The who and how of online course development

Sarah Phillips

Sarah Phillips is a Senior Educator VET Assessment Specialist at Chisholm Online. She specialises in developing assessments for the online environment and has a background in e-learning that stretches for ten years. If you are thinking about developing your own online course materials, Sarah can help you avoid some common issues and pitfalls.

Online course development – where to start?

So you have decided to develop your own online course materials. Good for you! But before you commence, it is important to know what you need in order to achieve this successfully. There are a number of decisions your management team needs to make before you start employing people to start work.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself;

  • How many courses will you be developing?
  • How many people will your budget allow you to employ?
  • What do you want done in-house and what can be sent to external contractors?

But the most important question is…

What functions do you need filled in order to develop a suite of courses?

When developing course materials, it is important to understand the functions required in completing the tasks, but it is just as important to understand that functions are not people.

It is a common misconception that hiring a team of instructional designers can achieve all you need in the process of developing materials. It is also a common misconception that all instructional designers have the same skills. Position titles in the education sector are often defined by the organisation they are employed by, and just because candidates were called instructional designers, educational designers or learning designers in their previous employment, doesn’t mean their idea of what the role entails is the same as your needs. Such candidates might be skilled and dedicated employees, but does that mean they’re right for the role that you have in mind?

What are the skills needed to develop online course materials?

To understand this, we first need to understand the functions of developing and delivering an online course:

  • Content writing
  • Assessment writing
  • Editing and proof reading
  • Storyboarding
  • Multimedia development
  • Compliance
  • LMS or CMS management
  • Facilitation and assessment

What type of people have these skills?

Online course development needs people who:

  • Understand what the training packages and units of competency are really asking for
  • Understand the industry they are producing content for
  • Understand how to write for VET qualifications
  • Write clear and explicit instructions to the students
  • Understand pedagogy and how to minimize cognitive load
  • Have attention to detail
  • Are competent in multimedia development
  • Have good design skills
  • Understand the impact of their design on the facilitation process
  • Understand accessibility, access and equity, copyright
  • Have problem solving and creative skills to identify strategies for overcoming the limitations that online delivery can expose.

A team that covers all bases

It is unlikely that you will find all of these skills in a single employee, so it’s best to create a team of competent individuals with different but complementary skills. Rather than employing a whole team of instructional or learning designers, the functions required to develop online vocational education and training (VET) courses could look more like this:

  • A subject matter expert (SME)
  • A content and assessment writer
  • An instructional designer (ID)
  • A multimedia developer
  • An education technologist (Ed Tech)
  • A trainer/assessor

The importance of compliance and assessment

When developing courses for the vocational education and training (VET) sector, having staff that understand compliance and the impact it has on their role is essential. Instructional designers may have excellent skills in developing well designed learning materials, but:

  • Do they know the industry for which they are writing?
  • Do they understand the compliance implications in relation to their work?
  • Or are they simply good at visual design, user experience and multimedia development?

You also don’t want to fall into the trap of assuming a trainer can write assessments. It is a very meticulous process that requires a solid understanding of pedagogy, industry and compliance, and someone who has a passion for teaching won’t necessarily understand what is required in the development process.

Staying focused

Never forget what functions are required when meeting your deadlines and budget. While it is nice to have dynamic people who can bring new qualities to your offering, make sure you stay to the scope of your project. It can be tempting to let the skills that you need currently be compromised by employing someone who has skills you would like to use in the distant future. If your budget doesn’t allow for the time it takes to dabble in gamification or other more time intensive approaches, these people will be left doing tasks that are not their specialty, and will be left feeling underemployed and mislead. This can impact upon morale and leave you with a high rotation of staff and extra costs using up your budget.

Say it how it is

It is important to be explicit in your position description when hiring for your team. You need to make sure that the people you hire can in fact do what you require of them, but first you need to be clear in what functions you need filled, and how you will divide those functions between employees. Be clear in your needs and expectations so that you can recruit appropriately, develop brilliant online content, and live happily ever after.

Do you need a hand with your content development? eWorks takes the time to understand your needs and match them with a team of skilled professionals. Contact eWorks today to get started.