Online Course Development: Why a Regular Web Designer Doesn't Make the Grade

By Bandy, James | Distance Learning, July 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Online Course Development: Why a Regular Web Designer Doesn't Make the Grade


Bandy, James, Distance Learning


The facilities expense and that of hir- ing qualified professors, combined with the rising trend of busy pro- fessionals not wanting to travel to a physi- cal classroom, makes the decision to build out the cost-effective infrastructure of online learning an easy one. That's why many distance education departments and corporate executives turn to Web design- ers to develop courses to train their stu- dents and employees. Many times, this decision results in a waste of time and money and can be frustrating to organizations simply because Web designers are not trained in the area of creating effective e-learning courses; usually their focus is visually appealing aesthetics. For successful online course production, you need to work with a developer who has proficiency in building programs from start to finish while accomplishing educational objectives in every step of the process.

It's a common misconception that if you can put together a Web site, then you can make an e-learning course. In reality, an effective course needs to have the same care and expertise put into the educational aspects as the design elements. While a Web designer is happy to catch a person's eye through bright colors, graphics, and flash, a course developer ensures that the learner is receiving and retaining the right message. This means that simply drawing a student's attention with a visual image is not enough. Course developers understand that images cannot be used as entertainment, but as learning tools, since students must be able to recall specific material at test time. Since Web designers aren't usually trained in teaching, or knowledgeable about the factors of educational design, their e-learning course design tends to distract a student from learning. For example, in a project management training course, a Web designer used a moving image of a crane repeatedly picking up an object. When students were asked what that page taught them, they recalled the moving graphic over any piece of actual information. In courses made by competent developers, pictures are not chosen at random, but are picked carefully for their educational value and are often incorporated with an audio track for further impact and greater memory retention.

Not only does an effective e-learning course incorporate graphics of educational importance, but all pieces of information must be placed in a specific order on the course page. This idea, rarely considered by Web designers, is implemented by experienced course developers so that learners are presented with information in proper sequence in order for maximum memory retention.

Also, course content must be engaging and needs to build the right foundation. Trained developers can incorporate multimedia-rich training tools, like streaming video and audio files that contribute directly to a learner's comprehension of the curriculum. These interactive technologies involve users and allow them to better comprehend concepts and remember complicated sequences. While Web designers may work with an educator and directly receive quality curriculum, they still lack an ability to show it in a clearly arranged way. Simply uploading it to a page and making it visually attractive is not enough and can turn out to look similar to a PowerPoint slide presentation. For a course to be effective, good course developers understand the "take-away" the learner should get from each page and strategically develop each so that learners retain the content and take away a specific educational message rather than remember what image appeared or what sound they heard. …

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