The Dangers of Standardized Online Courses: Consistency vs. Creativity

Blogging the Online Learning Consortium International Conference 2014

Melanie Kasparian, who has a very cool title: Online Experiential Learning Developer at Northeastern University, USA.


Concepts and Notes

  • Their model is “flexible yet scalable”
  • They do curated content with the one to many model – a master course that is used for multiple sections
  • They want to have a controlled environment, but not in a way that inhibits faculty
  • They leverage cognitive science principles -see Laurie’s session: Preparing Faculty to Develop Online Courses with a Learning Sciences Lens
  • Common use of chunking content; breaking up videos; what prior knowledge would students need before they do this course? where is the instructor presence? how do you design a course so that it has instructor presence?
  • Online experiential learning – is it case studies? no, actually it really is real-life experiential learning; connections to employers; the reflection piece is really important too
  • Side note/thinking: instructional designers work from theory; instructional designers curate content. The more I realize what instructional designers do, and what really good instructional designers do, like Melanie, I wonder if we are going to get to to a place where some of the best courses really are online, not f2f? who is supporting this type of learning f2f? not enough in higher ed, I think
  • Let’s assume creativity and consistency are at opposite ends of the spectrum – are they?
  • Consistency – template standard production line model
  • Creativity – it’s different each time it’s taught because it changes based on the student
  • Extreme example – wholly standardized course – it starts with best practice; updates are difficult; faculty feels disengaged; can be restricted by the LMS; how do we have faculty bring their experience to the course; how do we not demotivate them;
  • Extreme example #2 – wholly creative; non-consistent; innovative techniques for design; build the course as it goes; design tailored to faculty, authentic experience based on the student needs; confusion on the part of the learner; longer development time; lack of continuity across the program (accreditation)

Consistency is used to create the order that enables creativity.


  • Consistency can enable creativity
  • Consistency: standard verbiage, course build, core principles (i.e. chunking, assessment of prior learning),
  • Creativity can come in how you deploy the content; navigation
  • Balancing: quality, experiential, timeline, cost, interactivity, scalable, academic rigor
  • Questions to consider further: What are additional ways to find the balance? What are some course design elements that should be standardized? What pressures have you encountered when trying to find the balance? Where can faculty add their own flair? What about assessment? can faculty adjust points and scores? but not outcomes.
  • Personal experiences – that’s where faculty can add their flair – sharing video/audio with their stories

4 ways to find the balance

  1. Have a starting point. Design principles. Standard terminology, standard look and feel, blueprint, an umbrella theme and structure
  2. Give ’em options. Give both instructional designers and faculty options. Options on lesson delivery, suite of tools, assessment strategies, different models. Let them choose. Give lots of choice. Let them add videos, redo videos as needed.
  3. The 40/30/30 rule. 40% of the course is the core and designed with consistent rigor; publisher level quality, scalability, and revised for substantial changes in the core content. 30% of the course is flex. Tailored content, regionalism, personal tastes of the instructor, quickly changeable by faculty. 30% of the course is the teach part. Personality and context; constructive suggestions, timely feedback; instantly amenable by faculty. This part can change.
    1. i.e. The core is the Lesson; the flex is readings and media; the teach: the announcements in the course.
    2. We don’t want the core to get to the point where it inhibits creativity.
  4. Be flexible. Let’s train on critical thinking, attention to detail, problem solving, learning principles and NOT on just the tools and the blueprint and the exact way to do it. Instead, teach the instructional designers relationship building – to work with the faculty from what they want to do. Then learn what the faculty needs instead of just saying we do it this way.

Things I want to work on more

  • Articulated core learning principles (i.e. feedback to students) that guide the course design
  • Things to think about with revision process; how does it come? do you need a form? do you need a ticketing system?
  • How to allow more flexibility in some of our high enrollment classes with multiple sections

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.