Create a Vision

Creating a new online course or bringing your campus course online allows for an opportunity to reimagine the structure of the course, the ways to engage students, key topics and skills for focus, and how to let the story unfold.

Online learning is a very different beast and requires a unique approach and new ways to deliver effective instruction that better meet the needs of online learners.

Speaking of online learners, here are some stats about who enrolls in online courses:

Meet the Distance Ed Student

What’s the typical demographic?

  • Wide variety of ages. In 2019, the average undergraduate was 30.5 years old and the average graduate student was 33.7. (Aslanian)

  • 30% are the first in their family to attend college. (Aslanian)

  • There is growth of traditional college-age students selecting online programs. (edtech mag)

  • Variety of learning styles that may differ from the traditional student. No two learners are the same. Differences in communication, attention, learning, vision, hearing, and mobility. Students with unique learning needs and/or disabilities may be particularly inclined to pursue online education where there is more opportunity to access material in a variety of ways and work at one’s own pace. One in five Americans have a form of disability.

  • While experience with online courses will vary, a majority of students will have previously experienced an online course.

Why did they choose an online course/program?

  • Big focus on career preparation/upward movement

  • Balance

  • Anytime/Anywhere

  • At their own pace

  • Effectiveness (Tech Crunch-Infographic)

How do they access their course content?

Students are more mobile than ever. Whether it’s a laptop carried to a café or a device they pull out while waiting for the bus, students are on the go. Not a bad thing! People with smartphones and tablets engage twice as much in page views, interactions, content consumption, and production (Tech Crunch). Students are often using devices in noisy public places (dirtylittlesecret).

How do they use the internet?

  • Only about 10% of online students don’t have a social media profile.

  • 75% visit social media daily.

  • 69% of students read online newspapers.

  • 70% of online students spend 10 or more hours online weekly.

  • Used to go online roughly five times per day. Now we’re accessing it 27 times per day in smaller chunks. (Kraus)

What keeps them in class?

  • Feeling connected to the instructor (WGA)

  • Student to instructor interaction (WGA)

  • Timely feedback on progress (WGA)

  • Sense that they are a part of a larger community (Faculty Focus)

  • Opportunities for collaborative learning (Faculty Focus)

  • Relevancy of materials, sense of ownership, peer to peer or cohort support

  • Opportunities to leverage strengths

What challenges do they face?

  • Misconceptions about online coursework

  • Perseverance

  • Time management

  • Work/life/study balance

  • Isolation




Becoming acquainted with online learning will help as you start to develop your vision.

Setting aside the “old” to be able to think outside of the box and create a vision for the “new” isn’t an easy task, which is why you have an Instructional Designer to help you brainstorm and sort through ideas.

You might find it helpful to begin by completing the following statement:

“It would be cool if…”

Then get out of the way and let the ideas fly!

As you start to flesh out your ideas to determine which to bring to life and which to save for later, you might also consider the following:

  • If your student were to tell a friend about what they learned in your course in two minutes or less, what would you hope would be a part of that summary?

  • What do you hope students retain after a year or two?

  • How can you integrate professionally relevant technologies, activities, skills, and processes?

  • How can you allow opportunities for students to be creative, practice critical thinking, and relate to the content?

If you’ve taught the course before on campus, you might want to circle back to what you’ve done in the past that students really seemed to connect with. There may be ways to take what you’ve done and rework it for an online classroom setting. While what works in a campus classroom may not immediately translate online and vice versa, there may be opportunities to capture and leverage effective activities in new or different ways.

Working with an Instructional Designer

If you're building a course that's part of an online degree program, you'll work with your instructional designer (ID) from ODEE all along the way. Your ID can help to identify the ideas that might bring the best results based on pedagogical principles and research in online learning. They will support you in working through the possibilities to make the most of the online learning environment.

Not building for an online program, but still looking for help?

While ODEE IDs work primarily with fully online programs, they are always happy to provide a one-hour consultation to offer guidance and recommendations: Consultation Request Form

ID Experience Stories:

Learn more about working with an instructional designer by reading faculty experience stories:

For more help with creating a vision, check out Questions to Ask to Design an Effective Online Course and/or the Course Learning Goals Worksheet.