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Can design alone result in an excellent online course?

I've attended a few professional development and general meetings on the topic of course design and how to effectively design for online courses. While these meetings were interesting in the fact that they showed and explained course design elements (think of the Quality Matters rubric), it is fair to say that without appropriate student-to-student or instructor-to-student interaction that an excellent course design could result in poor evaluation scores.

There must be a mixture of effective course design and quality instructor interaction and/or guidance in order to have an effective online course. Below are a few real examples of course evaluations and learner survey results. While these results may not seem super significant, compared to our general program scores - there is quite a bit of a difference between the course design and instructor presence scores when compared across the board.

In order to streamline and help the ease of reading, only questions regarding the course and instructor ranking questions are included below. Please note, our course evaluations obviously provide a lot more questions - including specific questions and open area questions to obtain feedback.

Course score 4.4/5.0. Instructor score 4.1/5.0.

Course score 3.7/5.0. Instructor score 4.2/5.0.

Course score 3.9/5.0. Instructor score 4.6/5.0.

Course score 3.8/5.0. Instructor score 4.3/5.0.

These survey results allow for our program to identify strong instructors vs. weak instructors vs. strong courses vs. weak courses. We then take instructor scores across the same course to compare and determine if the problem with the course is the design or in the implementation of the course. Our online program has been running for quite a few years now and since the beginning we have changed our program evaluations so that we are better to understand what is working and not working for our learners.

What I have found over time is that course design does not always mean an effective course. While using a rubric or template to develop a course will help to streamline and keep a program aligned, it is not quality unless a good instructor is there to help implement and provide instruction.

This post hopes to explore the idea of how both course design and instructor interaction working together is the best for learners - not the idea that a good instructor alone or a good course design alone can be the best environment for learners. While there is no 'research' behind my thought process here, I am basing this blog off my own personal experiences with online courses, online evaluations, working with strong and weak instructors, poor and strong course design, etc.

It is also safe to say that course design and instructor presence are not the only (2) elements that play a crucial role in online courses - you, me, we could write books and books on all of the items that play an important part of making sure online courses succeed.

What are your thoughts on these roles? Do you agree, disagree, don't care?

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