Trial and Error: Our Iterative Approach to Developing Online Courses

Brief Abstract

A small team of learning designers and one media specialist facilitated 20 course builds in two years to launch two graduate engineering programs online. Participants will learn how our trial and error approach to course development continues to evolve as we begin with a third graduate engineering program.


Breana Yaklin is an Instructional Designer for the MSU Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology and for Teaching and Learning Technology with IT Services. She supports faculty to design strong student-focused learning experiences, and has been conducting interviews with undergraduate students to gather student voice and better inform curriculum design. Lately, she has been working closely with academic advising units to support proactive advising and student success change initiatives.
In her role as Learning Experience Designer, Summer partners with campus colleagues to design learning and development experiences that maximize active learning techniques. Through empathy, inspiration, design, and assessment she creates a more holistic and user-centered approach focused on principles of instructional systems design. Prior to the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology, Summer trained thousands of faculty, staff, and students with MSU IT on topics ranging from technical skills to emotional intelligence. Her passion for learning is fueled by the years spent as a fourth grade classroom teacher to adjunct faculty at community college. Summer earned a B.A. and M.A. in Education from the University of Michigan-Dearborn. When she’s not spending time with her husband and 3 boys you can find her livin’ la vida loca.
Mrs. Bradley is the Media Production Specialist at Michigan State University, where her team collaborates with faculty, staff, and students to create video content for MSU events and curriculum. In addition to consulting with clients, producing video, and managing projects, she also provides training to members of the community who want to learn more about creating their own video content. Prior to her position at MSU, she worked in university marketing where she worked on ad campaigns and produced the creative for them. For the past 8 years she has been working extensively as a visual artist, specializing in videography, illustration, design, and photography. Currently, she is using these skills in partnerships with independent filmmakers, where she has worked as a 2nd unit cameraperson and art director.

Extended Abstract

What’s the best way to develop a new online course? There are as many answers to that question as there are online courses. Our small design team partnered with the College of Engineering at our research one institution to launch two graduate programs online, consisting of 10 courses each, 20 courses total. Over the duration of two years, our approach to working with faculty to develop courses has changed significantly as we adjusted to working with faculty of all skill levels and experiences in online teaching. Because of the vast differences between 20 faculty members and short development timelines, we learned to be agile and create and change processes frequently. We also found a need to create many tools and templates in order to keep development on track and collect data.

This process continues to evolve as we begin our partnership with a third program in the College of Engineering and another 10 online courses. Through the fall 2019 semester, we will be trying a new sprint course development approach, modeled after another successful course development approach on our campus, and will be able to share the results of this approach at OLC Innovate 2020 in the spring. 

In our Discovery Session presentation, attendees will learn about the phases of our approach and will walk away with the strategies and tools that we have kept throughout our process. We’ll discuss our process for consulting with faculty, scaling our design team’s support, frequently trying new strategies, and researching different approaches to course development. We look forward to questions from our colleagues about the development of these courses, and examining what might work best in different environments. Join us to learn about our approach to iteration and bring your questions about course development and the process of change.