Hybrid course design framework for online learning diagram

A Hybrid Course Design Framework for Online Learning

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith the explosion of hybrid and online courses, educators are often faced with the daunting task of not only learning a new set of digital tools but also completely re-imagining their approach to student engagement. Frequently institutions provide training on new educational technologies but best practices common to successful web design and online learning projects are neglected. The focus on platform proficiency at the expense of a coherent course design process results in courses that feel like old storage bins: folders bulging with documents, collections of unorganized links, dusty question sets, 90-minute lecture videos, discussion boards full of tumbleweeds. These courses are difficult to navigate, appear unpolished, and fail to provide consistent learner assessment. Where’s the focus on educational experience? The current course creation process is often inverted. Educators have been designing technology-centered and template-first online courses while traditional pedagogical concerns around content hierarchy, student motivation, and learning outcomes are largely displaced.

Flexible Foundation

Just as web designers can’t predict what device or screen size will be popular two years from now, most instructional designers and educators aren’t in the position to choose the learning management system at their institution. Migrating from one LMS to another can take a highly functioning course and make it unusable. While it’s important to acknowledge and embrace this instability, there are ways we can better design courses for change. The solution is adaptive design. Adaptive design requires educators to take a content-first approach when creating a course. Before the design phase educators should determine:

1. Instructional Goals

Desired learning outcomes, barriers to course success, and potential instructional and administrative issues.

2. Learner Characteristics

Prior knowledge, group attributes, academic motivation, attitudes toward content or topic, attitudes toward training organization

Both of these should be done before even touching the technology (Ertmer, 117). Carefully curated and organized course content enables us to design for an optimal learning experience while standardizing the process, which makes our design responsive any container.


Embracing future-friendly course design ensures that we can fully address the current technology environment while building long-term value for stakeholders.

The Right Content in the Right Place

It’s not enough to have content to fill an online course. It has to be the right content, carefully organized. Moving course materials requires a detailed content strategy. It’s similar to moving day — everything is packed and labeled but the new house may be a different size and shape. That old bookcase no longer fits. Your favorite sofa blocks an entryway. Content strategy is the practice of planning for the creation, delivery, management, and documentation of relevant content. Effective content strategy enables more actionable, results-driven educational experiences. The goal is to create a sustainable and repeatable course design process. While content strategy is a term infrequently applied to this domain, it’s highly relevant to online course design and delivery. A good course content strategy defines

Adaptive, Content-First Course Design

Following a framework for course design and development can help structure an educator’s decision process and accelerate the course development timeline. This article examines the major instructional design models, responsive architecture approaches, and web design processes and synthesizes these into a detailed framework for adaptive course design.



1. Plan

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  • Determine instructional goals
  • Identify learner characteristics
  • Develop content strategy
  • Gather content
  • Define context


2. Adapt

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  • List and summarize course deliverables and content items (content inventory)
  • Analyze how content and deliverables advance the instructional goals
  • Arrange the content and deliverables to align with instructional goals
  • Decide what to eliminate and what to (re)create
  • Create strategic direction document



3. Design

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  • Detail page-level requirements (page table)
  • Sketch interaction design views
  • Develop visual design strategy
  • Create summary document of design decisions


4. Develop

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  • Build or apply template
  • Add interaction areas (e.g., discussion board)
  • Create assessments and assignments
  • Fill with content
  • Test and verify



5. Launch

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  • Migrate content
  • Complete formative evaluation
  • Create operational plan
  • Develop internal and external documentation
  • Create course roll-out plan



6. Evaluate

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  • Complete summative evaluation
  • Create task list
  • Revise based on feedback


Steps 1-3 should occur long before an instructor or instructional designer logs into a learning management system.

Adaptive Course Design Resource Links
ARCS Motivational Design Model
ADDIE Instructional Design Model
Teacher Development Model
Learner and Context Analysis


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