Content, Instructor, and Student Characteristics


Goal: To examine issues of design related to content, instructor and student characteristics.

One of the most important parts of the Instructional Design process is “Analysis”. Analysis refers to the process used by an instructional designer to learn what they need to know about the content, the learners, how to assess learning and how to effectively deliver instruction. – Brian Newberry

Your blog post assignment this week is to address each of the following three scenarios in light of the information presented in the podcast and then discuss your instructional design process described in chapter 1 of our text. Then you will be asked to reflect on a development project of your own and identify the steps in an instructional design process presented in the text.

1. Scenarios

To address these scenarios, identify the major characteristics or issues that would impact or influence the design of the described online class. Be sure to indicate which of the characteristics you identify would be your prime concern. Also be sure to indicate how each of the major issues you identify would influence your design of the online class.

You have been asked to lead the team that is developing a series of courses for an online University. Explain some design decisions or issues that you would have to deal with for each class given the characteristics of the content, instructors and students as presented. Note: Pick the most salient characteristics and issues and explain why the ones you have chosen are key. Don’t try to cover every possible issue in each scenario!

Course A

Content: This course will cover beginning college algebra.

  • Issues: Since I’m not a subject expert, and admittedly suffer from math anxiety, content would be a primary issue for me in designing an online algebra course. In his lecture Professor Newberry describes math as a typically convergent subject with right and wrong answers. Therefore it should be a little more straightforward to structure an online class for this subject matter. However I would have to work closely with the course instructor to identify what to teach (Horton, 2012, p. 14) and to set clear, precise, and worthy learning objectives (p. 16 & 18). This type of course lends itself nicely to Tests & Quiz modules in the campus CMS.

Instructor(s): This course is taught by various adjunct and full time professors who are very familiar with the content who have differing degrees of tech skills and online teaching experience. The same class has to serve for all instructors.

  • Issues: In his lecture Newberry notes that instructor characteristics are an important part of the design process, so having various instructors with varying tech skills and time restraints is indeed a challenge. Is there a course outline that all instructors follow? As illustrated by Horton, this should be used to create the lessons, topics, and activities for the class (p. 6). Designing a simple, clear and easy to navigate course framework that’s based on the curricula is best. At the same time it would be useful to allow for customization by instructors with higher degrees of sophistication.

Students: All students in this course are college freshman and sophomores with good technology skills and each has successfully taken an online orientation to online learning course.

  • Issues: Horton suggests that the designer analyze learners’ needs and abilities. (p. 13). This appears to be a homogenous group of students with similar skills and prerequisites. However, it’s important to present the information in an organized manner that’s easy to navigate and allows for different types of interaction in order to motivate students and maintain their interest. As Newberry notes, students differ in their need for interactions.

Course B

Content: The course is a philosophy of leadership class.

  • Issues: Like most humanities courses, this philosophy course will probably feature a lot of reading, critical thinking, discussion, and writing. This type of course content is what Professor Newberry described at divergent and lends itself to open-ended questions and answers. The online course framework must allow for creativity on the part of the students but also allow the instructor to manage the students’ input without difficulty. This can be done by selecting the appropriate tools within the CMS. Key issues will be knowing what concepts the instructor wants to teach and designing objectives that will accomplish that (p. 14 & 16).

Instructor(s): The instructor is an experienced face-to-face instructor with good tech skills and prior online teaching experience. This instructor prefers lecture and discussion classes.

  • Issues: The holistic nature of most philosophy classes, where the students and their instructor have long discussions on various issues, might seem like a tough fit for an online course, especially if the instructor prefers lecture and discussion classes. However, since this instructor is tech savvy and has previous online teaching experience this could be a very fun class to design. The key issues here would be to gage the instructors comfort level with the CMS capabilities, various other media formats, and even social media sites. Select the appropriate media (p. 61) and create learning activities (p. 51) that include all types of interaction. The designer can strive to make the online experience as rewarding for the instructor as the F2F experience and perhaps change the instructors thinking about online courses.

Students: Graduate students who are well motivated and with a broad range of technology skills, from average to very advanced.

  • Issues: These are graduate students all with adequate technology skills therefore it’s important to create learning objectives and learning objects that challenge the students. However, a course such as this might have students with varying undergraduate degrees such as the sciences or social sciences. Research, writing, and critical thinking skills could vary as well so the learners’ needs and abilities should be taken into account when creating online content for the course (p. 13). As Horton also notes, it’s useful to have the students apply their knowledge in real-world situation to determine if they’ve met the learning objective (p. 24). The designer must create learning objects that allow students to meet this objective (p. 49).

Course C

Content: This course is an introduction to college success. It teaches study skills, communication skills, and tries to help students learn how to fit into the college community.

  • Issues: This course is typically offered to first-semester freshmen. At Cerritos College several sections are part of the First Year Experience Learning Community so students have a group of 30 cohorts in three different classes with a single theme running throughout. The content is a combination of convergent (e.g. facts about the campus, degree information) and divergent (e.g. time management techniques, interpersonal communication). A big part of this course is introducing students to the college’s online presence and insuring that they are comfortable navigating those resources, so utilizing the campus webpages and the campus CMS are key design elements. This course tends to involve much instructor interaction, because students are often investigating unique topics such as their own career goals. Newberry notes that in this scenario the online course framework has to include proven ways to provide “appropriate guidance and support”.

Instructor(s): This course will be taught by various instructors all with good tech skills and prior online teaching experience but who have never taught this content before.

  • Issues: At Cerritos College this course is taught by the counselors and there’s are a very specific course objectives and course outline. This should make it relatively easy to design an online course that can be used by new instructors who have the same objectives and follow the same outline. As Horton notes, make sure you know what is being taught (p. 14) and understand the main objectives. Even though Horton warns against working with a “content committee” (p. 16), in this case I would work with someone from the department to insure the design is adequate, that the sequencing makes sense, and that it can be manipulated if needed since some instructors teach out of sequence. You might not be able to design to every instructor’s preferences, but by creating a customizable site you can address different instructor needs.

Students: Students are incoming freshman who have been identified by advisers as high risk for drop out.

  • Issues: In this case the learners’ needs and abilities have been noted, but as Horton points out there are many sub-factors to consider, such as motivation for learning, attitude, communication skills, social skills, etc. (p. 13). In a class with this particular demographic, i.e. at-risk students, it’s very important to engage and motivate utilizing all three types of presences of the CoI module – social, teaching, and cognitive. Interactions between students, teacher, and content are crucial. Selecting the best approach and best media to reach the course objectives is key. Besides using the campus webpage and CMS, introduce social media sites since students are probably already familiar with these popular applications. I’ve also found that interactive learning activities work well with this population of students. The course design should include “Absorb, Do, Connect” activities that are both fun to complete as well as educational (p. 51).

2. Now, think about an online learning experience that you might someday create. Describe in detail the content, instructor and student characteristics. What are the design issues or features that these suggest? Explain your answers.

Title of My Online Learning Experience: Finding Journal Articles Using Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition

Content: This learning experience is an introduction to the EBSCO Health Source database. It teaches students how to access the database and introduces them to its features and content. It will teach them how to search, limit, retrieve, save, and cite medical journal articles. This is a one-shot F2F learning experience conducted in a computer lab. In addition there’s 24/7 online learning object available.

  • Issue: It seems to me that teaching database structure and search strategy is a combination of convergent and divergent content. It’s important that students understand how a database is constructed and understand its features as well as the concepts behind Boolean logic (convergent), but it’s even more crucial that they understand how to select keywords and create a meaningful search (divergent). The usual and customary practice of a live online demonstration followed by hands-on practice works well for the F2F session in the computer lab. A key issue will be choosing the best media for the interactive online learning object (Horton, 2012, p. 61).

Instructor: This course will be taught by the Nursing liaison librarian who has taught completely online and is also comfortable with hybrid or flipped classrooms.

  • Issue: The designer might or might not be the instructor, however both the designer and the instructor are experienced librarians. Instructor preferences and comfort levels with media, activities, and student interactions must be taken into account (Newberry, 2015).
  • Issue: The designer must select learning activities that can be completed successfully in the computer lab in order to enable discovery (Horton, 2012, p. 51). After absorbing knowledge presented in a live, online demonstration by the instructor, students must be given a chance to do something with that knowledge in order to connect it with their nursing program success. Again, a key issue will be choosing the best media for the 24/7 interactive online learning objects and creating learning objects that enable discovery even when the librarian isn’t present.

Students: Students are undergraduates who have completed at least two semesters of general requirements and are in the first semester of the Associate Degree Nursing program.

  • Issue: Students in this class are generally very motivated due to the highly selective nature of the Nursing program at Cerritos College. Previous academic success has rewarded them with acceptance in the program. Newberry (2015) notes that previous success in online classes tends to produce self-motivated, self-regulated, and self-starting students. While not all their previous course were online, many were. However, the instructor still needs to be aware of the technology skills of the students. As Horton notes, it’s important to analyze the learners’ needs and abilities (Horton, 2012, p. 13).
  • Issue: Due to the sophistication of these students, it’s important to create learning objectives and learning objects that challenge the students. As Horton notes, it’s useful to have the students apply their knowledge in real-world situation to determine if they’ve met the learning objective (p. 24). The designer must create learning objects that allow students to meet this objective (p. 49).

3. List the 11 instructional design steps presented in chapter 1 of the text (Design Quickly and Reliably).

William Horton, a leading e-learning consultant and author of the book E-Learning Design, defines e-learning simply and understandably as “the use of electronic technologies to create learning experiences.” He goes on to say that creating effective e-learning requires both design and development. Design involves the decisions about what we’re going to do, while development is the actual construction of our e-learning environment.  Design requires judgement, creativity, and decision-making and it determines the success of the technology and the pedagogy. Horton developed an eleven step design process that he maintains is a “tired and true approach to e-learning design. The steps are:

1. Identify your underlying goal. Keep the goal in mind as you make other decisions.

2. Analyze learner’s needs and abilities. You must know enough about the learners to choose appropriate learning experiences. And remember that no two learners are exactly the same.

3. Identify what to teach. Practice essentialism, a technique to focus learning on essentials needed to accomplish goals.

4. Set learning objectives. Good objectives are the make-or-break requirement for effective e-learning. They should be clear, precise, and worthy.

5. Identify prerequisites. Prerequisites specify the abilities, knowledge, beliefs, and feelings learners must possess before they can accomplish an objective.

6. Pick the approach to meet each objective. Determine how you will meet each objective. Consider all possibilities and pick the best solution for your learners, your mission, and your situation.

7. Decide on the teaching sequence of your objectives. Determine the order in which learners will accomplish the objectives. Possibilities include bottom-up, top-down, and sideways.

8. Create objects to accomplish objectives. Specify learning activities (aka learning objects) for each objective. A learning object is a chunk of electronic content that can be accessed individually and that completely accomplishes a single learning objective and can prove it.

9. Create tests. Tests gauge accomplishment of the objectives.

10. Select learning activities. Activities are necessary to provoke learning experiences and can be used to accomplish difficult leaning objectives. Absorb-Do-Connect activities enable discovery.

11. Choose media. Determine which media is necessary to implement the activities and tests and accomplish the objectives. Which medium will most directly and effectively express the ideas you want to get across?

Then redesign again and again…


Horton, W. (2012). E-learning by design. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley and Sons.

Newberry, B. (2015). Session Two Lecture. [Word document]. Retrieved from CSUSB Blackboard ETEC 541.