Course Planning

Course planning is perhaps the most critical component of online course design. It involves the high-level conceptualization of the course’s big ideas, essential questions, and desired outcomes or objectives, along with planning all of the major components that will comprise the course content and learning activities. A good course plan provides a blueprint of what and how the students will learn in a course.

Why Is It Important?

The overall quality and success of an online course significantly depends on the advanced planning that goes into that course. Course planning helps ensure that an online course has been developed with intention, and as a result is complete, organized, and aligned across its major components—all for the ultimate benefit of the online learners.

Most importantly, course planning must be done before a course is launched so that the time required to continue developing the course will not compete with the time it takes to effectively teach online.

How to Put Into Practice?

With the proliferation of online education and tremendous variety in the types of online courses, a variety of standards for evaluating online courses have been developed. One of the most well-known and widely used programs is Quality Matters.

Used by more than 900 colleges and universities including UW-Madison, Quality Matters is a nationally-recognized, faculty-centered, peer review process designed to certify the quality of online and blended courses. The Quality Matters program is centered around a rubric developed by faculty for faculty based on extensive research and instructional design best practices to guide in developing, reviewing, and maintaining online courses.

The Quality Matters Rubric consists of eight General Review Standards and 43 Specific Review Standards—all of which were selected because research, national standards, and instructional design principles have found that these elements positively impact student learning. How do you start achieving these important design standards?

Putting course design into practice involves the following progressive planning milestones:

Where to Find Resources?

Consider how learning activities and communication can be structured within the rhythm of your course. The preceding figure is one of four examples you can download as an excel document of how an online course can be organized to provide a weekly rhythm for students so they know what to expect on a weekly basis. Thank you to Professor Dietram Scheufele and Instructional Designer Kevin Thompson for this example.



  Want More?

The “Course Planning” deep dive topic, there are several strategies to help organize and plan an online course before starting to develop content.

Topics covered include:

  • Big Ideas and Essential Questions
  • Backward Design
  • Quality Matters
  • Starting Students on the Right Page
  • Course Organization and Navigation
  • Course Design Decisions

Visit the Course Planning deep dive topic

Note: This course is available for FREE to all UW-Madison faculty and staff. When you click the link you will be prompted to sign in with your UW-Madison NetID and password. Then you will be taken to the topic homepage where you can learn more and complete activities.