenter’s actions and can take control of the display with permission from the presenter. The application sharing tools that can help you: BoostHQ, EdCast, GSuite, Evernote, Zoho
Audio and video conferences
Audio and video conferences are audio and video sessions between two or more users at different locations, in real time. They are primarily used for meetings and project updates. The Audio and video conferences tools that can help you: Zoho Meeting, Zoom, Join.me, Google Hangouts, BigBlueButton, Vimeo
Forums in eLearning allow learners to connect and collaborate in eLearning environments. Forums give your audience a place to share their ideas and explore the subject matter outside of the traditional eLearning environment. For example, you can create Google, LinkedIn, or Facebook groups and invite your learners to share their ideas.
LTI extensions (Learning Tools Interoperability)
LTI extensions give the ability to integrate multiple Communication tools from different program vendors. It means that using such extension your platform can be embedded in any LTI-supporting software like LMS (Moodle, Open edX) or Facebook apps. There is the case study how the whole adaptive learning project became standardized according to LTI specifications.
eLearning authoring tools
An eLearning authoring tool is basically a software package that eLearning developers use to create the material, deliverables to learners. A range of programs can be considered as the authoring tools, such as PowerPoint and Flash, but only a few programs provide support for the standards of eLearning content such as AICC or SCORM.
You can create a great number of exercises for your course using problem builders tools. The eLearning authoring tools and modern LMS platforms include various type of such tools. For example, you will find more than 30 exercise and problem tools to deliver your content through Open edX LMS.
In the table mentioned above, we gave you examples of types of content that are applicable for some Action Keywords (that are directly connected to Learning Objectives of the course). Here we’ll give some examples of tools that are applicable to actually deliver those types of content.
Now you have everything to start your online learning course. The last but not the least thing that we want to discuss in this article is evaluating outcomes of the actual online course.
ADDIE Stage 5: Evaluate
What is the purpose of the evaluation? Evaluating your online course outcomes can give you a powerful impulse for further development. You can make your content better, you can engage better, you can improve in a lot of ways to become more attractive, effective and profitable.
The best practice of learning course evaluation described in the Kirkpatrick model encompasses four levels:
Evaluating learners’ reactions means understanding how those who participate in the program react to it, if they participate actively and if they like the course. This can be measured through questionnaires and surveys, which are usually submitted to learners at the end of the course. In facilitated eLearning, learners’ participation is monitored by the facilitator throughout the course period.
Evaluation (or assessment) of learning, measures the achievement of intended learning objectives. Depending on the type, of course, this can imply that participants have increased knowledge, developed skills, and/or changed attitudes as a result of attending the course. Talking about corporate training is more effective to use ROI measurement techniques to estimate the expected outcomes of the training.
Evaluation can be done to accomplish specific evaluation purposes. First, you should decide if you want to evaluate the course during the development stage to improve it before it is finalized or do an evaluation at the end of the course to measure its effectiveness or examine a past course to see if it is still valid and can be reused in a new context.
In other words, you may want to evaluate a course:
During the development stage, to improve instructional courses or products (formative evaluation);
During or immediately after the implementation stage, to measure the effectiveness of education training and learning (summative evaluation).
Here it is. You have the comprehensive online course creation plan in one blog post. Actual course creation can be tricky, but if you know your audience and core message of the course you'll just need right persons for corresponding roles - good specialists will do the rest when you're good with the basics.
After your first run through the five steps outlined in this post for online course creation, it will become increasingly easier to build future courses.
What approaches do you leverage for online courses creation? Please live comments under this article - let's share insights to make the online learning world better than yesterday!
Directorate General of Administration, Council of Europe, 2017. “eLearning course development (ST-17-123)”
Growthengineering. “Informal learning: what is the 70:20:10 model?” http://www.growthengineering.co.uk/70-20-10-model/
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, 2011. “E-learning methodologies” http://www.fao.org/docrep/015/i2516e/i2516e00.htm