Course Development Guidelines

User Interface

  • Simple
    • All important content should be available within a few mouse clicks (The Web design standard states that no major content should be any more than 3 mouse clicks away)
  • Logical
    • Students should never be left guessing where to go next. or how the navigation works.
  • Consistent
    • There should be a consistency in all aspects of the course, especially in the course content placement.
  • What to Avoid
    • Information overload: Care must be taken when combining different modalities (pictures, text, audio, animation) simultaneously. Certain combinations overwhelm the information processing capacities of the brain. For example, combining audio with text appears to overload our channels, and once our information-processing channels are overloaded, no learning takes place. You can combine audio with pictures or animations, or text with pictures or animations, since the text and audio appears to be stored and processed in a different manner than the pictures and animations. Misuse of font and color: Unconventional fonts, or unreadable color combinations (e.g. orange texts on black background) Multimedia Misuse: Large meaningless graphics and/or flashy animation that do not contribute to learning, and spinning logos that make it difficult for students to concentrate on the content.

Fonts and Color

  • Font:
    • Body text: 12 or 14 point size, plain style, rather than bold, italic, outline, shadow, or other style sans-serif
    • Title or Headers: 18-36 point size, plain (Roman) or bold sans-serif or serif font. Italics may be used if the font size is large enough to render well on-screen
  • Color:
    • Use color conservatively
    • Do not make color the only way to discriminate between choices
  • Space:
    • Use white space to divide content

Course Structure

  • Course content should be organized with logical progressions.
  • Course content location should be highly visible on the main screen and it is easy to navigate to the content with a few clicks.
  • Course content presentation should be consistent throughout the course.
  • What to Avoid:
    • Course organization is confusing and students may get lost easily.
    • Course content is deeply buried in the course structure, and it is difficult for students to find.
    • Course structure changes frequently and students have to get used to the new structure and new presentation.
    • There is no learning objective for learning modules and students start a module or a section of the course without knowing what they are supposed to learn.

Online Course Basic Components

  • The Course Orientation that states expectations and explains the basic course structure for the best learning sequence.
  • Instructor(s)contact information
  • Syllabus
  • Learning objectives for the course, units(or modules), and sections
  • Prerequisite test(s) (to test if the students have the prerequisite knowledge for the course. If the pretest is not designed for this purpose, then the prerequisite knowledge should be clearly stated.)
  • Post-tests
  • Course content organized by modules, sections, or weeks
  • Course Resources (web links, glossary, solutions to math problems, or other supporting materials)
  • Course feedback and evaluation
  • Learner/technical support contact information


  • Pretest
    • Test students’ prerequisite knowledge
    • Find out students’ readiness for the course
    • Find out if remedial learning materials are necessary to ensure that students have enough background knowledge to succeed in the course
    • A test that determines the students’ knowledge base upon entering the course
  • Post Test
    • Post test of a course should be created after the objectives are available
    • Post test items should match the learning outcomes that the objectives indicate
    • Post test questions should be similar to the pretest to measure the learning that occurred after the completion of the course
  • Module or Section Tests/Quizzes
    • Section quizzes are better used if they are self-tests
    • Section quizzes allow instructors to measure the effectiveness of the section content and allow students to measure if they have reached the learning objectives
    • Section quizzes should allow students to retake the quizzes as many times as they prefer to achieve the section learning objectives
  • Best Practice of Test Development
    • Test Items should be randomly selected from test question pools that are grouped in similar difficulties and test the same objectives, and they are randomly presented in the test
    • Tests should have various formats which are appropriate and accurately measure the learning outcomes. (e.g. fill in the blanks, multiple choice with multiple answers, multiple choice with single answer, T/F, sequence, case-based scenario, hot spot and hands-on simulations)
    • Test items should have effective feedback (Provide explanation for the wrong answers if possible)
    • If possible, allow immediate feedback for self-tests
    • Adaptive testing should be implemented if possible
  • What to Avoid:
    • Test items that are beyond the outcomes of the learning objectives
    • Test items that are not randomized - As a result the test items can be easily memorized if the test is available for retaking

Instructional Strategies

  • Delivered with appropriate instructional strategies and effective media
  • Followed by a self-test at the end of each section or module to allow students to monitor their learning progress and allow instructors to discover which student needs help.
  • Teach Declarative Knowledge
    • Mnemonics
    • Linking with existing knowledge.
    • Imagery
    • Analogy
    • Association
    • Elaboration
    • Scaffolding
    • Chunking
  • Teach Concepts
    • Expository Approach:
      • Define the concept
      • Describe the critical attributes of the concept
      • Use advanced organizers (concept tree)
      • Show examples and non-examples
      • Encourage the students to develop their own examples
      • Explain the process of generalization and discrimination applying to the concept
      • Explain the process of over or under generalization
    • Inquiry Approach (exploratory or discovery approach):
      • Present different examples and let the students discover the pattern.
      • Once the pattern is recognized, the concept will be introduced.
      • Feedback is given for comparison
      • Distinguish the critical attributes
      • Provide additional examples with great varieties and different range of difficulties (Examples and non-examples).
      • Use advance organizers
  • Teach Procedure
    • Use work modules:
      • Define the goal
      • Identify the steps to be followed to achieve the goal
      • Demonstrate or illustrate their implementation
      • Provide rules to be observed in performing the steps
      • Repeated student practice of the steps with varied examples
    • Show the student how to do it and then let the student do it (demonstration and simulation).
  • Teach Principles
    • Discovery - Present examples and let the student discover the principle underlying the instances
    • Effective feedback - Detailed feedback and explanation for the correct and incorrect answers
    • Variety of examples - Provide more examples with great varieties and different range of difficulties.
  • Teach Problem-solving
    • Make sure the students possess three kinds of knowledge:
      • Declarative knowledge
      • Relevant rules (principles)
      • Cognitive strategies
    • Make sure the students possess the ability to apply the rules
    • Clarify the given condition, including any obstacle or constraints
    • Clarify the result condition, including criteria for knowing that the goal is reached.
    • Divide the problem into sub-problems with sub-goals
    • Determine a sequence for attacking sub-problems
    • Consider possible solutions to each sub-problem
    • Select a solution and apply the strategies.
    • Evaluate to determine if the goal is achieved.
    • Provide feedback by comparing the students’ solution and with the expert's solution to a problem

Multimedia Usage

  • Carefully designed, multimedia instruction can be effective as a method to increase motivation and can improve the quality of student responses. Its wide variety of formats such as text, graphics, film, video, audio, and other interactive formats are thought to engage more senses than conventional teaching methods and thus facilitate better learning. However, if multimedia formats are improperly used, they can amplify trivia and lead students astray from what they should learn, particularly if the multimedia components are introduced as an effort to be interesting and entertaining.

Proper Use of Graphics

Static visual illustrations can facilitate the acquisition of knowledge when presented with text materials. However, the facilitative effects of illustrations are not present across all learning situations.

  • Illustrated visuals used in the context of learning to read are not very helpful
  • Illustrated visuals that contain text-redundant information can facilitate learning
  • Illustrated visuals that are not text-redundant neither help nor hinder learning
  • Illustration variables such as size, page position, style, color, and degree of realism may direct attention but may not act as a significant aid in learning.

Proper Use of Audio

  • Audio can add music to your site, evoking a mood or giving a sample of what something sounds like. It can promote an artist, add interest to a text site by humanizing the author, or teach you how to pronounce words in another language. If audio is included, it should be produced on the best quality sound equipment that can be obtained.
  • Research indicates that people will put up with poor video but are negatively affected by poor audio.
  • Care must be taken not to overload the user with competing visual and audio information. People cannot read text and listen to spoken audio at the same time - their brains cannot process the competing signals without tuning one or the other out.

Proper Use of Animation

  • Moving images focus attention. Animation can be effective in teaching certain concepts. However, we must resist incorporating special effects, such as animation when no rationale for it exists.

Course Development and Review Checklist

UA Fort Smith provides an online development checklist for instructors to follow while they are developing online courses. For online course review and release, the college deans use a rubric which includes this check list. Click the following link to view the checklist.




a professor teaches two students on a whiteboard