Developing and Delivering a Great Online Course – Preparing Your Learning Materials

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The recipe for developing and delivering a great online course involves a number of important ingredients, not just great content.

These ingredients are: the online course delivery system, preparing your learning materials, instructional support and continuous improvement.

In the first post the ideal requirements for the online course delivery system were listed. In this, the second, post I’m going to share how to prepare the instructional materials to maximize the useful learning data that can be captured.


Preparing the learning materials

Online learning technology provides a great opportunity to capture more digital learning data than ever before. If all possible online learning data is captured, analyzed and transformed into actionable information, then instructors will almost certainly gain new insights with which to improve learning outcomes and learners will receive valuable ongoing feedback.

As with most things of great value, there is no free ride – the better prepared the content and assessments, the more likely that the ensuing learning data will reveal useful and accurate insights from the analytics. Once the process of fully preparing your course materials has been completed per the recommendations below, chances are that they will only need to be fine-tuned before delivering the course again – yet insights will continue to be gained from the ongoing data capture and analysis.

Please be warned however that before you consider investing your time optimizing your course materials, it is critical that you confirm that your online course delivery system has the features required to effectively process detailed learning data.


As mentioned in the prior post, certain LMS capabilities increase your ability to gather more learning data and thus more actionable insights so you can improve your learning outcomes. With these goals in mind, the best possible online course delivery system:

  • Has all the features required to run an online course including multiple communication modes. The more a student is able to conduct their studying within the system’s online environment the more data can be captured.
  • Captures as much detailed digital learning data – the more detailed the better e.g. down to the topic level in terms of content and down to the question and answer level in quizzes, tests, etc.
  • Automatically analyzes as much of the data as possible and provides useful, continuous, near real-time feedback to the learners and instructor. For example, which content is most/least effective, early warning retention issues, learner progress status, learner performance predictions etc. In real-time would be best especially for up-to-date learner progress/performance feedback or if there is a content issue so you can make immediate changes before all learners run into the problem.
  • Makes all the captured data available to the instructor to enable further analysis if desired.

The more of the above your LMS can offer, the better your chances of being able to improve the course and increase the learner success rate.

Once you have a system that can capture at least some learning data, you are ready to enhance your learning materials to maximize the potential value of your course’s learning analytics. There are four ways to do this and all four are important – ignoring any one of them will reduce your ability to improve your course’s learning outcomes.

  1. Digitize all your content. Digitizing means converting ‘analog’ information in any form (text, video, photographs, audio, etc.) into a digital format. For example, a handwritten page of notes needs to be entered into, say, a Word document or Google Docs. Digitizing all of a course’s content and assessments will maximize what is available to be delivered and ‘consumed’ online by students. Storing digitized materials in a centrally accessible repository also increases the possible reusability of that content among peers and across the organization.ipad-content
  2. Break down all the content. “Chunking” the content into “bite-sized”, yet still logical, pieces (usually down to a single topic level) facilitates micro-assessments (see #3 below) which is a key component for providing ongoing progress and performance feedback. It also increases content reusability across the organization since shorter learning materials are more likely to be re-used across multiple subject areas e.g. content for “Permutations” could be used in Statistics, Psychology, Economics etc.bitesize
  3. Create micro-assessments (e.g. short, low stakes quizzes) to supplement your existing periodic formative and summative assessments. If the content has been broken down to, say, the topic level (see #2 above), creating micro-assessments for every topic should provide more “in-course” insights from the analytics. For example, micro-assessment scores help to more accurately estimate learner progress as well as content
  4. Meta tag all the content and all assessment questions (from low stake quizzes to final exams). Comprehensively and consistently meta tagging according to a pre-defined organizational plan will significantly increase analysis and data mining opportunities as well as search capability and reusability across the organization. Content, for example, might have tags added for the course, author, instructor, topic name, cognitive level, title, prerequisites, dependents, etc. and assessment questions might have tags for course, author, instructor, topic name, cognitive level, etc.'Me? I'm an ambulance driver.'

In summary, I know that’s a great deal of work but anything you can do in terms of increasing content digitization, breaking the content down, adding micro-assessments and tags will provide you with more detailed learning data.dont-just-collect-data

However, it can’t be emphasized enough that before you invest any time in this detailed content preparation, please be sure that your system can capture, analyze and ‘surface’ at least some of the data that could be spun off during the online learning process. The more it can, the more your efforts will pay off handsomely in terms of the quantity and quality of the data that can then be captured and analyzed by your online course delivery system giving you the ability to make your course more and more successful.

The third ingredient of this four step ‘recipe’ for developing and delivering a great online course is up next – Online Instructional Support.

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This post was written by ihart

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