Course Development

A detailed account of online course development including the learning strategies and multimedia behind each course, the time line, and the faculty action plan.

Step 1: Course Planning

Begin by creating the course goals and outline.

The course goals are broad statements about the knowledge and skills that faculty members expect their students to achieve as a result of the course.

Ask yourself:

  • What should the students learn by taking this course?
  • What are the course goals (long range intended outcomes)?
  • What must the student know and/or be able to do to achieve the goals?

Faculty Action Plan - 1 year prior to course start date

  1. Meet with Ag Science eLearning to discuss your course and the online possibilities.
  2. Write the course goals
  3. Develop an outline of the course
    • Main topics (approximately 15)
    • Sub-topics
  4. List reading assignments for each main topic

Step 2: Course Design

Structuring content the same way within each module enhances learning. The specific structure offered here is based on the notion that learning is student centered and as such the needs of the student are addressed. 

Online learning is achieved most easily when the course content has a consistent structure. The College of Ag has adopted six major sections for each Module of content: 1) Overview, 2) Learning Objectives, 3) Reading Assignments, 4) Lesson Content, 5) Activities, and 6) Rubrics. Each is discussed in length below.

1) Overview

The first paragraph of each Module is the introduction to the content. A brief paragraph which provides an overview of that Module's specific content and linkages to previous Module's content. It tells the students what to expect and links the content from one Module to another, providing a clear path to learning.

2) Learning Objectives

By clearly articulating learning objectives, students understand what is expected of them, and learning is enhanced.

Clearly written learning objectives are measurable and include skills or behaviors that when achieved describe the learning outcomes.

For instance, take a look at this learning objective:

  • List the branches of soil sciences.

This objective is measurable because it can be directly tested by asking the student to do just that --list the branches of soil science. If the objective was written as, understand the branches of soil science, it would not be measurable. The words understand or learn, are too broad. Think about it, how would you word a test question to find out if a student understood the branches of soil science?

The easiest way to write measurable learning objectives is to use action verbs to start each one. Download this PDF for quick reference.

3) Reading Assignments

List the assignments. Reading assignments can come from textbooks, journal articles, online articles, reserved readings from the Penn State Library system, etc.

4) Lesson Content

The content is written by the subject matter expert and addresses the main topics of the lesson and reinforces what has already been read by the student. Content should be developed to meet various learning styles using text, visuals, and audio. Within the content, advanced organizers (questions or “something to think about”) should be provided, which causes the student to stop and think.

The instructional designers at Ag Science eLearning are trained to focus on the goals and expected outcomes of your course and then match those goals to the desired instructional strategies and supporting multimedia.

In addition, the instructional designer may assist the faculty member create learning objectives and develop content. Since no two students have exactly the same learning style, and most have more than one, it is best to use a variety of strategies to address each learning style.

Content can be incorporated into the learning experience using several teaching strategies:

  • Text with visual aids (images, graphs, tables, etc.)
  • Podcasts or audio narration
  • VoiceThread (presentations with audio/video and student commenting)
  • Adobe Presenter files with audio narration (convert PowerPoint presentation)
  • Video
  • Images turned into video with audio narration
  • Interactive multimedia (question w/hidden answer, puzzle, test yourself, etc.,)
  • Simulation
  • Animation
  • Adobe Connect or Skype (for live discussions with the class)
  • Blogs, Wikis, Twitter (as collaborative learning experiences.

Also keep in mind the different types of learning strategies such as mnemonics, elaboration, imagery, analogy, organization, chunking, linking, graphic organizers, rehearsal, etc.

 a) Memorization of Facts


  • New facts must be tied or linked to the learners' prior knowledge, which makes it meaningful, and therefore easier to remember.
  • Flash card technique i.e. showing a definition with an image
  • Metaphors and Analogies - i.e. comparing the white blood cells to soldiers fighting their enemies.


  • Clumping or chunking sets of new information together, separating sets from one another, and making relationships among sets, 
  • i.e. elements are grouped on the periodic table


  • By filling in gaps, making inferences, imaging, examples, etc
  • i.e. stories and pictures, facts followed by examples, etc
  • i.e. An explanation of how Hg became the symbol for mercury

b) Concept Learning

A concept is a set of specific objects, symbols, or events that are grouped together on the basis of shared characteristics, which can be referenced by a particular name or symbol. For example, a student learns about volcanoes, the student sees a different volcano for the first time, and is able to identify it as a volcano based on generalizations of the first volcano.

  • Over generalize - When the student thinks every mountain is a volcano

  • Under generalize - When the student thinks only active volcanoes are volcanoes

  • Discriminate - Learning the difference through examples and non-examples.

c)  Rule - Provide relational and procedural techniques

d) Problem Solving - Provide strategies or a list of guidelines

e) Attitude - Role model, role playing

f) Psychomotor - Cognitive skills and motor skills training, i.e. golf

5) Activities

Activities are designed not only to provide evidence that the learning objectives been met but also to develop the students understanding of the content. Students are more likely to retain what they learn if they apply it. Environments where students are actively participating and engaged with the material are crucial to learning.

Resource based learning. Each student finds and shares resources with the class. They communicate in a discussion forum about the viability of each resource. At the end of this exercise, students will have demonstrated that they explored learning resources and could evaluate them.

Low-stakes quizzes or self-assessment methods. These are often used to guide the student and provide quantitative feedback to the instructor. Automated systems such as ANGEL  provide immediate feedback to the student allowing the student to gauge and adjust their progress within a course.

Collaborative learning projects. Assign students together as a group to share various tasks which when combined, create a project which otherwise could not have been accomplished by one individual. Students can use Blogs, Google Docs, wikis, discussion forums, etc. (See Team Building Tips).

Problem based learning. Students are given an ill-structured problem and are asked to resolve it. Since they do not possess enough information to reach a solution they must perform many tasks to find the appropriate information and in the process, gain skills necessary to solve the problem.

Role-playing. This is an effective way to prepare students for future professions. For example, the professor often plays the role of the president of the company or director of research. Students are expected to complete a task and provide a report to the president/director. This task provides an opportunity for a real-world experience which better prepares students for life outside of college.

Peer-review. Students must address a checklist of required components, usually listed as rubrics, and evaluate their peer. Receiving feedback from a variety of perspectives allows students to see different viewpoints and appreciate various opinions in any given topic. Students are encouraged to question their peer in order to more deeply understand the topic.

Organizing a focus group or interview. This not only prepares students for the topic at hand but also how to begin to collect data for research purposes. How to create a qualitative or quantitative survey instrument, what questions to ask, what order to place the questions, how to moderate a focus group -- these skills are of great value.

Online discussions. Provide the students with a question or debate topic and have them hash it out in an online discussion forum. For help developing good questions, see: Crafting Questions for Online Discussions.

The examples above by no means provide an exhaustive list but merely a starting point. For more ideas, see WC's Examples of Student Activities.

6) Assessments

Activities can be used throughout the content as practice and/or assessment. The main difference being that assessments are graded, test the students, and provide you with evidence as to whether or not the learning objectives were met. At the very least, each 3 credit course must include a mid-term and final assessment. Assessments can come in the form of the activities mentioned above, final reports or projects, multiple choice/true-false exams in ANGEL, etc.

7) Rubrics (recommended)

The most effective way to make the course requirements, activities, and exercises clear to the student is to create rubrics. Rubrics outline the degree of accuracy or proficiency the learner must demonstrate. When students completely understand what is expected of them and they understand how to satisfy the requirement, learning becomes more effective.

Rubrics are beneficial to:

  • Instructors - to communicate expectations and standardize grading
  • Students - to guide their learning and to evaluate their own work as well as work done by peers
  • Teaching assistants - to maintain consistency in their evaluations

To learn more about rubrics, go to the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence. And to learn how to implement your rubric in ANGEL, go to the ANGEL Help and Information Guide.

Faculty Action Plan - 11 to 9 months prior

  1. Content Development
    • Overview
    • Learning Objectives
    • Reading Assignments
    • Content
    • Activities
    • Assessment
    • Rubrics
  2. Meet with the eLearning team to brainstorm ideas and discuss progress

Step 3: Course Development

Faculty Action Plan - 8 to 4 months prior

  1. Finish content development and/or revisions and provide them to the instructional designer as you finish each module.
  2. Meet with the eLearning team regularly to brainstorm ideas and discuss progress.
  3. Place supplemental reading material in the Library Course Reserves.

Step 4: Final Revisions

Final revisions to course content, course schedule and syllabus.

Faculty Action Plan - 3 months prior

  1. Review course content and make minor revisions
  2. Identify due dates for all activities, assessments, etc.
  3. Complete syllabus
  4. Provide final approval of the course prior to its deployment

Step 5: Course Evaluation and Revision

This step takes place after the course has been offered, and before the next offering of the course.

Faculty Action Plan

  1. Review course evaluations and feedback (including student comments throughout the semester.)
  2. Evaluate the effectiveness of the instructional effort as a whole.
  3. Did the effort enable the learner to achieve the course goals and objectives?
  4. Meet with the eLearning team to discuss necessary revisions.
  5. Revise the course accordingly.


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