Online courses can be built by bundling existing content from other product lines into a focused learning experience, or developed with entirely new content generated by faculty and educators. Online courses are delivered through a learning management system designed for ease of use by customers and provide the necessary tools to create a robust educational experience.

Learning Online with Penn State Extension

Online courses meet the needs of today's learners by offering learning opportunities 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Extension online courses:

  • Offer guided learning experiences designed to teach learners specific tasks or information.
  • Meet specific learning outcomes.
  • Are limited in scope; they could be 30-minutes or the equivalent of a multiday workshop.
  • Are asynchronous / self-paced; learners pace themselves through the course content.
  • May offer continuing education credits or certification when necessary.

Anatomy of an Online Course

An online course consists of the following components:

  • Course “Home" page
  • “Introduction" page that includes:
    • “Meet Your Instructors" with an introductory video and/or short instructor biographies
    • “How to Take This Course" with a video explaining how to navigate the course content
  • Learning content organized into sections and subsections. Components may include:
    • Educational videos consisting of a combination of educators recorded on screen, images, text, animations, and video clips
    • Readings
    • Images, graphics, charts, and diagrams
    • Downloadable course workbooks, handouts, or checklists
    • Knowledge check questions (“Check Your Learning")
    • Quizzes and assessment
    • Audio files, such as podcasts or recorded lectures

Online Courses and the Product Development Process (PDP)

During the PDP, you and your team evaluate your audiences' needs, as well as your team's priorities and goals. Potential online courses are identified and discussed.  During this process, consider:

  • What problem will this course solve for learners?
  • What tasks, skills, or knowledge will it teach?
  • How does the potential course content and learning outcomes translate to an online experience?
  • Will learners be willing to learn this content online?
  • How will learners benefit from learning this content online?
  • What amount will learners be willing to pay for an online course? (Courses are time and resource intensive to develop, and it is critical to consider revenue opportunities to offset development costs.)

Online course may also be identified during grant proposals. If you are seeking a grant, contact your marketing strategy specialist and the Digital Education Team to discuss cost and time estimates.

Getting Started with an Online Course

Once a course has been identified and approved during the PDP, the marketing strategy specialist and team will meet with an instructional designer from the Digital Education Team. This meeting begins the “Foundation and Analysis" phase of course development.

  1. Contact the Digital Education Team by filling out a Marketing Communications Request
  2. The Digital Ed Team will schedule a course initiation meeting with you to:
    • Discuss the course development phases.
    • Further discuss processes.
    • Discuss learning outcomes and learners' needs.
    • Get started on filling out a Course Questionnaire. (You can begin filling this out prior to the meeting if you like.)
    • Discuss and begin creating the course outline. (You can begin filling this out prior to the meeting if you like.)
    • Identify existing material (such as PPTs, fact sheets, videos) that might be used as a foundation for writing course content.
    • Discuss copyright, intellectual property, accessibility, and other development details.
    • Discuss a development timeline. Agree on a production schedule. Set a target production schedule with tasks and due dates.
  3. Begin work on content.


If you have questions, contact: Rebecca Rumbel (rar160)

Collaboration, Roles, And Responsibilities

Developing an online course is a collaborative experience between Extension educators and faculty, and the Digital Education Team.

Online Course Development Phases

PDF document, 906.2 KB

Developing an Extension online course typically consists of five distinct phases. This chart summarizes the major tasks of each phase, as well as defines whether each task belongs to the educator or the Digital Education team.