Here are some of the best practices WebJunction has used for course development.
Before building a lesson, we suggest that your developers plan out the learning experience. Your audience and their needs, the subject matter, and your resources and technology all affect the type of course you build. Then learning goals must be established, a curriculum developed, and a script written, and all the images, audio, and other assets organized before starting to create a course. Completing this planning work before entering information into the authoring tool makes the course development process easier and more efficient and leads to more effective learning.
1. Audience Analysis
The first step when deciding what material to put online is to consider the intended audience. Ask the following questions:
Who needs the training? The answer to this question guides your approach to the learning you create. Is the training for senior managers or entry-level employees? Are the learners familiar with the topic or is this an introduction?
What is the learner's education level? An online course for masters-level students may differ significantly from a course geared toward high school students.
What is the learner's access to technology? You may have to account for learners who access the Internet primarily through dial-up connections. If so, complex, bandwidth-heavy features, such as streaming video, should not be used as the main content presentation method.
Have you taken into account learners with disabilities? Will you be designing with accessibility in mind?
2. Initial Topic Analysis
This analysis helps you get a sense for the type of training that this topic requires and how it impacts resources.
Is the topic a hard or soft skill?
Hard skills, like accounting, have an established set of rules and processes that must be learned, and deviation from these rules is usually not acceptable. The training has to emphasize these rules, provide learners with an opportunity to practice them, and test them to ensure they follow them properly. Training on hard skills topics differs from soft skills, like customer service or interpersonal communication. Soft skills have a less well-defined set of rules, focus on strategies for dealing with unique situations, and often rely on the learner's judgment. These topics use an instructional approach that includes simulations, role-play scenarios, or personal reflection.
Are you teaching a physical process?
Teaching physical processes is challenging, but not impossible, online. You will likely need to use very specific photographs, video clips, or animations to explain and model the process.
B. Course Development Process
Before building your course, we strongly recommend you do preliminary instructional design and organizational work. While there are many ways to organize and produce online courses, we advise you to first identify and establish your learning goals: what you want learners to know or be able to do when they've finished the course. We suggest that you create a detailed outline of the course so you have a map for how you plan to present the content. Finally, write a script of the text you plan to put into the course and gather any images and multimedia materials that you need before you begin work.
It's a good rule of thumb to include the following elements in all webcourses:
Courses will clearly state learning objectives for the learners.
Courses will provide information on navigation and getting technical support.
Courses must be accessible to learners with disabilities. At a minimum, a text version of the course should be made available for download. Alt tags and long descriptions should be included for images and flash exercises as appropriate.
Assessments should include descriptive feedback for learners about why their answers are right or wrong.
Below, we outline how to handle these items, and throw in a few more suggested things for you to follow as you design a terrific learning experience for your users.
1. Learning Objectives
When thinking about learning objectives, complete this statement: "At the end of this course, learners will be able to…." Be as specific as possible, using action verbs to describe what learners will be able to do by the end of the course.
Sample Learning Objectives
At the end of this course, learners will be able to:
List three ways media coverage can boost the sustainability of your library's programs.
Use filtering and restricting techniques to increase the effectiveness of a Web search.
Identify the reasons having a technology plan that includes upgrading software is important to your library.
Name five aspects of African-American culture that are relevant to the selection and use of library materials.
2. Course Structure
Review the content and determine what material is needed to meet the learning objectives. Are you missing anything? Do you have too much information? Decide what you need and remove what you do not, and then create an outline of the content. The outline helps you organize the information into a logical presentation and avoid leaving something out. It also gives you a high-level view of the course from the beginning, at a point where adding, deleting, or moving content is simple.
Before you begin, think through how you want to test your learners. Link these assessments back to your learning objectives; if you have indicated that learners will be able to list three types of federal funding, an assessment question could ask them to select the correct three items from a list of options. The hardest part about writing assessments is coming up with plausible "distractors." Distractors are incorrect answer options that could be right. Good distractors make your questions more effective at gauging what participants are learning.
5. Script: Style, Tone, and Voice
We recommend taking the time to write a script before technical development begins. This script is your draft course; it should include all the text that will appear on each screen. Writing this in advance gives you a chance to edit and rework the material before you begin building it, to make sure that the order of the content makes sense, to discover missing information, and to ensure consistency in style and tone.
Consider your audience when planning how you are going to write the text in the course. It is important to avoid talking down to learners, and you should try to make the presentation as engaging and involving as possible. Use appropriate examples and scenarios to bring the material to life.
6. Designing to be accessible to learners with disabilities
Courses should be designed to be accessible to learners with disabilities. At a minimum, a text version of the course should be made available for download. Alt tags and long descriptions should be included for images and flash exercises as appropriate.
7. Outside Review
Finally, it is important to have the course edited by several outside reviewers to ensure consistency, appropriate language and usability of the course you have created. At least one outside reviewer should be a typical end-user, and another should be another Subject Matter Expert who will have some knowledge of the topic at hand.
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