Planning Online Courses Guide

"Cheshire ..., Alice began rather timidly...would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here? That all depends on a good deal on where you want to get to, said the Cat." ~ Lewis Caroll

The planning and design of online content requires us to strike a unique balance between a course that is highly structured and detailed prior to the first day of class, with the need to retain flexibility and spontaneity as it relates to both teaching and learning. Students interacting with online content need to experience a course site that is well designed, permitting them to navigate through it with little confusion and gain a clear sense of what is expected. And, that those same online students also need to know that there is always room for exploring the unexpected; raising unanticipated questions or following the unforeseen learning path.

Before you start designing your first online course:

  • Educate yourself by reading articles about web-based training, instructional design, technology education, and online learning. Links to resources in these areas can be found throughout this site.
  •  Locate and introduce yourself to the learning management system (LMS) Administrator.
  • Ask the Administrator to create a user account, password, and blank course shell for you.
  • Understand the Learning Management System that the course will be hosted on. Make sure your computer is set up with the correct tools to support the learning events. Again, refer to the System Administrator if you need assistance.
  • Practice using the learning management system. Take a workshop, arrange with the LMS Administrator for one-on-one training, or explore a peer's course.

events of learning

Once you feel comfortable with the tools and clear idea of how you want to present your materials online, review the course design guidelines listed below (click on the numbered item to expose the associated content) and think about the following items during the design process.

  • Why is it important to give attention to learner characteristics when planning instruction?
  • Which characteristics are most useful, and how is information about them obtained?
  • What limitations might these characteristics place on your design?
  • What factors in the environment will effect the instruction?
  • What related subject content should be taught?
  • How can subject content items be organized?
1. Prepare Your Materials

Prepare Your Materials

Identify measurable course learning objectives. Determine what core competencies and knowledge students will need to meet these objectives.

Learning objectives are specific, measurable statements describing the expected actions or behaviors of the student as they relate to knowledge acquisition, understanding, and application or performance upon module completion. Effective learning objectives:

  • Correspond with the overall course outcomes and program-specific outcomes
  • Are student-centered rather than professor-centered
  • Focus on the learning that results from mastering an activity rather than on the activity itself
  • Align with the pre-determined course, academic program, and institutional level outcomes
  • Concentrate on important, non-trivial aspects of learning
  • Address skills and abilities central to the discipline and based on standards of excellence
  • Capture important learning through generalized statements that are clear and specific enough to be measurable
  • Focus on aspects of learning that will develop and endure, but that can be assessed to some degree in the present


  • Identify the relationship between strategic tools and methods of evaluation, analysis, implementation, and monitoring strategies that increase organizational efficiencies
  • Describe the concept of key performance indicators used as metrics within strategic planning using data to make more informed decisions that respond within alignment of organizational change
  • Apply the initial agreement of strategic planning, mandates, mission and vision alignment, data collection and analysis of internal and external
  • Link performance metrics of identified strategic human capital management goals in order to make informed decisions and respond effectively to organizational changes

  • Gather your course materials and content into a central location. Include items such as:
    • handouts,
    • slide shows,
    • syllabus,
    • overheads,
    • lecture notes,
    • projects,
    • assessments,
    • audio and video files,
    • web resources, and
    • discussion topics
  • Determine what format your materials exist in.
    • Take note of items already in electronic format and move them into course folders on your computer.
    • Have hard copy documents scanned.
    • Have audio tapes and photos converted into digital files (the instructional designer can assist with this task)
    • Collect web links and descriptions into a central file
    • Where necessary acquire copyright permissions
  • Accommodate different types of learners. Make sure visual learners have graphics and text they can see to foster learning. Provide narration and text for visual learners. Apply creative combinations of teaching strategies, using methods like instructional units, case studies, simulations, and self-evaluations to encourage learners.
  • Utilize the action principle, emphasizing clearly and continually the connections between what is being learned and the real world in which it will be applied.
2. Outline Your Course

Outline the Course

Make an outline that matches each course week or module with associated date, lecture materials, labs, assignments and corresponding items. This comprehensive outline can be very helpful when you go to build your course skeleton. Also detail which artifacts will be used for what module.


Week 2 - Foundations of Instructional Design


  • Explore future technologies and identify their impact on instructional strategies
  • Explore learning theories and their impact on online and multimedia enhanced education

Items to Think About

  1. In your view, will future technologies (e.g., those related to artificial intelligences) more effectively combine learning styles and instructional strategies? Support your response with citations to printed materials or links to the Internet.
  2. You have been hired to design a training course for a topic in your area of specialization. Using Table 6.2 in the textbook as a template, what would you incorporate into each subcategory to motivate learners?
  3. Events that occur at one point in time are likely to influence theories that are developed sometime thereafter. For example, the theory Gagne` first put forth in the 1960s was most likely influenced by his work designing military training during the 1940s. Think about present-day events and how they may shape future views of learning and instruction. On the basis of your ideas, describe an instructional theory that may appear in the next twenty years and discuss the events today that are likely to shape that theory.


  • Review the Learning Theory concept tutor
  • Identify the area that you would like to research for the portfolio project
  • Read Chapters 6 & 7 in the textbook
  • Participate in the weekly discussion

Moderator Instructions

Please lead a discussion of  items 1 & 3 listed under the "Items to Think About" section this week.

  • Start the discussion by putting a message in the Discussion room that has the week and title of the activity. For example: "Week 2: Future Technologies"
  • Start the ball rolling by starting the activity no later than Sunday midnight, and making your own contribution, or by acting as cheerleader and encourager to entice messages from your classmates.
  • As people answer, chime in, see other ideas, and generally keep the conversation moving. This is like being the convener of a meeting at work, where you have an agenda, and you need to get input from everyone.
  • At the end of your week, summarize and close the discussion. Once the job is done, you have earned your points.
3. Define the Syllabus

Define the Syllabus

  • Course Title and Number
  • Instructor's name
  • Contact information for the Instructor - email address, phone number, office hours, and office location
Contact Information Sample

You can always gauge my reality/unreality by giving me a call on the phone if you have any questions or want to talk. You can call (215) 999-9999, ext. 9999. I only answer my office phone Monday through Friday between the hours of 9am and 5pm. If you receive my voice mail please leave your full name, course number and a detailed message. I will return all phone calls within 24 hours on business days and the following work day if a message is left on a holiday or weekend.

You may also email me at ( . Please make sure that your full name and course number are noted in the body of your email. I respond to all emails within 24 hours of receipt. From time-to-time our email server is taken down for backup and upgrades, if for some reason your email is bounced back please call me with your questions.

  • Hours per week, when the class meets, where it meets
  • Credits
  • Course Description -- can use the catalog description
Course Description Sample

This course is set up to examine different trends and issues in Instructional Technology each week. You will have readings which explore the topic of the week, web links that provide examples or resources, and in some instances reinforcement exercises. I have listed "Items to think about" for each week which are to serve as guides for learning. I don't expect that you will send me the answers each week, but you should know the answers. Class weeks will officially begin on Tuesdays. Each week, one of you will serve as the facilitator for discussions, or to guide the class through the activity for the week. In this role, you will be expected to start the discussion on the Monday at the start of the week, and wrap things up on the Sunday. Activities and discussions are a big part of making this work, and in the course section -- "How you will be evaluated -- you will see that discussion room activity accounts for nearly 40% of your grade. Various activities account for the rest, culminating in a final project that demonstrates mastery. Collaboration on the final project is not only allowed, it is encouraged. Feel free to pull in one of your classmates on the project.

Since discussion in an asynchronous environment takes place over time, I expect that you will be checking in -- and participating -- several times during the week. This is extremely important if we are going to reach a "critical mass" needed for a discussion to continue to thrive.

Please carefully read through the course documents. If you have any questions, contact me or ask them in the discussion room.

Course Learning Objectives Sample
  • Demonstrate the ability to integrate the Internet, electronic databases and multimedia instruction, through the development of a technology based lesson.
  • Synthesize the roles that various media play in education through readings, lectures, research and discussions in and outside of the classroom.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the systems approach to problem solving and the analysis and evaluation of technological solutions to instructional problems through class discussions and assigned projects.
  • Explain how to bring together multimedia tools and practice for use in education through the development and assessment of multimedia learning tools, leading class discussions and describing to fellow group members how the concepts studied can be integrated into the classroom.
  • Applicable student population
  • Texts and required readings
  • How students will earn their grades
    • Grading policies
    • What does an A, B, C, D equal in points or percentage earned
    • Suggestions on how to succeed in the course etc.

Learning Environment

Each class meeting will have a variety of learning activities, such as, short lectures, demonstrations, group discussions, cooperative learning exercises, on-line activities and student presentations. Since the course focuses on active participation, you should come to class prepared to discuss the readings and projects assigned.

Course Requirements

Assignments Weight
Class Discussion 15%
Educational Software Reviews 20%
Software Demonstration & Fact Sheet 10%
Multimedia Lesson 55%
Grading Scale
94-100 A
90-93 B+
84-89 B
78-83 C+
< 78 F


  • Course outline, schedule for each class

Revised 8/11/05

Week 1





Introductions & Connections


  • Read chapter 1
  • Start thinking about ideas for the multimedia lesson

Week 2





Let’s Talk About Tools


  • Read chapter 3

Week 3





Planning: How & why


  • Read chapter 4
  • Project Plan due
  • Test dates and due dates for assignments
  • Assignments
Assignment Sample

Educational Software Review
Individually or in small groups you will review an educational software package of choice. A viable software selection will meet the following criteria:

  • Can be used to augment or replace lessons/modules offered in a traditional classroom
  • Meet at least one state teaching standard
  • Provides a sample product or limited use full product that can be accessed online or downloaded for testing and demonstration purposes

As a portion of the review process a formal report should be developed which addresses all of the questions noted in the “Software Review Fact Sheet”. Each question on the assessment sheet should be addresses thoroughly and where appropriate supporting evidence provided. There is no minimum or maximum length of the software assessment, the artifact will be graded on completeness and depth of thought. The document is due the session you will be making your presentation, and should be submitted in electronic form.

A copy of the “Software Review Fact Sheet” can be found under the Assignment icon on the course site.

Reviews will take place weeks 4, 6, 10, and 13.

  • Policies on lateness, attendance, etc. - make a firm stand on what you define as absenteeism and the accountability you will put on your students to adhere to that policy. If you are conducting your course as a successive progression from one unit of study to the next and you expect whole class participation, then you need to determine how you will deal with student family emergencies or work situations. Also determine your policies on technology emergencies: student computers will crash; Internet connections will fail.
    • Are there alternative methods for the student to notify you of these kinds of technical emergencies?
    • Do you expect work to be turned in on a timely basis, no matter what the technological issues?
  • Plagiarism and cheating policies
Sample Plagiarism Policy

Academic integrity is at the center of the educational experience at XYZ University. Students are therefore expected to uphold the highest standards of academic integrity and not engage in nor tolerate academic dishonesty.

Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, fabrication, cheating or plagiarism.  Any violation of academic integrity will be investigated and, where warranted, the student will receive appropriate sanctions through the University's Student Conduct Process. Please familiarize yourself with the current XYZ Student Handbook. In particular, adherence to the Student Conduct Policy and Academic Integrity Policy will help to ensure that your learning and living experiences are founded on integrity.

  • Individualization, ADA accommodations
Sample ADA Policy

Student Disability Support Services (SDSS) XYZ supports the educational endeavors of all students, including students with disabilities.  The American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. If you believe you have a disability that may impact your ability to fulfill your course or degree requirements, and you would like more information on applying for an accommodation, please contact the Assistant Dean of Students who serves as the SDSS Coordinator at 999-999-9999.

  • Some communication of your enthusiasm for the course, for the content
  • Any possibilities for students to individualize the course to meet their needs
  • Other considerations
    • You will need to consider some new policies and procedures and possibly some changes to old ones because of the unique challenges and problems with online environments.
      • How will you deal with a student who simply does not “show up” for class (post threads, or reply to emails for a week or two or three) and then returns with all of his assignments completed for the weeks missed?
      • How will you deal with students who experience technical problems beyond their control, such as computers crashing, servers malfunctioning, “lost” pagers?
      • How do you deal with the student who never posts work on time, who never gets in touch with his/her group in time for collaborative work? And who does not respond to any of your inquiries?
      • What will you do about the disgruntled student who sends you, particular students, or your entire class offensive email? Or the student who unwittingly sends objectionable email because he or she does not have the necessary skills to communicate well through text writing?
  • Provide information on what the students can expect from you. You should decide ahead of time what responsibility you will take in the course and provide it to your students in detail. For example,
    • How often will you respond to email? On what days? At what times?
    • Will you respond to every threaded discussion response by every student?
    • Are you the "IT" person for the course, or are there alternative help resources for the students?
    • Will you have online office hours? If so, how long will you office hours last and what days and times will they be held?
4. Select Material Delivery Methods

Select Material Delivery Methods

Determine which materials should be delivered in the face-to-face component of your course (if your course has one) and which items can be delivered online. Avoid delivering materials that will distract the student from the course objective. Do not add irrelevant information to "fill-up" the course site.

Prepare the materials for electronic delivery. This may include scanning graphics, creating files in a word processor, developing web pages, or creating slides in presentation software. If necessary, consult the Blackboard Administrator, or the Instructional Designer.

You may find the following guidelines useful.

  • In the place of a written lecture, several instructional articles that distill the major concepts addressed in the lecture could be utilized. 
  • Instructional units should be short and concise documents conveying relevant, critical information to support concepts, procedures, and/or performance-based skills. The instructional unit should be written specifically to communicate the content-knowledge necessary for improved, more advanced performance.
    • Ensure that each instructional article supports the learning objectives/goals of the course.
    • Get the learner's attention immediately by clearly making the topic relevant to something important within the learner's frame of reference (e.g. job, studies, professional development)
    • Integrate questions or other interactive activities -- such as exercises, problem-solving situations, and/or short simulations -- into the body of the module
    • Always limit the module to one or two main ideas or concepts
    • Use only the most important "need-to-know" supporting details
    • When possible, support the module content with audio and/or video clips containing relevant information, such as "how to" instructions or examples that further clarify key learning points.
    • A case study may be included within the body of the module, encouraging learners to notice connections between the module's text and the example as they learn a particular fact or concept. Alternatively, the course could be set up with a single case study that includes links to all the pertinent instructional units and student exercises. Learners would then use instructional units as needed to help develop solutions to the problems presented in the case study.
    • Simulations also may incorporate links to instructional units to be used as resources or prior research.
    • Self-evaluation typically tends to be quiz questions in multiple-choice or true/false format. You can increase motivation and learner interaction by using drag-and-drop design to match correct answers with their questions, or construct a game. In a crossword puzzle, for example, the critical cues for the Down and Across words could; be taken from the definitions of key terms within the course.
5. Build the Course Skeleton

Build the Course Skeleton

Create the organizational (or skeleton) structure of your course. This involves creating a series of clearly labeled folders that will hold course materials.

Make a folder for every week or module in your outline or mimic the structure of your syllabus.

Enter the Course Information area and create folders for the Syllabus, Grading Policies, Class Rules, and other basic items relating to course sub-folders for sub-topics as necessary.  We suggest that a series of folders be created to house course materials: 1 main folder for the course with sub folders created for each week, discussion topics, and general course materials. For example:

  • Course Overview
  • Course Materials
    • Week 1: Introduction, from date - to date (folder)
    • Week 2: Financial Decisions, from date - to date (folder)
    • Week 3: Decision Making, from date - to date (folder)
  • Etc....

Enter the Course Materials area in your course management system, and create folders that correspond with your folders.

6. Add Instructor Introduction

Add Instructor Introduction

Enter the Instructor Information content area and create an entry for yourself. If you have a picture of yourself, include that too.

Suggested content:

  • Provide a photo, or an audio/video introduction of yourself
  • If you have a personal website provide the URL
  • Office Hours (office hours should be a combination of some of the following formats -- face-to-face on campus, chat rooms, telephone, email, or asynchronous threaded discussion)
  • Suggested items to address in the narrative:
    • Information about you (interests, research, credentials, consulting activities, publications, etc.)
    • Your interest in the discipline
    • Teaching philosophy
    • Enthusiasm for teaching - for the course
    • How the course fits within the program curriculum

My name is <Instructor Name> and I will be your on-line instructor for “Introduction to Managerial and Financial Accounting”. This overview will give you some information about my background, information about the course and overall course ground rules.

First, a little bit about me. I am a practicing Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with <Company Name> located here in the Philadelphia area. My experience over the last 28 years has been helping companies in a variety of industry sectors with their accounting, taxation and management problems. These companies have ranged from early stage start-ups to very large established companies. In many cases, I act as a management consultant to help companies solve critical problems. My specialty is using accounting and other information to help companies value their businesses. I bring this practical, real-world experience to the classroom to share with you. Please feel free to take advantage of it.

And now, about the course. My objective is not to teach you how to become an accountant but rather to teach you about accounting. I want you to gain a fundamental understanding of what accounting is and how you will be able to use the concepts to make the best possible business decisions. As I tell all my students, if you want to master business administration, you must master the language of business – accounting.

This is an on-line course and with that comes a new approach learning. Here’s how it will work. For each of the five weeks of this course, there will be a “Weekly Course Sheet”. These sheets are your guide for what to do and will include weekly assignments, objectives, items to think about, additional resources and on-line discussion instructions. The weekly assignment from the Weekly Course Sheet must be submitted by midnight each Monday. I will post announcements once a week on Wednesday so please log on and read.

Course materials will consist of two textbooks plus course material posted on-line. The two textbooks are:

  1. Analysis for Financial Management (7th Edition) by Robert C. Higgins and
  2. Introduction to Management Accounting (13th Edition) by Horngren, Sundem and Stratton

As your instructor, I am available for questions or discussion. I will respond to e-mails or telephone calls within 24 hours. If you call by telephone, I will probably have to call you back, so please leave a number, subject to be discussed and a time when you are available to receive the call.

  • e-mail:
  • telephone: 999-999-9999 (office)
I look forward to having each of you in my on-line class and hope that you will gain a significant amount of accounting knowledge as you pursue your MBA.


Create additional entries for teaching, assistants, graduate assistants, guest speakers or other course staff members.

7. Populate the Course

Populate the Course

Create each course folder and add the content.

  • Include a short description for each item.
  • Indicate what the item is and how it is relevant to the lesson.

Week 3 - Weblogs in Education

1/30/06 - 2/5/06


  • Explore the opportunities for using Weblogs to provide multimedia education through research and practice
  • Discuss a variety of issues related to learner motivation and their impact on training design.
  • Create a personal weblog using the blogger software

Click on the title of this section for assignment instructions and guidelines.

The description helps students understand how to associate (frame/attend to) this item in relation to the rest of the course materials.

8. Create Opportunities for Community Building

Create Opportunities for Community Building

"A free exchange of ideas, opinions, and feelings is the lifeblood of collaborative learning." - J. McKinley

Enter the Learning Management System Discussion Board, create a Forum, and post an introductory assignment. For example, you might ask each student to write on to three paragraphs explaining who they are and why they took your course. Require students to read entries from other students. You might also encourage them to respond to each other. This is the first step in creating an "online community" for your course.


Interaction is a very important part of learning, and it is especially integral to online learning. Notice that 40% of your grade is determined by Discussion Room participation and facilitation. I'll be looking for you to make significant contributions to the discussion every week. You get points for answering questions, thoughtful responses, additional questions, useful Web finds, anything that moves the learning forward. This shouldn't be the educational equivalent of spamming. Check in a couple of times a week, and don't fall asleep at your computer. You also don't want to leave the Discussion Room facilitator for the week twisting in the wind, so check to see if they have asked any questions and help them out. They'll do the same for you when it is your turn.

The success of our discussion room is dependent on each student feeling comfortable to share their opinions, wrestle with ideas and concepts, and ask questions in a safe and supportive environment. As J. McKinley so aptly states: "A free exchange of ideas, opinions, and feelings is the lifeblood of collaborative learning." This is the class climate we wish to establish.

If you are not going to be able to participate for some reason, please let me know ahead of time by email or phone.

Tips for strengthening discussions

  • When introducing a new thought/concept/introduction, be sure to start by

Clicking "Add New Thread."

  • The subject line is important. When starting a new thread, make sure to create a subject line that both clues in the reader and catches the eye of the audience.
  • When replying to a posting, leave the "re:" position of the subject line, but feel free to edit the subject line to express how you are extending the conversation. This way everyone can get a quick glance at the direction of the conversation within a thread without actually opening each posting.
  • Provide an assessment rubric to the students that defines your expectations.

Plan on adding at least one new topic to the Discussion Board Forum each week. Make sure this topic requires students to formulate an answer and back it up with facts to demonstrate their understanding. Monitor and respond to student threads and encourage student to do the same.

Sample Discussion Posting

Should companies promote health economic information to USA employers?

Background & Instructions: In the USA a large portion of health insurance premiums for individuals under the age of 65 is paid for by employers. In an effort to manage premium increases, employers have formed healthcare employer coalitions and have implemented Health Enhancement, disease screening and similar programs. Should pharmaceutical companies allocate phase IV funding to support research and/or promotional activities with employers?  Team A should argue that employers are an important customer segment for whom limited research and promotional spending budgets should be allocated.  Team B should argue that limited research and promotional spend budgets should be allocated only to support activities directed toward patients, academic medical centers and managed markets customers.  Please support your posting with examples of successful or unsuccessful collaborations between employers and pharmaceutical companies or with examples of work productivity messages.

9. Create Announcement

Create Announcements

Post and introductory message in the announcements area. Welcome the students to your course, direct them to the Course Information area to obtain the syllabus, and indicate the location of the first class assignment or reading.


This course is set up to examine a different aspect of pharmaceutical marketing each week. You will have readings which explore the topic of the week, and web links that provide examples or resources. I have listed activities for each week which are to serve as guides for learning. Class weeks will officially begin on Mondays. Each week, you will conduct research, post a portion of your final project to the discussion forum and participate in group discussions. Each team is expected to post their materials to the discussion forum on the Sunday at the start of the week, and wrap things up on the Saturday. Activities and discussions are a big part of making this work, and in the course section -- "How you will be evaluated -- you will see that discussion room activity accounts for nearly 30% of your grade. Various activities account for the rest, culminating in two final projects that demonstrate mastery.

Since discussion in an asynchronous environment takes place over time, I expect that you will be checking in -- and participating -- several times during the week. This is extremely important if we are going to reach a "critical mass" needed for a discussion to continue to thrive.

To reduce the likelihood of the technology interfering with your learning experience start exploring the site links and the materials prior to the official course start. Please start your exploration by reviewing the Course Description by clicking on the link located on the left-hand side of the screen.

Wherever you see an icon symbol means that there is additional information to be found -- try clicking on different words and symbols to see what happens. When you finish with this activity you may want to drop into the Communications Room and click on the Discussion Board link to see who has been out there chatting.

Next take a look a course materials nested under the "Resource Room" link.

If you are not sure how to use the online course tools, click on the "Help" link located of the left side of the screen to access visual quick-start tutorials.

Have fun with your explorations!

10. Prepare for Delivery

Prepare for Delivery

Preview course materials by checking each link, proofreading descriptions, and view the course from the students' perspective.


  • Email an announcement of the first session to participants
  • Post an announcement welcoming the students, outlining course expectations and providing scaffolding for the first session
  • Email students a course introduction and instructions on how to access the course materials.