How To Develop an Online Course Following Best Practices

In this article, I will help you develop a learning module using best practices in pedagogy and instructional design. The steps presented here does require a substantial time investment but, you will be designing a course that leads to higher engagement. Just like any regular courses, you need to plan your curriculum to create that stellar online course. Any stellar online course is rooted on solid learning objectives. The course content, assignment, activities, and structure should be aligned with the objectives.

Develop Online Course

Learning Objectives

Learning objectives are statements that define the expected goal of a curriculum, course, lesson or activity in terms of demonstrable skills or knowledge that will be acquired by a student as a result of instruction. Also known as – Instructional objectives, learning outcomes, learning goals.

When you are framing your objectives, they should be challenging yet easy – aspirational yet achievable. Since the course that you are creating is online. As an instructional designer, our job is to reduce impediment to the learners. Therefore, quality objectives should be

  1. Outcome-oriented – This informs learners of the standards that are expected from them and by which they will be assessed.
  2. Relevant and meaningful to the learners – If the learning outcomes are meaningful to the learners, they are likely to be engaged in the course. It is important to identify the learners that you are creating the course for.
  3. Achievable – The objectives should be easily completed because learners will lose interest (especially for online courses) if s/he cannot complete it.

It is best to begin course outcomes with a phrase such as

After completing this course, the student from will be able to,

The usefulness of these phrases is that they naturally lead to action verbs such as demonstrate, write, analyze, or present. These are clear potentially measurable verbs.

After completing this course, the student from will be able to + learning skills + criterion

  • Learning Skills – Describes the type of performance expected
  • Criterion – An acceptable performance

Example: After completing this course, the student will be able to, write an APA style research paper of 2500 words in length.

One of the most widely used tool to create learning objectives is Bloom’s Taxonomy

Target Audience

While it is important to design quality learning objectives, a lot depends upon who will take the course. As an instructional designer, you need to realize the barriers that the learners might face – language, disability, resources, etc. Design the learning objective, based on your target audience.


The content should be developed based on your learning objectives. As an instructional designer, you should enable varied media content – visual, text, audio etc. to support different learning styles. It is important to include perspective from different sources with various viewpoints for deeper learning. Again remember, the course is online – YOU NEED TO HOOK YOUR LEARNERS – YOU NEED TO GRAB THEIR ATTENTION. The courses should be in chunks to accommodate short attention span of the learners. You need to break the content into bite sized pieces. (See micro-learning) Here’s my suggestion on how to create content for different media.

Content Media Type To Do
  • Short Paragraph
  • 50-75 Character/line
  • Use hierarchy
  • Use distinct group
  • Short video: less than 6minutes
  • Use talking head than voice over video
  • Personal setting and studio
  • Use Khan Academy styled tablet drawings
  • Try to avoid pre-recorded classroom video
  • Natural, fast speaking with high enthusiasm
  • Tutorial videos than lecture videos
  • Create podcast style contents
  • Natural, fast speaking with high enthusiasm
  • Interviews/conversation rather than lectures

If you are starting out on your journey in creating online courses, I suggest you curate content from third party sources rather than create. Most of the educational content is available freely under creative commons license but, be sure to double check. Once you are comfortable with the content, you can create and customize your content to design an authentic course.


Assignments provide an opportunity for immediate practice and application of the concepts. Assignments help learners understand the concept. It is necessary to create assignments with clearly stated instructions for completion along with standards of expected quality. The assignment should be aligned with overall objectives. Project based learning (PBL) is a modern active learning activity path where learners are involved in completing a project similar to real life. Therefore, assignments should have immediate application, instruction and expectation standards for completion.

Connecting It All

All the components – assignments, assessments, content should align with the objective. Remember and check whether your courses are in a logical progression with relevant tasks and activities. It is wise to check if the workload is reasonable corresponding to the audience and stated expectations.

Summing It Up

Creating an online class doesn’t need to be overwhelming. The online course design is an ongoing process. You need to improve your module based on the feedback that you get from learners and your peers. Keep these pointers in mind while you are creating your next stellar online course.

  1. Divide longer courses into bite-sized modules
  2. Use/Create content that grabs attention
  3. Focus on immediate learning objectives
  4. Offer learners real world/practical value
  5. Navigation should be simple and straight forward
  6. Keep it simple – cut out the clutter
  7. Integrate “pause points” through your online course

Components of Online Course

Evaluate, critique and provide feedback for your online course based. It is always better to receive feedback from your peer educator or potential learners. Try to see if each element captures the qualities on what learners should be doing. Here the rubric’s criteria based on NovoEd’s Foundations of Learning Experience on creating an online course.

Criteria Qualities Score (10)
Learning Objective
  • Outcome oriented (Learners will be able to…)
  • Meaningful to the learner’s work or life
  • Achievable based on learner’s abilities
  • ·Provides opportunity for immediate practice/application of concepts
  • ·Clearly stated instructions for completion
  • ·Clearly defined standards of expected quality
  • Enable content processing through varied media (visual, text, audio, etc.), supporting different earning styles
  • Incorporate a variety of perspectives/sources to encourage deeper understanding
  • Hooks the learner to pique interest and grab attention
  • All the components (assignments, content, assessments) align with the learning objective
  • Logical progression of content and tasks
  • Reasonable workload corresponding to audience and stated expectations

Work Sheet

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Here’s the course that I had created for NovoEd’s Foundations of Learning Experience.

This article is based on NovoEd’s Foundations of Learning Experience

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