Instructional Design: Raising the Bar in OnlineStudents can now take classes on their phone or tablet, and instructors and industry experts can interact with students from anywhere…

Online learning saves time, money, and the environment; it’s motivating, portable, and customizable; it enhances comprehension and increases retention; and can be done in real time, on the student’s time. These are just some of the reasons that online learning has exploded since the late ‘90s. From 1998 to 2008, there was a 150 percent increase in the number of students selecting distance-learning courses as part of their regular college curriculum.

Hard data on the increase from 2008 to present hasn’t yet been compiled, but the latest findings from the Instructional Technology Council say that the gap between distance learning and face-to-face student-completion rates is closing. On a global scale, when launched in February of 2012, offering free courses from Princeton, Stanford and other top universities, it amassed 640,000 students from 190 countries in just six months.

At SDSU’s College of Extended Studies, online learning has increased by 65 percent since 2000, due in part to the serendipitous birth of the Instructional Design department. The casino industry was booming in San Diego at the time, and local employers were sending employees to the only place that offered courses in gaming – Las Vegas.

Wendy Evers“When we realized that’s what was happening, we thought, ‘Why couldn’t we develop courses for them?’” said Wendy Evers, executive director of New Initiatives and Outreach at SDSU’s College of Extended Studies. “So after forming an advisory council of the 12 casinos in the area, we launched an Indian Gaming Professional Certificate program. Then we started getting calls from tribal councils and casinos from all over the United States asking us, ‘Can you teach the program in Arizona … Tennessee … Northern California?’ That’s when Emeritus Dean William Byxbee said, ‘Let’s put these courses online.’ That’s how the whole concept of developing in-house started – we had a market demand, and no one else that could deliver.”

Interest in online courses began to grow, and the college next developed four new certificate programs for the green industry. “At that time, there weren’t even textbooks on the subject,” said Evers. “‘Green’ encompasses a huge range of topics – from sustainable paper to landscaping – so we decided to start with Energy Management. Then we developed Green Building, Sustainable Business Practices, and Water Management and Landscape Sustainability. We developed online programs because our research showed that online was moving to the forefront of learning and that people from San Diego, the nation and around the world could take our courses.”

Interest continued to grow and, in 2006, the College of Extended Studies hired its first instructional designer to teach instructors how to develop a course online. By 2012, with two full-time instructional designers and one part-time, the ID department partnered with SDSU main campus to offer online delivery of any of their degree programs that were run through the College of Extended Studies. These include the extremely successful Master of Science in Hospitality & Tourism Management, and Master of Science in Regulatory Affairs programs.

John AlexanderTeaching the instructors how to teach online (via the Blackboard Learning Management System) prompted the creation of the Teaching Online Primer – another first for the CES. The collaborative relationship that John Alexander, director of Instructional Design; Julie Moss, instructional designer; and Terri Linman, instructional design consultant; have with the online instructors also extends to course development.

“Instructors are experts in their field,” said Alexander, “but they may not be an expert on how to put an online course together, and that’s where Julie and I come in. We work with them to help create engaging content that’s as good as, and even better than, a face-to-face class.”

One example is the addition of videos to the curriculum, so that students not only read about a water treatment plant, they take a virtual tour through it. Or they see an interview with an expert on the topic they’re studying. The department’s commitment to creating engaging content was recently taken to the next level with the hiring of a full-time videographer.

“We also started doing assessments to make sure we were at a high level of instruction,” added Evers. “Initially students had a few survey questions to answer at the end of a course, but now we do an assessment halfway through – ‘How are we doing; how is the instructor doing; can we change anything?’ There’s also an assessment at the end. This has become a CES best-practice for us.”

The introduction of the Blackboard Mobile app added yet another facet to online learning. Students can now take classes on their phone or tablet, and instructors and industry experts can interact with students from anywhere, even the confines of an airplane on a business trip.

To stay on top of the latest trends in online learning, the College of Extended Studies’ ID team meets biweekly with the Instructional Technology Services department from main campus – hosts of the annual  One Day in May symposium on online learning excellence.

“Our campus is very progressive with ideas in online learning,” said Evers. “We’re fortunate to have instructional designers on staff and to strive for the highest level in online learning and development. We’re also proud to see registration in our online courses from as far as the Indian Ocean, Alaska, China, England, Dubai and the Philippines. We stay on top of online learning trends and we bring the best product that we can to our customers, which are the students. We endeavor to offer them education-to-career content, and we’re always making sure we raise the bar.”

What Students Say

“What I enjoyed most in this online course (Medical Billing and Coding) is the presentation, material contents, and the convenience of studying at home with more time to focus and concentrate.”
— Edgardo Navera

“I’m very glad I decided to take the courses (Construction Supervision) even though I had a busy schedule working nights. Having the courses 100 percent online made my success possible. My resume has gotten noticed more on LinkedIn, and interviewers have had nothing but positive comments on my coursework.”
— Mark Gonzalez