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Design for Online Learning


These pages are intended to provide information on the design of online course pages with specific emphasis on the cognitive structures of the basic page structure.

Online students are often disoriented in online classes and much of that disorientation can likely be attributed to poor course design: basic information about the course is hidden or absent, and students often have spend a lot of energy and overcome a lot of frustration just to figure out what they are supposed to do. In other words, the course often gets in the way of the learning.

Key Parts of an Online Course

  • The Front Page - the first step for students accessing your class
  • The Navigation Structure - the organization of the student's activities
    • resources on usability
  • The Calendar - the organization of deadlines and activities
  • The Topics - the framework and details of what is being taught
  • The Assignments - what the student is expected to do and what you are expecting from them
  • The Communication

Professional Standards

Design Ideas

  • Webpages that Suck (website)
    The site lists of the worst website designs with links to the examples and discussions of why the sites are not good. This is a great resource in part because it's a strong warning against doing quirky things with web design that might be appealing to you but are confusing, if not annoying to others.
  • Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug (book, available at the Windward CC Library)
    The classic book on how to study the effectiveness of your website. Krug's focus is on generic web design, but many of his ideas are appropriate for course design as well. One of the biggest things he wants you to realize is that people are often confused when they try to navigate through a website and it's usually because the website is poorly organized. Krug also has a website organized like a blog:
  • Prioritizing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen and Hoa Loranger (book)
    Any class website should be concerned with usability and very few in fact are. This book explores in detail what good and bad design does for usability. Topics include readability, the proper use of images, how to organize information, and the core need to give the users meaningful feedback.
  • Homepage Usability : 50 Websites Deconstructed (book, available at the Windward CC Library)
    A large format picture book, this work analyzes the front pages of 50 websites, ranging from to General Motors. Nielsen points out what works and, more often than not, what doesn't work for each of the sites. The book is very visual and very analytical. It's difficult to read it cover to cover, but it's very interesting to skip from the analysis of one web site to the next.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Best Practices in Online Teaching: Don't Assume (pdf) - short article that encourages faculty to actually think about the situations of their students rather than basing their beliefs on anecdotes or a belief that their students are just like they are. The result is that faculty are better able to realize that their students are having problems with the online course and better able to understand what those problems are.
  • Ten Best Practices for Teaching Online (website) -

Other Resources