Step One: Plan and Design Your Course

The planning and design of your online course begins with brainstorming and the subsequent realization of concepts, ideas, and strategies that will become the plan for your course. We encourage you to meet with the eCampus staff as you undertake these steps.


Think through the course you will be teaching. Who are the students? What are your expectations? What are your department’s curricular needs? What skills do you hope students will take away? What challenges do you foresee? What broad educational goals do you have for your students? Answering these questions and others like them will prepare you to approach your course development process aware of the multiple challenges and needs that exist. An instructional designer can take you through a needs analysis of situational factors to help you address important pedagogical, institutional, and student based questions. L. Dee Fink has given permission for us to share one example, his Situational Factors Worksheet (.doc)

Map and Align Course Components:

Planning of any course can be far more effective when it is done systematically. With or without the assistance of an instructional design team, we encourage faculty to map their course objectives, assessments, and learning activities by creating a Course Design Plan. This Course Design Plan (.doc) is one example that many faculty find simple and effective. As you read through the next steps in the design process, we encourage you to refer to the Course Design Plan and imagine how you would complete it for an online course.

Develop Learning Objectives:

At the core of successful online courses are the course learning outcomes written as measurable student centered learning objectives. Learning objectives become the foundation for your course by clearly defining your expectations for students and guiding the selection and creation of assessments, activities, and content that you and the instructional design team will develop.

Here are examples of Learning Objectives from an online course. (click to expand)⇅

Learning Objectives:

The module level objectives listed below clearly outline what students will be able to do upon completion of the online module. The objectives also serve an important function in directing the faculty member as they create assessments to measure student's achievement of the objectives and the associated learning activities in which students will participate.

screenshot of learning objectives

Develop Your Own Knowledge:

Research into how we learn best has pointed to best practices in online education. There is no shortage of materials on how to best create and deliver online courses. Start here at our workshops and resources page and join us for one of our seminars or workshops, see our policies and best practices page, go further by searching online journals (UConn Library Database), or contact one of our eCampus staff for a one-on-one consultation.

Review the Quality Matters Rubric:

The research based QM Rubric has 41 specific points, each of which will help you address a specific element of quality online courses. We recommend reviewing the rubric and associated documents before you delve further into the course design and development so you are aware of these elements as they arise. UConn faculty are encouraged to create a free QM account allowing them to access the QM Rubric Online. Paper copies can be obtained by contacting

Plan Your Assessments and Activities:

Once you have knowledge of best practices in online education and a fundamental understanding of the Quality matters Rubric, you will be ready to plan your assessments for the unique nature of the online environment. Choosing the right blend of formative and summative assessments will ensure you and your students have sufficient opportunities to measure success. Planning activities that make use of current technology and provide opportunity for students to interact with each other, the content and the professor will also increase effectiveness. 

Review how Assessments might be arranged in an online course. (click to expand)⇅

The Assessment tool supports the creation of a variety of assessments (e.g., formative, summative, self-assessments, surveys) as well as assessment items (e.g., short answer, essay, multiple-choice, matching, true and false, and more). When appropriate, proctoring of online course assessment can be arranged. Contact eCampus for more information on this topic.

Screenshot of assessments in Blackboard

Preview how some assignments are delivered to students. (click to expand)⇅

Once assignments are identified that align with course learning objectives, the Assignment tool can be an effective way to build, assign, and track student submissions. Other means of assigning and tracking student work may be available in addition to the Assignment too. Contact eCampus if you are interested in talking to a staff member about the alignment and creation of activities for your online courses.

screenshot of assignment

Align Objectives, Assessments and Activities:

Before moving on to building your course, you will want to be sure all your objectives are appropriately measured and that there are relevant activities and appropriate content to allow students to meet the objectives you have set.

View a screen shot of discussion boards, a common activity that bridges objectives and assessments. (click to expand)⇅

A very common activity in online courses is the online class Discussion. Note how the discussion topic below encourages students to both share new knowledge with the class and respond to other student's posts. Even in an online environment at a distance and posting at different times of day, students are able to interact with each other and with their professor in a community of learners.

Screenshot of Blackboard discussion board

During this phase, a faculty member will:

  • Provide content expertise and pedagogical skills and knowledge
  • Write objectives and plan associated assessments for the online environment
  • Work with eCampus staff to determine the best delivery strategy for the given course
  • Plan activities and choose appropriate content


During this phase, an instructional designer will:

  • Present a plan for course design and development
  • Provide project management support
  • Provide course design and development documents, time lines, curriculum alignment guides, and course development frameworks
  • Work with faculty member to identify and bridge gaps in their online pedagogical knowledge
  • Guide faculty through applying the Quality Matters rubric to the design and planning process
  • Make recommendations for pedagogical and technological solutions Provide customized support for unique faculty and situational needs


During this phase, Quality Matters has standards that specifically apply to the following:

  • Learning Objectives (Standards 2.1-2.5)
  • Assessment and Measurement (Standards 3.1-3.5)
  • Instructional Materials (4.1-4.6)
  • Learner Interaction and Engagement (5.1-5.4)