Once upon a time, developing educational content was a somewhat solo affair in comparison to online course development nowadays. The facilitator or academic was generally an expert in the subject matter being taught and so would prepare all the materials they needed according to their individual teaching style. Next, they would arrive at the lecture, seminar or workshop and deliver their wisdom to the sponges in the audience. Guaranteed, no two deliveries would be the same even if the facilitator used the same material. They would be working the room, adjusting, adapting and allowing questions to steer online content and narratives.
In the online course development environment, this above scenario couldn’t be farther from reality. Online learning is typically ‘fixed’ (unless adaptive learning elements have been designed in) and there are a plethora of skills needed in order to produce an excellent Student Experience (SX) and User Experience (UX) whilst delivering on the value promised.
At Oppida, we work with clients to first understand what an Online Course Development A-Team looks like. Then, we assess their internal resources and help plug any gaps within the budget set.
We like to use this adapted TPACK framework to talk about the roles.
At a very high level, here are the skills or knowledge these roles require:
At Oppida, we like to talk about these two roles together as we advocate where possible for this to be the same person. The arguable reason for this coalition in roles being that the Learning Designer is the only one who has to work with every single member of the team. They must:
The Learning Designer is the one who usually has outlined a vision for what the resulting online course product will look like. They are deeply involved in the design phase and then also in the trenches for the development and delivery to ensure that the vision matches the project results. So, in our experience, this person is best placed to operate adeptly in the role of Project Manager as well. Unless, of course, this is such a large project that an additional layer is needed to allow the Learning Designer to sleep at night.
This role is critical to the outcome and quality of the online course product as it is this person (or team of people) that are essentially responsible for delivering on the promised outcomes to the learners. They are both the intellectual backbone of the project and the chief curators! They are often heavily guided and supported by the Learning Designer. However, without rich, updated and dynamic online content, the Learning Designer can only do so much.
Although a Subject Matter Expert can play the role of Learning Designer in some circumstances, it’s not always recommended. Both roles demand a different lens on the project and different skill sets.
These team members are generally more ‘niche’ or ‘technical’ in their abilities. They are often not involved in the design phase (except graphic designers) and for some, only play a very small role in the development.
For example, there may be 5 custom videos needed for the course. The videographer will essentially be given a brief to shoot, edit, and deliver them, which is then the end of their part in the overall project. They need to know the overall vision, but won’t be involved in day-to-day development discussions.
The Education Technologists will often mainly collaborate with the Learning Designer to help support their vision to ensure the Student Experience (SX) in the LMS is seamless. They are the backbone of the system (especially if the Learning Designer is new to the LMS) but they don’t really need to work with the Subject Matter Expert or many of the Auxiliary team members.
Firstly, don’t panic if you look at this list and realise that you are playing most or all of the roles. You are a superstar if you are!
Our advice is to use this as a guide when thinking about your team and their responsibilities when it comes to setting up and managing online course development projects. In our experience, keeping people in role really helps the overall success of the project. Being clear about who is responsible for what and open about what each person needs to fulfil their role enables each person to understand and acknowledge their part within the system.
Furthermore, because we know how critical the role of the Project Manager can be (and that it often defaults to being the Learning Designer), we are building a new online course called “Project Management for Online Course Development”. Check out more details here.
At Oppida, we believe in creating dynamic learning environments through learning management systems which engage with your learners on a deeper level. Whether you’re at project inception or you’re struggling knee-deep to manage online content deliverables, Oppida will tailor learning design support for you. Setup a quick consultation with our founder Bianca Raby and discover how we can help you project manage, design, develop and enhance your online courses from any stage in the course’s lifecycle. Also, sign up for our FREE Designing Digital Learning Course to better understand how to design for digital.
J.M. Spector et al. (eds.), Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology, 101 DOI 10.1007/978-1-4614-3185-5_9, © Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014
Bianca is an experienced educator in K-12 and higher education. With a passion for learning design and online learning—she founded Oppida in 2019.