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Center for Instruction and Research Technology

Instructional Design Process


CIRT provides an array of instructional design services to support UNF faculty with the systematic process of designing, developing, and delivering instructional materials. The Instructional Design Team is available to consult on instructional design best practices, assist in the conversion of traditional course materials to the online learning format, and provide training and development related to the practical and pedagogical skills necessary for developing and delivering interactive and engaging courses. Through our liaison program, we also strive to promote dialog between our team and the academic communities we serve.

Through the instructional designers’ lens, online course development is an iterative process that passes through four major stages (design, develop, teach, and evaluate). Browse the following pages for information, resources, and strategies that can be used to streamline your online course development efforts at each successive stage.


As instructional designers, we spend a lot of time working with faculty members on the design and development of their online courses. As a result, we have acquired plenty of strategies to streamline our own efforts that we would like share with you.


    The first step to start gathering key information that will essentially define the overall design of the course.

    • Is a college or department syllabus template used?
    • Does the syllabus need updates for use in the online course?
    • Does the syllabus need additional information for use in the online course (technical support, netiquette, etc.)?
    • How is course content organized (weekly or by module)? If you are unsure, take a look at CIRT's online course templates for inspiration.
    • What are the current learning activities?
    • What are the current assignments/assessments?
    • Which course materials and activities can be replicated online?
    • What new materials/activities/assessments will need to be developed?
    • How will the content be organized?
    • How will the interaction (student-student, student-instructor, student-content) occur online?

    The next step is to review the course content, then begin to review, reword, or create the learning objectives for the course. Student learning objectives anchor the course outline in terms of content, learning activities, and assignments. Student learning objectives specify what learners will know or be able to do as a result of a learning activity or assessment. The major component of your course that differentiates it from all other courses on campus (at least on paper) is its specific list of course outcomes. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the assignments in your course should align with those course outcomes, and to do this you need to have effective learning objectives that are measurable and align with specific assessments. Once you have clearly defined learning objectives, the rest of the course development process is fairly straightforward as you’ll be using an aligned course map to your destination.

    CIRT’s Best Practices article "Aligning Objectives and Assessments" provides insight on how to write effective objectives that are measurable and align with course assessments.


    In 1956, Harvard Psychologist, George A. Miller developed the concept of "chunking" content. Miller (1956) writes, “The span of absolute judgment and the span of immediate memory impose severe limitations on the amount of information that we are able to receive, process, and remember. By organizing the stimulus input simultaneously into several dimensions and successively into a sequence of chunks, we manage to break (or at least stretch) this informational bottleneck.” Content chunking is a strategy that makes more efficient use of short-term memory by consolidating and grouping different sections of information together. Our working memories can only hold a certain amount of information at a time. Chunking works by presenting large amounts of content in small modules to make the information easier to read, process, and remember. Chunking permits students to focus their attention on the key ideas that are presented, thus heightening their ability to recall and retain the material they learn. When you begin to gather the content for your course, you should classify your content based on its importance. By differentiating relevant and useful content from content that is meaningless and unnecessary, you free up your learners' working memory.

    View the slideshow - Basics of Content Chunking, to learn more about how to chunk course content.

    To assist you in chunking the content in your online course, we recommend using either a course chunking plan or a course map. The benefit of using either of those tools is they will assist you in better organizing and scaffolding course content for more effective student engagement. With either a chunking plan or a course map, the content that has been chunked is organized into four main sections:

    • Module Purpose Statement
    • Learning Objectives
    • Agenda and Assignments
    • Alignment Statement

    Chunking Plan

    The course chunking plan uses a more linear approach.


    The course map represents the same information as the chunking plan in a different format. The course map uses a more visual/spatial approach.


    Scaffolding is the support given during the learning process which is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals (Sawyer, 2006). When instructors scaffold their content, they provide tasks that allow students to build on prior knowledge and internalize new concepts. To do this effectively, instructors should organize their content and instruction into meaningful units, while providing their students with tools and structures for each chunk. What this means is that “how content is organized” and “where content is placed” inside a course can be every bit as important as “what the content is” in terms of fostering an effective learning and teaching environment.

    Read Scaffolding Student Learning: Tips for Getting Started to learn more about how to scaffold course content.

    We can’t emphasize enough the importance of applying some minimal level of scaffolding to your online course. In fact, we are so committed to the idea of scaffolding in online courses that we've developed an Online Course Template for faculty use, which will be discussed in the next stage.

    Once your content is nicely organized into a chunking plan or a course map, you are ready to move into the course development stage.


    Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63(2), 81-97.

    Sawyer, R. Keith. (2006). The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Now that you have more or less set the initial design parameters of your online course, it's time to start developing the course content. All courses developed at UNF are delivered through the Canvas Learning Management System. Therefore, all content development will occur in that system, although other tools may be used as well. Working with an instructional designer can help you determine what tools may work best for your particular course. CIRT has many resources to assist you in creating graphics and media to develop a high-quality distance-learning course.


    The next step is to start working on the development of the following instructional materials:

    • Syllabus
    • Course Schedule
    • Activities
    • Assessments
    • Multimedia Content

    Once you have most or some of the materials developed, you are ready to start uploading those materials identified in your Course Map into Canvas sandbox. Organizing your content inside Canvas can be challenging and require a lot of time and effort. To simplify the process of adding content to a course in Canvas, CIRT has several key resources available to you. In addition to the already mentioned instructional design consultations, there is the Canvas Knowledge Base with hundreds of "How To" articles, an Online Course Template to streamline content organization inside of Canvas, and CIRT's Creative Team who can assist with the production of media.

    CIRT's Knowledge Base is an excellent resource for those who need guidance for all things related to the Canvas LMS.

    CIRT's Online Course Template helps to streamline your effort in developing an online course that meets national standards in formatting and pedagogy. This template has already been used to develop dozens of online courses at UNF both individually within departments and across entire online programs. This page also provides some guidelines to follow when customizing the template so that the course will still meet the specific subject-matter requirements while maintaining the underlying structure and format of the template.

    CIRT's Creative Team is available to assist with the production of any educational media needed for a course. Courses that utilize educational media are more interactive for students and increase engagement with the learning material. Here is a complete list of CIRT's educational media services.


    Instructors of online courses face many choices as they select the tools and media that best support their course learning objectives. As online courses are developed, instructors should incorporate appropriate design elements such as color, font, spacing, graphics, formatting, and color coding to facilitate readability while minimizing distractions for students. Instructors who incorporate the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) will develop a course that optimizes learning for all students. By adhering to UDL principles in course design at UNF, we can ensure that courses are accessible to all learners and give them equal opportunities to succeed. CIRT’s Best Practices article, “Accessibility & UDL” is an excellent resource as is the CIRT Canvas Accessibility webpage.

    For more information, visit: National Center on Universal Design for Learning

    Additional information can be found on our Accessibility and UDL page.


Once the course content has been developed, it is time to deliver the course content to the students and teach the course. During this phase, the efficacy of your course design will be assessed and established.


    While effective face-to-face teaching and management strategies may be familiar to you, the online learning environment presents different challenges and benefits that will require you to adapt those familiar strategies and add new approaches. Teaching in an online environment demands a distinct set of skills since many of the approaches and methods linked with best teaching practices are impacted by the online environment. To effectively deliver an online course it is important to understand the skills needed to be a successful online teacher.

    The Faculty Focus article, Guidelines for Online Teaching Success by Mary Bart, describes a set of requirements for being a successful online instructor that provides a useful starting point for self-reflection.


    When teaching your online course, you should always consider your students’ perspectives as they engage with your course content. It is best practice to try to view your course as a student would. This will help prevent confusion on the part of your students. To learn more about instructor presence in an online course, check out the resources below.


    Devising a plan in advance for managing the delivery of your online course will allow you to focus attention on interaction with students during the course delivery. Developing a course facilitation plan will help you organize the workload associated with facilitating your online course. A course facilitation plan is a schedule of tasks the instructor must complete throughout the duration of the course to ensure the students are engaged with the content, informed about pertinent events, and provided with effective and timely feedback. Listed below are some resources that will assist you in facilitating your online course.


    Until you have surveyed your students concerning your online course, what do you really know? We know that frequent and useful feedback to students can serve to reinforce learning goals and foster a positive learning community, but that’s just one side of the coin. On the other side, students also need opportunities to provide feedback to their instructors. Anonymous student surveys serve this purpose very effectively. Ultimately, if your goal for teaching online is to provide students with a valuable learning environment, then you should consider implementing student surveys in your course to solicit feedback, and then you should also have some plan for utilizing that feedback.

    If you want honest answers to those questions you may need to provide students with some incentives for completing the survey. Giving extra credit points can be a good incentive. In addition, you also need to be clear on the expectations. You can start by doing the following:

    • State that the survey is anonymous. Make sure this is clearly stated somewhere outside the survey.
    • Include some questions in the survey that address the confidentiality of the survey.
    • Clearly state how you will use the responses to improve the course. Don’t just say, ”thanks here are your points” or “thanks I look over that later.” Instead, include some of the not so favorable statistics in the next announcement to students and discuss how you which modifications you can make in the course now to accommodate their needs.
    • For those unfavorable statistics that can’t easily be dealt with in the current semester, provide some explanation to students as to why and offer some outlet for further discussions, such as, a new discussion forum or additional office hours where they may continue to share their concerns with you.

    Contact CIRT if you would like a copy of the standard midterm survey added to your course.


    Here are some sample questions you could include in a midterm survey:

    Example 1:

    • On a scale of 1-5 (1-easy to 5-difficult) how would you rate your overall experience with navigating the course and completing the assignments?
    • The organization of the course is consistent making it easy to locate course materials and assignments. (Agree or Disagree)
    • The course schedule was easy to locate and clearly outlines all the assignments and when they are due. (Agree or Disagree)
    • The announcements help me to stay on track in the course? (Agree or Disagree)
    • The criteria used to evaluate my participation in online discussions are clearly stated. (Agree or Disagree)
    • On a scale of 1-3 (1-relevant to 3-not relevant) how would you rate the discussion topics so far?
    • So far the instructor has given sufficient feedback on graded assignments and progress in the course. (Agree or Disagree)
    • The grading criteria used to evaluate the course assignments are clearly stated. (Agree or Disagree)
    • The grades I have received accurately match my achievement of the grading criteria? (Agree or Disagree)

    Example 2:

    • On a scale of 1-3 (1-relevant to 3-not relevant) how would you rate the relevance of the assignments in this course?
    • I have been given sufficient opportunities to interact with the instructor and my peers in the course>? (Agree or Disagree)
    • I received sufficient support when I needed assistance with technology or had questions about course assignments. Or, if I need such assistance in the future, it’s clear where to find it? (Agree or Disagree)
    • The instructional media (images, videos, text) presented in the course were useful in preparing for the assignments and quizzes? (Agree or Disagree)
    • If you were the instructor of this course what would you want to change immediately?
    • If you were the instructor of this course what could you do to be more accommodating to students?
    • What is the most difficult aspect of this course?
    • Type in additional comments concerning this course in text box below.
  • ISQs +

    At the end of most courses taught at UNF, students complete the Instructional Satisfaction Questionnaire (ISQ). The ISQ measures students’ perceptions of their learning experience. The information you receive from students in the ISQ can assist you in reviewing your course before the next iteration. Teaching is a reflective process. Each time you teach your online course, you will learn strategies that you can use to improve your course in the future.


    Congratulations you have successfully facilitated your online course! Having a plan for how to effectively end your course will help you and your students reach the end on a positive note.

    • If you have a final exam in your course, set up a study session (online through Collaborate). You can do a pre-recorded session, or have it open for question/answer.
    • Let students know when all of the grades will be entered in Bb (or let them know when they are entered if you don't have a timeline). Be sure to also submit grades in MyWings.
    • Remind students to complete their ISQs - remind them when they become available, and once more before the window closes. It is effective to communicate to students why the ISQ is important and how the information is used, both by you as the instructor, and by the institution as a whole. For more information about effective strategies to increase response rates, see Response Rates and the Online ISQ Process.


All courses need to be revised and refreshed throughout their lifecycle. Whether it is a simple modification to update links that have changed, altering a graphic for one that is more current, or doing a complete redesign because a key component of the course has changed, revisions are required. Aside from all of the routine “course cleanup” tasks necessary to keep your course functioning as it was developed, you should also review your student feedback to determine whether more pedagogical changes are required. For this task, turn to your sources of quantitative or qualitative feedback from your students, which as mentioned in the last section, might include any or all of the following:

  • Midterm surveys
  • Distribution of grades
  • ISQ's
  • Other feedback you have received from students

    Once you have finished designing and developing your online or hybrid course, it is important to reflect upon its quality. Is your course design usable and accessible? Will your course effectively promote student learning?

    Consider the following questions based on Quality Matters standards when reviewing your course:

    • Does your course have a “Start Here” section to instruct your students on how to begin?
    • Do you convey important information about your course’s purposes, learning activities, and assessments through a syllabus and course schedule?
    • Are your course objectives clearly written and aligned with the learning activities and assessments?
    • Do your course’s assessments, learning activities, and instructional materials promote interaction and the achievement of the objectives?
    • Do you clearly state grading policies for your course?
    • Does your course include a plan for responding to and offering feedback to students?
    • Do you integrate tools that promote engagement, active learning, and the achievement of the objectives?
    • Does your course guide students to technical support and UNF accessibility policies and services?
    • Is your course navigable and user-friendly?
    • Does your course clearly state information about the accessibility of all technologies required in the course?

    Visit UNF's Online Course Design Quality Review webpage to learn more about the course review process or how to submit your course for official review


    Once you have incorporated student feedback and made changes to your course as necessary, you may need additional assistance from CIRT. For assistance with using Canvas, email For questions concerning course design and delivery, schedule a consultation with an instructional designer.