Watch your step

Key terms

Constructive alignment: an outcomes-based teaching and learning framework...

There are a number of pitfalls bound to designing and developing an online course. You may want to revisit the 'Five features of an excellent course' and 'Five features of an unsuccessful online course' activity that you worked through earlier in this course, which will give you some idea of the potential pitfalls, and may prompt you to reflect on how to avoid them.

There are a number of pitfalls bound to designing and developing an online course. You may want to revisit the 'Five features of an excellent course' and 'Five features of an unsuccessful online course' exercise that you worked through earlier in this course, which will give you some idea of the potential pitfalls, and may prompt you to reflect on how to avoid them.

Poor planning is the biggest pitfall; you can't simply expect the pieces of your course to fall into place. A lack of alignment will also hamper your efforts. You should be aiming for constructive alignment (as outlined earlier in the course); aligning the learning objectives/outcomes, the learning activities, and the assessments will give you a better chance of avoiding most common pitfalls. And remember, good design for accessibility purposes is good design for everyone!

In the following activity you will be presented with some of the common pitfalls involved in designing and developing an online course. In each case, make a note of your ideas about strategies for avoiding the pitfall, then click the 'View feedback' button to see our suggestions. Use 'Next' to move to the next question.
Consider the following pitfalls. In each case, think about your own ideas for strategies to avoid the pitfall, then continue on to consider our suggestions.

PROGRAMME | Teaching Online
COURSE | Designing and developing your online course
UNIT | 4 : Improving your online course designs
PAGE TITLE | Common pitfalls and some tips for success

Pitfall 1: Letting the learning management system/virtual learning environment drive your design

Our thoughts:

Whilst templates are useful for first time developers, they can also be viewed as constraining. Try not to think about the tools and the design; design the course and learning activities and then consider how to use the tools. (St. Germain, 2011)


Pitfall 2: Expecting your students to consume knowledge rather than create it

Our thoughts:

One of the great potentials of online learning is that students can take more responsibility for their learning; this means building in active – not passive – learning. (St. Germain, 2011)


Pitfall 3: Not planning for student-student interaction

Our thoughts:

Build this in, either in the form of online discussions or group work. Let your students learn not only from you but also from the experiences of their peers.


Pitfall 4: Overlooking consistency

Our thoughts:

Consistency is key in the design. This does not mean that your course modules need to be identical, but that they have the same layout and tools, and that pathways are intuitive. This way students can easily find what is expected and due each week.


Pitfall 5: Leaving multimedia, documents and links untested

Our thoughts:

Test everything! Moreover, remember to create everything in more than one format – word instead of PDF, for example (think accessibility!) – and to use multi-platform technologies (check that your videos run on both Macs and PCs!).


Pitfall 6: Leaving your students to find resources or help

Our thoughts:

Your online students will need help locating relevant resources, the library website, tutorials for technologies they may be asked to use, etc. Build in these scaffolds. Similarly, make sure they know who to contact in case of technical difficulties, content questions, etc.

Source: Adapted from St Germain (2011), www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/five-common-pitfalls-of-online-course-design. Used with permission.

Let's hear from some practitioners. In the following videos, experienced teachers and course designers discuss various issues that can occur when designing and developing courses, and provide tips on how to diminish any problems.

Let's consider the experiences of some practitioners. In the following interviews, experienced teachers and course designers discuss various issues that can occur when designing and developing courses, and provide tips on how to diminish any problems.

Click 'Play' to start the video.

Useful links

A presentation on 'Planning your online course' from the University of New South...

Useful advice

You can also learn more about the pitfalls of designing and developing...

Download

Download the attached comprehensive list of tips and advice for designing...

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Tips for a successful course

Having looked at the pitfalls to avoid, what about the things you shouldn't avoid? In the following activity you will find several pieces of advice that will help you design and develop a successful online course.

Having looked at the pitfalls to avoid, what about the things you shouldn't avoid? The following questions and responses will provide some advice that will help you design and develop a successful online course.

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In the following activity, match the question on the left-hand side to the advice on the right by clicking on the boxes you wish to connect.

Is the course ready to begin?

Plan to have your course ready at least one month in advance. Simonson (et al, 2012) suggest you consider beginning your work on the course 3–5 months in advance.


Have you prioritised the learning outcomes?

Remember that the learning outcome should drive learning activities, not the tools used to implement the activities (Conrad & Donaldson, 2004).


Is there a variety of learning activities?

Diversifying course learning activities keeps learners engaged at multiple levels and can also speak to the strengths and diversity of your students.


Have you set learners enough time to develop peer-to-peer activities?

Allow enough time in your course schedule for the development of online discussions. Conrad and Donaldson (2004) recommend a minimum of one week for each discussion.


Have you made it clear how learners should work through the course and how much time they should allow?

Clear directions should be provided for what learners need to do at every stage of the course (Simonson et al, 2012, p.176); similarly, ensure the activities and media are realistic in terms of the credit value of the course.


Can you regularly check-in with students and personalise their learning experience?

Provide a space for a 'Weekly Overview' (if your course is set up by weeks), to include highlights (text, audio or video) of the weekly readings. Additionally, use this as a place to personalise the courses.


When can learners access you?

Tell learners when you will/won't be available to check for updates/ questions, and how long it will take you to respond to emails. Also, establish an 'Ask the teacher' or 'Ask a peer' discussion thread.

In the common pitfalls section we covered topics across the course continuum from planning to teaching – but these all tie back to how we plan for the design of the course. Hearing from teachers with many years of experience can also be beneficial in helping us think more like experts and consider how to deal with potential issues before they arise.

Key terms

Constructive alignment: an outcomes-based teaching and learning framework that proposes the systematic alignment of teaching/learning activities and assessment tasks to the intended learning outcomes.

Useful links

Useful advice

You can also learn more about the pitfalls of designing and developing an online course in the 'Being a successful online teacher' course of the Teaching Online programme.

Download

Download the attached comprehensive list of tips and advice for designing and developing a great online course. Reflect on these ideas as you work on your own course.

The list is also available in your Teaching Online portfolio.