Design and Delivery

Whether you are using prebuilt courseware within a Learning Management System or creating your own courses based on curriculum usually delivered in the classroom, review what students will be expected to learn with a critical eye toward how it will be delivered. Within the formal structure of an LMS, access may be structured in a specific way, but that is only one aspect of delivery.

Follow these basic rules of good instructional design for online courseware, which include how the course materials will be delivered and received. The relationship between teacher and student is different in digital learning and that must be factored into the lesson plan, and teaching style. As an example, your course may be provided to you and already installed into the school’s LMS, but if there are no goal setting activities then you can add these in an online discussion forum attached to the course/class. Content must be adapted to conform to your needs and the needs of your students. Click on or tap each of the titles below to read more about each issue.

Getting comfortable

Help your students get comfortable. Provide a first assignment where they need to complete an orientation that familiarizes them with their learning experience.

Start with a simple exercise such as “seek and find”. Using a study guide or similar tool, engage students in finding the areas they need to use to complete the course. These can include discussion boards, drop boxes, lesson content areas, navigation tools, and required resources. Limit the exercise to resources included in the course and exclude Internet searches and offsite resources to avoid any confusion about what is in the course and what is external to it.

Goal setting

Write goal setting and planning activities into the course to help students visualize and commit to their path to completion. This is a good place to insert a Code of Conduct exercise provided in the previous lesson.

As students begin the course, they commit to the course requirements, become aware of group activity requirements, meet fellow students online, and come together to bond around the learning experience.

Opportunities for interaction

Provide opportunities for interaction even if students are completing your course at their own pace. Have students make commitments about what they are going to complete each week. Ask them to post these commitments on a discussion board. This is particularly helpful in courses in which students are completing the work at their own pace. Each week the learner can comment on how they did in reaching their week’s goal and how they are feeling about their progress. Expect them to reply to at least one or two other people in the discussion. This activity should be part of the course and should count for marks.

Problem-based learning

Utilize problem-based learning (PBL) within the course design. This approach requires students to examine a problem and to learn material to solve the problem, making them an active participant in their learning. In PBL, students learn both thinking strategies and domain knowledge. As a form of active learning, the goals of PBL are to help the students develop more flexible knowledge, effective problem-solving skills, self-directed learning, and effective collaboration skills. These promote intrinsic motivation and are very well aligned with the opportunities provided by the digital learning environment.

Team and individual assignments

Try to combine both team and individual assignments in your courses. Include ways that students can individualize assignments and activities to match their preferred style of learning at every possible opportunity. For instance, tell students they may opt to present their learning in the form of a table or prose. Another idea might be to present ideas using point form or a flow chart. Utilize team or partner assignments to provide accountability to others as a motivator, and to tackle larger problems using the PBL model.

Must be doable

Ensure the course is “doable”. Sometimes too much information is presented and too many assignments relate to the same topic. Look realistically at the time students will need to spend online and whether the course is too grand in scope.

View the course layout with a critical eye. Make sure courses are easy to navigate with little scrolling and clicking to avoid learner frustration. A general rule of thumb is that if you have to try to figure it out, it doesn't work.


Ensure the course matches the description given to students when they begin. If interaction has been promised, make sure there are opportunities available. The course outline should provide more than just a summary of the topics to be covered. While it must clearly state the learning objectives and means of obtaining them, it should also include an outline of the content delivery method, or be followed by a link to another tool that provides this.

If you successfully integrate these strategies into the delivery of your online learning content, course completion will become less of an issue and you will in turn have less work to do in trying to help students who are falling behind. This leave more time for assessing student learning and achievement.