Texas Tech University

Instructional Design Tips

Course Design Factors that Contribute to Quality

by Brian Ditmer

Good planning and a little effort can make your course a great learning opportunity for students. Joseph McClary, Ed.S, outlines eight design principles in Factors in High Quality Distance Learning Courses (2013). We will explore the first four of these principles this month and the final four in the December From Anywhere newsletter.

McClary cites existing research (Elias 2010) that identifies eight instructional design principles that contribute to quality. These are the first four:

  • Equitable use: "Equitable use involves ensuring content is available to all learners." These include accessibility features like scripts and closed captioning, which some designers may omit to save time. However, McClary asserts, "ethical course design calls for a commitment toward equitable use." 
  • Flexible use: "Flexible use involves offering content in multiple formats," McClary writes. For example, he cites the well-known example that Apple's Safari browser does not support Adobe Flash, so content must be provided in an alternate format that will not restrict a student to using a certain operating system or browser to access the content. 
    • Be cognizant of anything you do outside of Blackboard. Java issues, software incompatibility and things as simple as flash can hinder the learning and cause accessibility problems.
  • Simple and intuitive: "It is generally a good practice across institutions of higher learning to commit to a single learning management system, and then develop a common course layout across most all of the courses offered in it....Colleges and universities that do not have a single vision for what their distance learning initiatives should look like have departments going different directions with variable levels of quality," McClary writes. 
    • Adding to McClary's point, making your course navigation simple and intuitive doesn't just help the students; It will cut down the number of emails you get that are focused on the instructions and processes, when you'd rather be responding to questions related to the learning.
    Perceptible information: Perceptible information refers to presenting information in different ways. "Perceptible information involves enhancing content with descriptors, captions and transcriptions....Providing perceptible information involves not only accommodating accessibility but providing means for alternative access for the benefit of students with different learning modalities," McClary writes.
    • Accessibility is more than accommodating the physical: Lending itself to the idea of universal design, a well-developed and explicitly-described presentation of information will provide the greatest opportunities for learning for each student.

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


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