The Building Blocks of Online Courses

The Building Blocks of Online Courses

The Building Blocks of Online Courses banner

From the Ground Up

At the College of Online Education, the design of the classroom experience goes much further than what most would expect. Instead of a single professor tasked with building and maintaining a course, there’s an entire team of people behind the scenes helping to put it all together. You could say that the “architect” is the instructional designer, the team member who not only helps a faculty member translate a courses curriculum into the online format, but comes up with the blueprints of building it all.

“I like to say that we start with building the house,” Andrew Walsh, an instructional designer for the College of Online Education, says about when he starts constructing a course from scratch. “The blueprint is tentative. We haven’t picked out the decorations. We haven’t picked out the furniture or the paint color, and we haven’t even put up walls yet. We just want to know if it fits our needs.”

As an instructional designer, it’s Walsh’s job to bring in his expertise of best learning practices. “I enjoy learning how people learn,” he says. “As instructional designers, we understand what kind of activities really engage the brain and turns on the lights to learning.” But although Walsh is an expert in how people learn, he admittedly is not an expert in every course he designs. This means he collaborates with a professor who is an expert in their field to get a course up and running.

Building the House

Working closely with faculty, it’s Walsh’s job to find a way to best translate courses objectives into an online class. “The faculty member knows the content and the instructional designer knows adult-learning principles, so our job is to make sure everything aligns.” To do that, he says they start with the end goal in mind and then work backwards.

“In order to make sure we’re getting there, we develop the course backwards to make sure we’re not missing any steps along the way,” he says. That way when students make their journey through the course, each step along the way leads them to the main outcome at the end. “It’s really a thoughtful and deliberate planning of material and activities. It’s making sure that everything is designed purposefully and leading students step by step.”

Sometimes he says, part of the job when building a course is to even ask the professors he’s working with the simple questions in hopes of finding a potential roadblock before a student would. “It’s my job to put myself in the seat of a student and be the one to ask a professor why we’re doing this a certain way,” he says.


But even once the house has been built and online students are home, Walsh’s job isn’t over. While a professor is teaching the concepts, he still works closely with them, making sure everything is running as planned.

“We’re following the whole process so, from week to week, we’re working towards this complete goal,” Walsh says. In meetings, Walsh will review what the professor has in store next for his or her students, ensuring it’s all sticking to the plan. “I’ll make suggestions and talk through some different ideas. Sometimes, I’ll explain why something won’t work but introduce something that will work better.”

So for someone with a love of learning how other people learn, Walsh says he’s excited for what’s to come for him and other instructional designers in the future. Adding that he’s especially excited for the potential an online classroom has. “Online education is such a new field that there is just so many different possibilities and the possibilities aren’t going to stop, they’re just going to keep growing.”

Reach out today to learn how you can start on your degree: call 855-JWU-1881 or email [email protected]. You can also fill out the “Request Info” form on this page.

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