Online Instructional Development in Higher Ed

In brick-and-mortar higher education institutions, where online learning is a grass roots effort, the quality of the course is dependent upon the professor/instructor. In other words, online environments quite often mirror classroom environments. A good classroom environment often translates to a reasonable online experience as well. The professors who put as much energy into their ability to teach and create quality instructional strategies, as they do their research, quite often deliver a better learning experience.

When institutions partner their instructors with instructional designers to help them convert their classroom environment into an appropriate online environment, the odds of creating a quality course that compliments the instructor's experience and vision for the course is greatly improved. However, the course is still a reflection of the instructor's view on the subject matter. Like the previous scenario, the product is the instructor's course and not necessarily the institutions course which can be delivered by any qualified instructor.

In institutions and organizations where online learning requirements come from the top down and are an integral part of the institutions charter, online environments have a better chance of being designed to accommodate multiple instructors. Such learning environments can be created using a SME/ISD model. This model brings one or more subject matter experts (that may or may not be the instructors) together with an instructional designer, to design and develop a course based on learning objectives and the best instructional strategies for that course. In this model, there is a greater chance that a program of courses are designed to work together in such a way that the learning experience is maximized.

So, we have three scenarios. Which one is the best? The answer depends on your perspective of higher education. Discrepancies between professors, when it comes to teaching, has been around for a very long time. If institutions felt it were a true issue, institutions would have changed already, and some have. We all will have our opinions and qualitative observations to support our opinions.

Which one is for you? To answer this question, think about the following:

  • How much influence do you have in your institution where you could make things happen a certain way?
  • Where does the institution want the online course positioned in the big picture? Complete online programs or the occasional course? Required courses or electives? Now and in the future?
  • Once you decide on the scenario that you can work with, what are the natural barriers that you need to plan around or through?
  • Create a plan.
  • Get buy in.

This is by no means an easy process, especially if the third scenario is your goal. But, if you take one step at a time, you can get there.