Recently, I was reading a blog post by Christopher Pappas, an eLearning expert who addressed the common mistakes we see in online course development. The ones that really jumped out to me were aimed at how instructors transition from live classes to virtual spaces. As I was reading, I reflected on the many subject matter experts (SME) I have worked with over the years to develop online courses and thought of how the ten mistakes listed in the blog post are really no more than misconceptions about eLearning. It also brought to mind one particular instance of “my shopping bag of content.”

UNLV - 186Many moons ago, when I was very new at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I was working on a new online course with an instructor who had no instructional design experience. He told me he had brought his “shopping bag of content” with him and was ready to go, and I stared at him blankly, unclear of what that could possibly mean.  He whipped out his USB drive. On this drive was a mélange of files, in total disarray, with snippets of content. He was quite proud of his shopping bag, believing it was all we needed to create the resplendent course he envisioned for his potential students. He was shocked that I was not so impressed.

The content provided to me by this instructor covered a number of the mistakes mentioned Pappas’s blog post. It was disorganized, poorly structured, vague in objectives, and there was no media. Looking at this mass of files was an epiphany to me; as a fairly new instructional designer, I realized my job here was to educate the educator. As we went through each of the many items for the course, I found he was absolutely right — it really was a shopping bag of content. In fact, it was the making of a fine feast, just in raw state. The ingredients were there, and I was the holder of the recipe.

Taking the shopping bag of content and creating a great online course is what we, as instructional designers, are all about. Just like in the production of a fabulous seven-course meal, we start with the raw materials found in the shopping bag, then dig through the pantry for our necessary basic ingredients and spices. Those ingredients are found in our collection of tools that supplement what our SME brings to the table.

Our ability to select the best ingredients and spices allows us to avoid the common mistakes in course development. The basics in our pantry are the best practices we know. They are found in the alignment of the course from objectives to content to authentic assessment. The spices are the robust presentation methods we know. Rich media and dynamic content goes a long way in student engagement and learning. Looking at course development as a team effort between the instructional designer and the SME only leads to better teaching and learning experience for students.

As educators, we should be careful to collect the best ingredients for our pantry. Like the process of producing a phenomenal dinner, the development of excellent online learning is time consuming and requires a great deal of preparation. We need tools to facilitate interaction between students and the instructor, students and the content, and students with each other.  We need to make content engaging and for learning. We need media in multiple formats that is appropriate for the concepts taught. And finally, we need to be able to look at the shopping bag of content we are given as raw materials to be shaped and organized into excellence.

Now, when I work with an educator and am faced with their “shopping bag of content,” I look forward to the challenge. I really do.