Course Design and Models

Much research has been conducted about online learning. At a very high level, some of the key findings appearing consistently in this body of literature include the importance of interaction, engagement, instructional design and assessment.


  • Successful online courses are not simply a conglomeration of material and individual exercises.
  • Developing community through very intentional activities is time well spent.
  • Faculty need to plan to spend significant amounts of time providing feedback, facilitating discussion, and modeling online involvement.

SDSU Instructor, Jackie Leak, Women's Studies


  • Not surprisingly, students who spend more time engaged with online materials/activities achieve at a significantly higher level.
  • Generally, students value the convenience and flexibility (logistics) of online learning but express concerns about reduced contact with peers and instructor, and a feeling of being overwhelmed as an individual.
  • Students who are self-reliant with an internal locus of control generally are the better achievers in online courses.
  • Monitoring student progress and intervening early when students need assistance can make a big difference in student retention and success.

SDSU Instructor, Chad Harris, Journalism and Media Studies (Watch 1st 4 minutes)

Instructional Design

  • The quality of course layout/organization/navigation impacts learning.
  • Communication of high-level expectations (student learning outcomes) and specific directions for assignments/activities is vital.
  • A learner-centered approach to instructional design is more likely to generate student success and satisfaction.
SDSU's ID Support Page


  • Tools available in the online environment actually can help provide more assessment and quicker feedback to students than traditional paper-based, face-to-face activities.
  • Frequent formative assessment and timely acknowledgement and feedback contribute to student success.
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Course Design Models

Examples of various models of course redesign can help to inspire faculty and raise awareness about alternative approaches to curriculum design and course delivery. Beware, though. It is equally, if not more important to start by considering the "sweet spots" for course redesign given the existing course's strengths and weaknesses, faculty strengths and preferences, as well as stakeholder needs and concerns. Faculty developers and instructional designers should also be familiar with the conceptual underpinnings behind the research and effective practices for design and delivery of blended and online learning.

Here is a select summary of examples with links to more information.

Improving Learning and Reducing Costs: 5 Models for Online Learning

  • Supplemental model
  • Replacement model
  • Emporium model
  • Fully online model
  • Buffet model
For more: Carol Twigg's Case studies for each of these models from National Center for Academic Transformation ( Blended Learning Systems: Definitions, Current Trends

Blended Learning Systems: Definitions, Current Trends, and Future Directions

  • What is blended learning?
  • Why blend?
  • What current blended learning models exist?
  • What issues and challenges are faced when blending?
  • What are the future directions of blended learning systems?
For more: Charles Graham's chapter from The Handbook of Blended Learning

The Concord Consortium e-Learning Model for Online Courses

The following nine key characteristics define The Concord Consortium's approach to delivering quality e-Learning: Asynchronous collaboration; Explicit schedules; Expert facilitation; Inquiry pedagogy; Community building; Limited enrollment; High-quality materials; Purposeful virtual spaces; Ongoing assessment.

Course Evaluation Resources: At Time of Design

These resources can help faculty and institutions conduct quality assurance of hybrid and online courses as they are being developed to increase the likelihood that they will be successful. The following resources are well aligned with the best practices research outlined above.

CSU Chico Rubric for Online Instruction
This is the gold standard rubric for evaluating the quality of online course design. It provides anchors for baseline, effective, and exemplary designs across the following dimensions: (1) learner support and resources, (2) online organization and design, (3) instructional design and delivery, (4) assessment and evaluation of student learning, (5) innovative teaching with technology, and (6) faculty use of student feedback.

Quality Matters: Peer Course Review Rubric
This site includes a rubric for reviewing the quality of online courses across the following dimensions: (1) course overview and introduction, (2) learning objectives, (3) assessment and measurement, (4) resources and materials, (5) learner interaction, (6) course technology, (7) learner support, and (8) accessibility. This is an excellent resource for assessing the quality of online course design.

A Design Checklist for Courses Incorporating Technology
"Course design should be an ongoing process based on sound pedagogy, faculty reflection, and student feedback. This checklist is a tool for faculty to use in the design/redesign process as one way to obtain a greater degree of confidence that the course is likely to be successful." This checklist is intended for use with any technology-rich course, whether enhanced, hybrid, or fully online.

Seven Principles of Effective Teaching: A Practical Lens for Evaluating Online Courses
"Taking the perspective of a student enrolled in [an online] course, we began by identifying examples of each of Chickering and Gamson's seven principles. What we developed was a list of "lessons learned" for online instruction that correspond to the original seven principles."