The development of an online course can follow a traditional approach, which is more independent faculty-driven or a collaborative approach (Hixon, Buckenmeyer, Barczyk, Feldman & Zamojski, 2012).  The traditional style approach is still popular in higher education institutions and the early adopters in online education had the technical skills necessary to develop effective courses (Hixon et al., 2012).  However, new technologies, time needed to create new courses, and conceptualizing the course for a new environment are a few of the challenges a new online instructor may face.  Puzziferro and Shelton mention levels of development for an online course, and the importance of collaborative course development.  One key point being that the instructors may not have the level of expertise needed or be capable of the development process on their own (2008).  The development of a course can be one of the more challenging tasks for the instructor, especially if the system approach is not present or available to an instructor.  Some of the considerations in this case include: how will the course be delivered, will an LMS with tools be available, how and when is content developed.

There are benefits of using an LMS.  Structure and organization are benefits for the instructor and student. If an instructor is working on a course in the traditional style approach, as discussed above, developing the course all at once may be too big of a task to complete in-between semesters.  In this case, some of the development takes place before the course and the rest happens as the course is in progress.  One strategy presented by Ragan (2012) that can help the instructor in this situation, is establishing patterns in course activities.  Because the time and location parameters for online courses are missing, students appreciate knowing the tentative course schedule up front.  If the weekly schedule is established early and modules are opened consistently, students are able to plan and schedule their schoolwork into their daily schedule.

Planning for the unplanned in the development of a course is an important part of course development (Ragan, 2012) and the use of an LMS helps. I prefer to keep my correspondence within the LMS for organization reasons and students know that they can use discussion threads and messaging within the LMS to contact their peers or me.  The “life happens” comment in the Ragan article is important to remember for any online course developer.  Flexibility should be integrated into the design and development of an online course, and the LMS can be a central location for course communication.

The LMS can work for a constructivist learning theory.  Many interactive, collaborative, and synchronous functions are part of newer LMSs (Godwin-Jones, 2012).  Moodle is an example of an LMS developed around the social constructivist learning theory.  Moodle offers books, forums, glossaries, wikis, and other features that can be utilized to increase collaboration within the LMS. However, most instructors do not use these customizable tools (Godwin-Jones, 2012).  The options for collaborative spaces within an LMS are expanding and perhaps training should be customized and available for the early adopter instructors who want to integrate these more advanced features.

Godwin-Jones, R. (2012). Emerging technologies challenging hegemonies in online learning. Language, Learning & Technology, 16(2), 4-13.

Hixon, E., Buckenmeyer, J., Barczyk, C., Feldman, L. & Heather Zamojski, H. (2012). Beyond the early adopters of online instruction: Motivating the reluctant majority, The Internet and Higher Education, 15(2), 102-107.

Puzziferro, M., & Shelton, K. (2008). A model for developing high-quality online courses: Integrating a systems approach with learning theory. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 12(34), 119136.

Ragan, L. C. (2012). 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education. Distance Education Report: Magna, USA.