Creating a consistent curriculum design

Creating a consistent design in online courses can be a challenge. Creating a consistent design across multiple courses is even more of a challenge as different course builders add their individual touches. There are many inconsistencies within and between courses that can come to light.

If you are creating multiple courses for the same audience or if you are creating a series of courses with a similar design strategy you should seriously consider creating some of the documents that I am going to review with you today in order to create consistency in your online curriculum.

Course design document

A course design document serves as living guiding document during course development. If you are creating a curriculum of courses by yourself or with a team you should consider creating this important document to outline how your curriculum will be designed structured and built out. This is the phase where you conceptualize the end product before you begin building anything! A course design document should outline:

  • The delivery format and methods of the online courses within the curriculum. Will they be facilitated or not or vary by course? What will be the standard types of communication methods and tools used to facilitate a course in the curriculum? The delivery approach you choose will greatly influence the structure of the course and the types of activities you include within it. For example a course with synchronous components can make use of a different subset of tools than an asynchronous one.
  • A standard framework for the overall structure and architecture of your course. Modules topics and lessons should have a consistent appearance and framework. This should be a course blueprint that is identical for all of the courses in your curriculum (e.g. standard pages course syllabus location advanced grading techniques formatting).
  • Instructional strategies that will consistency be used in the curriculum such as overall level of interactivity assessment techniques tracking completion adaptive release and techniques for gathering feedback and increasing engagement. You will want to address how you will reach different learning styles and ways you may alter delivery approaches (e.g. online activities versus in class).

Style guide

Creating a style guide for your course development efforts can save you a lot of rework later in trying to create a consistent style across the curriculum of courses. Sometimes the style guide is a subset of the course design document. No matter where it is located be sure to include the following information:

  • Text standards for a consistent voice style and format.
  • Standards for the overall look and feel of the course including but not limited to branding and graphical standards.
  • Standards for the overall media and visual design of the courses. Include color swatches to use for branding consistency. Indicate standard sizes of image and acceptable formats.
  • Standard setup for various resources and activities in the course and the gradebook. This aids in standardizing the user experience across courses.
  • How you will meet accessibility standards in the curriculum.
  • Standards for naming files and organizing your resource files locally.
  • Checklists as appendixes for reviewers to use when performing quality reviews of your courses.

Course planning documents

A course planning document is a course document for teachers to use when planning the overall structure of a course. Each course will have its own planning document. You could create a planning document template that has standard items already outlined within it to aid in standardizations for architecture and outlining predefined style guide and course design document requirements. This document will include a course’s goals objectives resources outline and activity types. Some course builders prefer to create storyboards. This is an alternative template to create in addition to a planning document.

Course template

The word “template” has many meanings. In this case a course template refers to a course backup file that that will be used as a wireframe for your course as you being developing within the platform. There are many benefits to creating course templates. First of all doing so will save teachers time in creating the same framework in the system over and over again for each new online course. Secondly along with your style guide and course design document it will create a consistent user experience within and between courses for students. Lastly creating a framework can ease the migration of course content if multiple people are working on moving courses and redesigning them.

Create the framework so that the developer is essentially filling in places within the template. Duplicate the structure for as many topics as are standard for your situation (e.g. 12 week would be 12 topics or potentially 13 if you have an overview topic as a standard). Consider standardizing the following in a course template:

  • Course settings.
  • Topic organization for each topic of content with standard modules named as they should be according to the style guide. Include standard pages and commonly used activity types with the standard settings already set for modules such as Assignments and Quizzes.
  • Standardized PLD rules.

Along with the course template you can create templates for the various types of assets that will be included in a course. For example if you are creating Word Excel Camtasia or Captivate files create templates for those file types. This will aid in creating a consistent look and feel. As you further flush out standards for these assets be sure to include them in your style guide.

In summary it is much more efficient to outline these standards first before developing the course. Once you are working in the online course it requires much more rework to standardize them. By having these documents in place beforehand design work is aligned upfront in the process. It allows for multiple courses to be developed at the same time following the same guidelines creating more consistency in your curriculum.

Thanks for reading!

~Rebecca DeSantis, Senior Instructional Designer



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