The fifth annual report on online education in the United States revealed that nearly 3.5 million college students enrolled in at least one online course in Fall 2006 (Allen & Seaman, 2007). The Peak Group estimates 1 million K-12 online course enrollments in 2007 (NACOL, 2007). In addition, online courses are continuing to expand in terms of both numeric enrollment records and institutions’ long-term strategies for meeting the needs of online courses. Because of the common use of computers and information technologies in education, especially the Web, distance courses and online courses have become two interchangeable terms. With the rapid growth of online courses and online programs, how to design and develop effective online or distance courses has attracted increasing attention from all sectors of education, corporate, and industry. Online teaching and learning is different from traditional teaching and learning (Harmon & Jones, 2001). In addition, many online course designers and developers, such as the majority of faculty members in higher education, have little or no formal training in instructional design and learning theories (Perrin, 2004) and many of them will attempt to transfer traditional classroom teaching to online teaching (Johnson & Aragon, 2003a). Therefore, guidelines on how to design and develop online and distance courses are needed.
There has been a wealth of writings on how to design and deliver online and distance courses. The literature related to online and distance course design can be roughly classified into three categories: 1) models and frameworks for online and distance course design; 2) critical factors impacting students’ online learning; and 3) practical guidelines for how to design online and distance courses.
The first category consists of instructional design models and frameworks for online course designers. These models and frameworks usually contain a combination of a set of instructional design principles for analyzing the content and learners (Johnson & Arogan, 2003b; Swan, Shea, Fredericksen, Pickett, & Pelz, 2000), promoting online interaction and a sense of social presence (Moallem, 2003; Northrup, 2001). Online interaction refers to the dialogue(s) and communication between and/or among physically-separated participants (learners and instructors) in online learning environments with the support of educational technology (Moore, 1989). Social presence is viewed as directly impacting the development of community and collaboration in online courses (Swan, Garrison & Richardson, in press) and is defined as “the degree to which a person is perceived as ‘real’ in mediated communication” (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997, p. 8). More broadly, a sense of presence refers to a sense of “being in and belonging in” (Shin, 2002, p. 22) a course and a feeling of “involvement, warmth, and immediacy” (Danchak, Walther & Swan, 2001, p 1) from physically-separated participants while interacting with each other in online learning environments. Generally speaking, this category provides procedures and steps in the process of online course design and strategies for integrating effective instructional principles and learning theories into the course design. However, most of the models require instructional design knowledge background to comprehend and implement.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Instructional Design: The systematic way to design and develop a course or instructional materials. Its process includes major steps, such as the analysis of potential learners, the analysis of the learning objectives, the analysis of the learning environment, and the arrangement and organization of learning and teaching activities. The arrangement and organization of learning and teaching activities are mainly based on the results of the analysis of learners, the learning objectives, and the learning environment.
Learning Theories: Theories that describe how people learn and help us understand how to improve learning.
Sense of Presence: A sense of “being in and belonging in” a course and/or a feeling of “involvement, warmth, and immediacy” from physically-separated participants (learners and instructors) while interacting with each other in online environments.
Online Interaction: The dialogue(s) and communication between and/or among physically-separated participants in online learning environments with the support of educational technology.
Online Community: A virtual community whose members are connected by technology, specifically the web or Internet.
Instructional Strategy: The approach to organizing and arranging learning activities, such as selecting and sequencing learning activities, organizing presentations, selecting and using of media and etc. to achieve the learning objectives.
Pedagogical Support: Guidelines, tools, resources and etc. that provide or are oriented to provide support for teaching and instruction.
Course Management System: A tool or system that hosts or delivers a course.
Social Presence: The degree to which a person is perceived as ‘real’ in mediated communication.
Online Course or Distance Course: A course with at least 80% of the content delivered via the web or Internet.