Course description

How do adults learn most effectively online? The online learning environment differs from traditional on-ground approaches and relies heavily on active collaborative techniques to help learners construct knowledge and build community, but why? This course focuses on designing instruction for the unique needs of adult online learners, critically examining related learning theories, instructional design practices, and online teaching strategies. Students examine dynamics that lead to online learning success, developing an appreciation for how adult learning theory informs effective instruction. In addition, as students collaboratively develop online lessons, they utilize design thinking, a framework leveraged by many highly innovative organizations today. In this case, students learn their way into inventive instructional solutions by analyzing adult online learner traits, acquiring interviewing techniques to identify desired learning outcomes, ideating and rapidly creating prototypes, pivoting as brainstorming leads to alternative approaches, and ultimately developing effective learner-centered activities and assessment strategies. Design thinking challenges the designer to develop empathy for stakeholdersin this case, the adult learner. Given a foundation in adult online learning theory, students conduct an empathetic exploration of best practices in designing instruction and online facilitation, comparing and contrasting these approaches, as well as examining quality rubrics published by organizations such as Quality Matters and the Online Learning Consortium. This course is of particular interest to those professionals who contribute to online teaching and learning outcomes in higher education or corporate settings.


  • Program Chair, Instructional Design and Learning Technology, Western Governors University

Associated Schools

  • Harvard Division of Continuing Education

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