Should faculty build their own online courses?

Notes linked by string and pegged to wall

Many higher education institutions are now facing a situation where the need to produce online courses at scale is putting pressure on conventional course design methodologies. As learning design resources are limited while the desire to have robust, high-quality courses available throughout this continued period of disruption remains, many are left wondering: should faculty be encouraged to build their own online courses?

There are some advantages to this approach. Faculty who have built courses report a greater feeling of ownership and more connection to the design process. They are also likely to experiment and innovate more with their teaching approach. But drawbacks are also likely to persist. Learning designers often bring fresh design ideas and have deeper knowledge of different technologies and design solutions, so reducing their support could have a detrimental impact on the technological or pedagogical ambitions of online programmes. One faculty member at BI Norwegian Business School  recently noted: ‘It is easy to get frustrated when the navigation is complex. It is essential that any toolbox should be categorized with explanations, guidance, and tips.’ 

The key challenges are clear. Faculty time is precious and designing online courses requires consideration and careful planning. New technologies mean steep learning curves and it can be hard to achieve consistency across courses. 

Here is some useful guidance for supporting projects where faculty are responsible for building courses independently:

1. Determine programme design boundaries in advance.

  • Set and schedule the number of live classes or synchronous sessions.
  • Agree the overarching structure and segmentation of sessions or units of learning. 
  • Use pre-built templates to break up the learning, provide clear organisation and speed up the building process.
  • Outline broadly consistent assessment approaches.

2. Provide high-impact training and support.

  • Practice what you preach and have plenty of examples of best practice to hand for faculty to gain inspiration.
  • Blend online training with some f2f or synchronous sessions. Train select groups at a time rather than using all-faculty invites to encourage a sense of community. 
  • Provide simplified design outlines for faculty to populate with their content. 
  • Have on demand tools and resources available that faculty can dip into as they are designing and building. 
  • Have bookable 1:1 slots with learning designers to work through challenging design issues. 

3. Choose technologies which are easy for faculty to author, edit, and test.

  • Ensure faculty can use and personalise the learning they create (add interactions, edit text, plan media work). 
  • Limit the number of integrations and third party tools, if possible.
  • Encourage faculty to note delivery actions as they go, including adding personalised feedback or responding to learner contributions. 

4. Maintain testing and quality assurance processes.

  • All online courses need fresh eyes. Once courses have been designed and preliminarily built, encourage dialogue and feedback between faculty and learning designers.
  • Provide a generic style guide and complete an editorial pass to improve accuracy and consistency.
  • Test the course with mock student accounts to ensure the built course is robust. 

As with all development approaches, there are payoffs and compromises. Supporting faculty as they expand their knowledge of online learning is critical, and finding ways to channel that new knowledge back into teaching teams will help foster inclusive and collaborative working practices.

Dr Charlotte von Essen

About the author

Dr Charlotte von Essen is Director of Academic Engagement at insendi. She previously worked at Imperial Business School’s Edtech Lab and has a background in university teaching and learning design. She has designed and delivered numerous online and blended programmes and helped faculty across the world develop hundreds of courses for a range of audiences - undergraduates, postgraduates, executive education clients, and corporate learners.

At insendi, Charlotte leads the Academic Engagement team, which is devoted to supporting and nurturing the company’s relationships with current partners. She also supports insendi’s user communities, including the award-winning FOME alliance. Charlotte is fascinated by the ever-evolving models and practices of Edtech. The innovations and insights of this rich and dynamic sector excite her work. She loves learning about new projects and initiatives insendi partners are planning, all of which offer fresh, exciting ways to enrich and deepen learning.