A revised methodology of instructional design for online learning

While not an entirely new educational concept, online learning is one which has received much attention recently. Early instructional design models were based on an interactive design model (Sims & Jones, 2003) which at times could prove to be very inefficient. As the field has continued to progress, many additional models and methodologies have been utilized as foundations for instructional design for online learning. While I recognize that many existing techniques and processes have proven successful, I contend that current methodology can be revised to ensure that primary emphasis is placed on learners and the learning process rather than focusing on the technology used. Modification of current methodology will require active leadership at the highest possible level (Rogers, 2000).

A myriad of crucial elements must be considered when designing online instruction, including: learning design, interface design, interactivity, accessibility, assessment, student support, and utility of content (Sims, Dobbs, & Hand, 2002). While the combination of these issues creates a seemingly daunting task for any instructional designer, effective and successful online instruction, “facilitates collaborative learning, active learning, and independent learning and exceeds the traditional classroom in its ability to connect students and course materials on a round-the-clock basis” (Riedling, 1999).

Relationships between teacher, learner, content, and fellow learners should be among the first elements to be considered (Sims & Jones, 2003) as learning processes are established to facilitate these desired interactive learning experiences. Effective implementation of online learning environments requires a paradigm shift from “teaching” to “learning” (Rogers, 2000) in which the instructor doesn’t view himself as a dispenser of knowledge but rather a facilitator and guide in addition to providing learners with introductory information necessary to begin the learning process. I agree that online learning, “be conceptualized as an environment that integrates collaboration, communication, and engaging content with specific group and independent learning activities and tasks” (Sims et al., 2002).

Another key to any instructional design effort is to have a clear process and team approach linking members of the development team with educators (Sims & Jones, 2003). The focus of these efforts should always be on the students, providing them with both support and critical thinking strategies which will foster success in any context (Sims & Jones, 2003). The participants of the instructional design process such as the educational designer, faculty, and the development team (Sims & Jones, 2003) have an important role in ensuring that the learners remain the focus of the development. While the level of influence for the various team members in this process changes at various phases (Sims & Jones, 2003) their commitment to the success of the learners should remain constant.

Proactive evaluation, described by Sims, Dobbs, Hand (2002) should be another design attribute as participants in the design process develop an understanding of essential elements of the successful learning environment. Strategic intent is a key element of any online pedagogy, as the purposes for online instruction are clarified.
I believe we must be mindful of both methods and media as both influence the way individuals learn today (Kozma, 1994). While a variety of media and methods can be utilized in delivering instruction (Clark, 1994), these learning tools must never usurp the instructional objectives or learner needs. The learners needs, context requirements, and teacher constraints should be focused on before selecting a delivery strategy (Riedling, 1999).

Much is yet to be learned about online learning environments both in terms of effectiveness and achievement outcomes (Sims et al., 2002). The undeniable fact exists that a student body requires diverse learning experiences to target a variety of learning styles (Franklin, Peat, Lewis, & Sims, 2001). As the needs of the learners are kept in proper perspective as a high priority for instructional designers, online learning solutions can be utilized to provide these varied learning experiences.


Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21-29.

Franklin, S., Peat, M., Lewis, A., & Sims, R. (2001). Technology at the cutting edge: A large scale evaluation of the effectiveness of educational resources. Paper presented at the World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications.

Kozma, R. B. (1994). A reply: Media and methods. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(3), 11-14.

Riedling, A. M. (1999). Distance education: The technology – what you need to know to succeed, an overview. Educational Technology Review, 1(11), 8-13.

Rogers, D. L. (2000). A paradigm shift: Technology integration for higher education in the new millennium. Educational Technology Review, 1(13), 19-33.

Sims, R., Dobbs, G., & Hand, T. (2002). Enhancing quality in online learning: Scaffolding planning and design through proactive evaluation. Distance Education, 23(2), 135-147.

Sims, R., & Jones, D. (2003). Where practice informs theory: Reshaping instructional design for academic communities of practice in online teaching and learning. Information Technology, Education and Society, 4(1), 3-20.