The Course Development Process#

The Course Development Process Overview#

This course development process model is based on the ADDIE model and tied to the principles of backward design. By working backwards, we start first with defining our learning outcomes and work backwards to determining what content we need to create. It looks like this:

  1. Start with learning outcomes - What do we expect students will be able to do or know when they complete this course?

  2. Determine your assessment - How will we authentically measure that the students have met the learning outcomes?

  3. Outline the content required - What content, teaching materials, and strategies will provide students with what they need to do well on the assessments.

The ADDIE Model breaks down this process into five iterative phases, and we’ve added clear outputs and inputs to each phase. The outputs from one phase generally serve as inputs to the next phase.

An ADDIE Model Diagram

As you go through this process, you will see that each of these phases are iterative and may loop back into a previous phase as ideas, goals and feedback about the course are gathered. Each phase has inputs and outputs that inform future phases and help the team move forward in the process.

  • Phase 1 is about information collection. You collect information about your project (who is the audience, why is this course being created) and decide on the learning outcomes. At this stage you will create a draft course syllabus and a list of learning outcomes.

  • Phase 2 is about designing the course. This is where you will decide on the structure of the course, start to think about the types of assessments and content that will be in the course. At this stage, you will create a course outline document.

  • Phase 3 is the building phase. This can be one of the longest phases as it requires your subject matter expert to create or curate content, and for the instructional designer to build that content and the assessments in the course. By the end of this phase, you should have the entire course built in the LMS.

  • Phase 4 is the review phase. In this phase your course team as well as a couple of beta testers will review the course from start to finish. You will test the assessments, check for accessibility, and ensure that the course is ready to be launched to the public.

  • Phase 5 is the support and evaluation phase. This phase will extend into the delivery of the course where communication with learners is key.

The goal of using this process is to increase the speed at which a course is created and to improve the team dynamic. Remember, that while these phases are presented in a linear order, you will often have to return to previous phases and make adjustments.

Phase 1: Information Collection#

The goal of the information collection phase is to develop a shared and definite understanding of the learning goals and outcomes for this course. This is also the phase where you will want to collect as much information about the project as possible: what is the timeline, which resources are available, are there any existing materials that can be used, what constraints does this project have, etc.

During this phase, you may need to provide some information or education to your SME about online learning. Some SMEs have little to no background in online learning, so you may need to provide examples or suggestions on the best ways to present materials, what kinds of assessments are possible given the LMS platform and perhaps even explain some of the educational theories/principles to help them understand the process. It can be helpful to share examples of existing courses or a menu of options that outlines what is available within the scope of the project or within the LMS.

By the end of this phase, you should be able to create a draft “about page” or syllabus for the course that includes:

  • A short course description that answers “what will be taught in this course” and “how will it be taught”.

  • The learning outcomes.

  • Initial ideas about assessments.

  • Expected length of the course (number of hours or weeks).

  • Information about the SME(s) or course instructors.

Outcomes and Templates for the Information Collection phase that may be helpful:

Remember, this phase can require multiple meetings to ensure that the entire team is on the same page regarding why this course is being created, who the learners will be, and what resources will be available throughout the development process. Depending on the project, your SME(s) and the timeline, this phase could take anywhere from one meeting to several weeks.

Phase 2: Design#

In phase two, you will use the outputs from phase one (the syllabus and outcomes list) as your inputs. Here, your focus will be on deciding on the assessments and teaching materials that will be used to help your learners achieve the learning outcomes. The goal of this phase is to create a course outline that identifies the structure and components of your course.

The outline can give your team a sense of the amount of content that needs to be curated or created and how many assessments need to be created. This can give your team a chance to predict how much time it will take to develop all of the components of the course, and to check in on project scope and make adjustments to your outline.

The ID in this phase will likely be able to provide valuable information regarding the structure, content forms to ensure a mix of media, and possible assessment types. The ID will have an understanding of what is possible within the LMS and can share examples and suggestions from successful courses.

By the end of this phase, you should have a Course Outline

  • Ideally, by the end of the process this will be a large document that tracks every element of your course (each video, text input, assessment question, etc.).

  • You can assign components of the course to various members of your team to be tracked during phase three.

  • Your outline should include your ideas for assessments at this stage.

  • Remember, that as assets are collected and your team moves through the development process, this living document will grow and change.

Note: In this phase, you want to remember the principle of constructive alignment. You want to make sure that the content and assessments you are planning match or align with the learning outcome that you have written. Keep in mind that learning outcomes can be changed if you decide that the content or assessment options do not match that outcome. You can review constructive alignment here.

Outcomes and Templates for the Information Collection phase that may be helpful:

Remember, that this is a highly iterative phase in the course development process. You will likely come back to this phase as you move on to asset collection and build. Your course outline should be a living document that tracks all of the changes and components within your course.

Phase 3: Asset Collection & Build#

The goal of this phase is to create or collect all of the course materials and build the course in the LMS. The course outline that you created in phase two is a vital input in this phase and will continue to grow in this phase.

In this phase, it is important to share any background materials that may be used in the creation of this course (a handbook, an existing in-person training deck, a series of powerpoint lectures, etc). A well-organized shared repository (a google drive, dropbox, etc.) for course materials can be really helpful during this phase, especially with larger teams and lots of content being accumulated.

In this phase you may need to support your SME(s) in their collection, translation and creation of content. This is often the busiest phase of the process for the instructional designer. You may need to:

  • Provide video scripting and video production suggestions.

  • Translate existing materials into text, images, and interactive content.

  • Find or create images, graphics, etc.

  • Build assessments, provide assessment instructions and connect to the gradebook.

  • Create and implement a design theme or branding for the course.

Building the course in the LMS at this stage helps everyone on the team to visualize the course and make adjustments as needed to the structure, content, assessments and learning outcomes.

In this phase of the process you will likely have ongoing check-in meetings with the entire team. You can use the Course Outline Template to create status updates that are shared with the team. These status updates can:

  • provide information on progress

  • Identify current roadblocks

  • assign upcoming tasks

  • check on the guiding principles or important features of your course (for example, do you have engagement triggers planned?)

Note: In this phase it is important to remember that learners have different learning preferences and needs. It is important to provide a variety of media in a course if it is possible. A mix of text, video, images and varying levels of interactivity will be important here to create opportunities for active learning. It is also important to remind the SME of learner’s motivations for learning and create opportunities for learners to connect the content to their own experiences and apply their learning.

By the end of this phase you should have a completed course built in the LMS. Your course outline document should track every component of the course and flag each component as inputted into the course. Your course outline becomes both a design and project management document in this phase. This is often the longest phase of the course development process: some SMEs will have content that is easily translatable, while others may need to create content from scratch which can be a lengthy process.

Remember to check in on the learning outcomes throughout this phase: are the assessments aligned with the learning outcomes? Do the learners have the right content to help them complete those assessments successfully?

Phase 4: Review#

The focus of this phase is student satisfaction. Coming into this phase, you should have a completed course built in the LMS and an up to date course outline document. In this phase the goal is to review the course from the learner’s perspective before launching it to the public.

In this phase, you will want your entire team to do a course walk through. This review should be very thorough; every link should be clicked, every video viewed, every assessment completed, etc. Some things to look for during your review:

  • Clear assignment instructions and deadlines

  • A clear grading scheme & instructions for how to access a certificate (if applicable)

  • Appropriate image alt-tags, video transcripts, and other accessibility tools

  • Broken links, typos, design inconsistencies, etc.

  • LMS admin such as course about page, start/end dates, release dates, grading, advanced settings, etc.

You should also invite a group of beta testers (ideally people not involved in the course development, and people within your target audience) to go through the course as a learner and provide feedback. While learners can look for similar items to the course team, your beta testers should provide feedback on:

  • Flow of information

  • Level of difficulty or any unclear concepts

  • Clarity of assessment instructions and deadlines

Note: It is important for your reviewers and beta testers to pay close attention to the learning outcomes of the course. Do you think that a learner could reasonably achieve the learning outcomes? Do they have the content that they need to be able to show evidence of their learning? Do the assessments give learners the opportunity to showcase or confirm their learning?

Outcomes and Templates for the Information Collection phase that may be helpful:

By the end of this phase, you should have incorporated feedback from your reviewers and beta testers and have a fully populated course in the LMS. This phase is your ‘quality control’ phase which may include requirements from the SME’s employer or organization.

Remember to do reviews on desktop and mobile devices!

Phase 5: Support#

This phase usually happens during the delivery of the course. As a result, not all instructional designers will be involved at this phase, but it is important to have strategies in place prior to the launch of the course.

In this phase, communication with learners is key. Creating a communication plan that outlines the type and frequency of communication can help to keep learners engaged and progressing through your course. It is also important for your SMEs or course instructors to have a plan for how they will communicate with and support learners. You can help them to create a support calendar and assign tasks to instructors or team members. This is especially important for synchronous courses where learners expect to have interaction with and communication from their instructors.

Your communication plan should include:

  • The method of communication: email, course updates, discussion forum posts, a course slack channel, etc.

  • The frequency of communication: weekly, daily, only on the start/end dates, etc.

  • Depending on the structure of your course (asynchronous vs synchronous) learners may have different expectations for the frequency and method of communication.

Note: Even in asynchronous courses, learners appreciate the opportunity to connect with the course instructors. That may be through emails, responses to discussion forums, or even the odd ‘live’ video call. Consider how the instructor(s) in your course can be available to the learners as you develop your communication plan.

It is important to include opportunities for learners to provide feedback to the course team. You can solicit this feedback through:

  • Surveys embedded in the course.

  • Surveys emailed to learners.

  • Analytic tools and completion numbers.

  • Grade reports.

By the end of this phase, you should develop a communication plan and have opportunities for learner feedback in place prior to the launch of the course. This phase continues into the delivery of the course and will provide information for how to improve future iterations of the course.

Templates for the Information Collection phase that may be helpful:

Remember: Course development is an iterative process. It is important to assume that there will be some changes made after the first group of learners completes the course and provides feedback.