Texas Tech University

Instructional Design Tips

Course Design Factors that Contribute to Quality, Part II

by Brian Ditmer

As a continuation to the article on course design factors from last month, we will now further examine how good planning and a little effort can make your course a great learning opportunity for students. Joseph McClary, Ed.S, cites existing research (Elias 2010) that identifies eight instructional design principles that contribute to quality. These are the final four:

  • Tolerance for error: "Tolerance for error provides students the opportunity to easily correct errors," McClary explains. For example, students need easy ways to work with the instructor to resubmit work if a revision is allowed. Within administrative function, using "centralized authentication services," typically a single username/password combination, allows the student easier access to registration, library, and other online functions.

    Make a starting page that provides explicit information on course policy and procedures and serves as a resource for access to the library, tutoring services and any other resources that students may use related to the course content. The Instructional designers at TTU Worldwide eLearning can help you with this.
  • Low physical and technical effort: "Extraneous cognitive load placed on students involving courseware or the delivery system should be minimized," McClary writes (Rikers, 2006). Browser checks, usability testing, clear design and assistive technologies "allow students to dedicate more cognitive focus on content and the learning process as opposed to the learning environment itself."

    The focus should be on the learning, not the technology. Good course design and development will make sure the focus is on the course subject and minimize exchanges and delays due to course setup errors.

  • Community of learners and support: "Good course design incorporates group learning and employs technology to facilitate those interactions at a distance."
      An important aspect of a learning community is a practice that contributes to learning from social presence, cognitive presence and teaching presence.
      • Social presence describes a student's interaction with others, including the instructor.
      • Cognitive presence is where too many courses focus all of their energy. This is the student's interaction with the content (the learning material).
      • Teaching presence describes not so much the exchanges between the student and the instructor, but more significantly, the guidance, clear instructions, and navigation ease that keep that learning path open.
  • Instructional climate: McClary writes, "One thread that runs consistently through research studies is that interaction is a vital element in the instructional process. Course design and instructors bear a responsibility to engage students in a meaningful way,"

Texas Tech has assumed a leadership stance in making closed captioning and accessibility design a priority. Questions abound, and the Worldwide eLearning is here to help. For more information, contact the Instructional Design Team at 742-7227 or elearning.id@ttu.edu.


Elias, T. (2010). Universal instructional design principles for Moodle. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 11(2). Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/869

McClary, J. (2013). Factors in High Quality Distance Learning Courses. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration 16 (2). Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/

Rikers, R. M. J. P. (2006). A critical reflection on emerging topics in cognitive load research. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20: 359–364. doi: 10.1002/acp.1252