Instructional Design for Online Learning

Lone tree in  a meadow, symolising loneliness and isolation.

K2D2vaca. (2007). Lonely [Photo] . Retrieved from, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Isolated. Alone. No one around for miles. 

This is how too many learners feel in an online course. This feeling of isolation can be intimidating for a learner, especially one who is new to online learning. Learning is often a social process. Most of us can certainly learn while we are alone, reading. But social learning allows us to experience different perspectives, and to consider concepts and ideas that we may not have thought of before. Social learning allows us to dialogue with others, to share ideas and knowledge.

As educators in the digital age, it’s our responsibility to ensure that those learners feel connected… to have opportunities to be part of a community of learners regardless of the teaching modality. So how do we do this in an online course? How can we design experiences that help the learners achieve the course goals and outcomes and provide the opportunities for interaction that they need?

At the community college level, many educators have Master’s Degrees or Doctorates. But these are often in a specific area of interest. They  may not have any pedagogical background. For those instructors in career/workforce disciplines, the instructors often have industry experience, credentials, and may not have higher than an Associate’s Degree. And again, most do not have a pedagogical background. These instructors may have never even taken an online course. Yet the demand for online learning opportunities continues to grow (Allen & Seaman, 2016).

Combining sound strategies in learning theory with research-based principles of instructional design, we can develop and deliver courses in the online environment that help our students learn and grow… that help them feel supported… that help them have a sense that they are part of a learning community… that help them know that they are not alone.


Allen, I., and Seamen, J. (2016). Online report card: Tracking online education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC.

Bates, A.W. (2015) Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning. Retrieved from

Dabbagh, N. (2002). Basic Principles. Instructional Design Knowledge Base. Retrieved from

Fink, D., (2003) Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

K2D2vaca. (2007). Lonely [Photo] . Retrieved from, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Siemens, G., Gasevic, D., and Dawson, S. (2018). Preparing for the digital university: A review of the history and current state of distance, blended, and online learning. Athabasca University, University of Edingurgh, University o fTexas Arlington, University of South Australia.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2017). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervisors and Curriculum Development