Planning Your Course Structure and Design: Part 1

Part 1 in our series on planning your course structure in design. No matter your subject matter, audience, or level of expertise, a course must be carefully plotted out to achieve its purpose successfully.

Now that you've gained a better understanding of smart topic planning techniques, it's time to take the next step to realizing the course of your dreams:

Course Structure and Design Planning

Welcome to the exciting part of course planning! This might also be the most potentially overwhelming part. That's because the structure and design of your course is created from a large number of various elements, all interwoven and interconnected, where each one builds off of the other. Each decision you make regarding one element is likely to impact your decisions regarding other elements.


That's where we at Chalk & Tablet come in. We break course structure and design down into eight manageable, broad categories:

  1. Course Format

  2. Technology

  3. Communication & Support

  4. Content Delivery

  5. Assessment Strategy

  6. Development Plan

  7. Implementation

  8. Course Evaluation & Improvement

For the first part of our three-part series, let's cover a quick What-Why breakdown of each of the first three categories (trust us, it's much better for your sanity this way). Stayed tuned for the remaining categories covered in Part 2 and Part 3!


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1. Course Format


What?

The way in which your audience will interact with you and your course content.


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Synchronous

Learning is primarily instructor-led and occurs at the same time with little to no flexibility.

Asynchronous

Learning is primarily student-led and occurs at varying times with max flexibility.

Hybrid

A combination of Asynchronous and Synchronous learning.


Why?

Your course format is the foundation of your course. It's critical to start your course structure and design planning with this stage, as your course format impacts the decisions you'll make for the seven remaining categories. Selecting a course format that doesn't align with your or your audience's needs is the quickest way to kill enrollments.


Imagine the following scenarios:


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Misaligned with Your Needs

Your audience prefers the synchronous format of your course because they like the live interaction, but your schedule is preventing you from delivering some of the interaction they expect.

Misaligned with Audience Needs

Your audience is extremely busy and needs the flexibility of an asynchronous course, but your course is fully synchronous.

Misaligned with Your Technology (2. on the list)

You developed your course in a synchronous format only to later discover that the Learning Management system you have to use doesn't have the instructor tools you require to teach your course effectively.


2. Technology


What?

The technological tools you'll need to build and manage your course.


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Learning Management System (LMS)

The software that makes your course tick. It's where you house, deliver, and track your content; how you identify, assess, and report on learning goals; and where students go to find, register for, and complete your course. And that just covers the basics!

Authoring Tools

The tools you'll use to transform the text version of your content into a variety of engaging delivery methods (videos, interactions, presentations, text with graphics, etc.).


Why?

It's simple enough: compatibility, usability, and functionality will make or break your course.


Imagine the following scenarios:

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Compatibility

You selected your authoring tool and built all your content before picking an LMS only to discover it produces a file type that's not compatible with the LMS you have to use.

Usability

Your audience is new to eLearning, but your LMS is not equipped with intuitive tools to guide them through the learning process.

Functionality

Your audience likes the cool design and interactivity of your course content, thanks to the high-tech authoring tool you chose, but some of the lessons are freezing halfway through, causing students to lose progress and work.


3. Communication & Support


What?

The tools and practices you'll utilize to facilitate teacher-to-student and student-to-student communication.


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Teacher-Student

The methods by which you and your students will communicate and collaborate with one another, such as course discussions, one-on-one virtual meetings, support requests, live chats, email, phone, etc.

Student-Student

The methods by which your students will communicate and collaborate with one another, such as course discussions, virtual group projects, social widgets, live chats, email, phone, etc.


Why?

How's that quote by Nat Turner go?: "Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity." The same goes for support: good support is the bridge between your student's satisfaction and continuing enrollment in your course.


The methods and tools you choose should be aligned with audience needs and appropriate for the course format and technology you selected.


Imagine the following scenarios:

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Misaligned with Audience Needs

Your students signed up for your asynchronous course because they need the associated flexibility, but they are disappointed to find that there is no method for them to reach you if they need help with a technical or content-related issue.

Misaligned with Format

You advertised a fully asynchronous course, but are requiring students to meet with you in person once a month, causing your enrollment numbers to drop drastically since some students do not live close to your location.


Part 1 Conclusion


That concludes the What-Why breakdown of the first three categories of course structure and design. Stayed tuned for the same breakdown of the next two categories in Part 2: 4. Content Delivery, and 5. Assessment Strategy.