How Do I Create an Online Course? – Part 2: Planning Process and Practical Tips

How Do I Create an Online Course? – Part 2: Planning Process and Practical Tips

This is part two of my series of how to create an online course. The aim of this series is to make you familiar with the basics of planning and developing a learning design to successfully implement a blended learning environment. As with face-to-face courses, online courses also require targeted planning of the learning process and the learning environment, not to mention the fact that teachers have already developed their own teaching style tailored to the needs of the learners. This introduction takes into account that many teachers or learning designers have to create an online course for the first time and without appropriate models and working materials that can be easily accessed. See also Part one.

How Do I Organise My Online Course? – First Draft of the Learning Design

In order to summarise all aspects of the learning design in an appropriate way, you should create a schedule table that includes, among other things, the following items:

  • Learning objectives and teaching content

  • Context of the course: Who are the learners? What are their needs? What previous knowledge do they have?

  • Tasks for learners

  • Resources: what learning/time/etc. resources available

  • Performance measurement: how learners can show whether they have understood and can apply what they have learnt (test achievement)

  • Learning environment: which technologies are available

  • Learning methods: According to the Community of Inquiry (see here) can be considered here:

    • Social presence: students introduce themselves in the forum, synchronous tutorials, audio feedback, evaluation grid for student discussions

    • Cognitive presence: case studies, individual assessment of performance, presentation of group work

    • Teacher presence: screencast, weekly announcements, comments from teachers in the forum, visualised course plan

In all planning activities, the following aspects should be taken into account

  1. Clear definition of learning objectives: Learning outcomes must be formulated in such a way as to show what learners should know, understand and be able to do as a result of the learning process.

  2. Examination performance must be consistent with learning objectives: Assessment activities are directly linked to the intended learning outcomes and point the way from the learning outcomes via the teaching activities to the assessment of an examination performance.

  3. Course contents: Are they well organised, divided into manageable sections? Can students access content and use different learning formats?

  4. Clear course navigation: The course is well organised and guides students in the learning process (e.g. notes or links to materials). There is a logical flow. Support is provided when needed.

  5. Available resources: There are sufficient appropriate resources available that the students need in the teaching process.

  6. Learner-to-learner interactions and learning communities: Course objectives and activities include cooperative and interactive learning. Activities/strategies are used that support learning through the online learning community, e.g. group projects, teamwork, exchange of electronic documents or other common learning-related activities. Students are encouraged to interact with each other as the opportunities within the course are spread across several modes of communication.

Consideration of the “Digital Divide” and Heterogeneity of Your Learners

When planning online and mixed learning courses with heterogeneous student groups, particular attention should be paid to ensuring that the diversity of personal, social and cultural backgrounds and challenges faced by learners and which make online learning more attractive (e.g. multiple burdens due to study, work and family and other commitments requiring a high degree of flexibility) are taken into account. The phenomenon of the “digital divide” often also poses major challenges for learners (e.g. technical equipment, internet connection, media literacy, etc.). Other challenges include:

  • Life management: sharing available time between family and work, inflexible childcare, self-management

  • Digital inequality: gap between those people/groups that have access to IT and those without access, e.g. internet access, access to desktop PCs beyond mobile devices, socio-economic status and purchasing power for IT equipment

  • Generational aspects: Millennials know about technology, but are not necessarily experts in learning with new media; need for social networking

  • Cultural diversity: different learning cultures of learners due to socialisation, individualistic/collectivist cultures, different meanings of signs, images, colours, history, politics, etc.; communication styles in-/directness; language skills


There is a saying: “The early bird catches the worm.” – Having said this, it is also important to be honest with yourself, while developing a learning design for your course. Also, online courses require targeted planning of the learning process and the learning environment. Part three of this series will discover the concrete planning activities and provide an overview on the learning methods.

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Dr. Maik Arnold is Professor for Non-Profit-Management and Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Transfer at University of Applied Science Dresden.