Online Course Design: 3 Practices For Beginner And Experienced Online Instructors

Just starting to build a course? Looking for some new ideas? Consider the three practices I followed: Stop-Look-Listen, Mixing, and Sharing.

I decided to practice what I preach and used these three practices from my book, The Plugged-In Manager, as I built my first course, Negotiation: Problems Solved, Not Battles Fought. Courses are like miniature organizations, and this online course design approach gave me a strong starting point, which I especially needed as a first-timer.

Stop – Look – Listen

The first practice is to Stop-Look-Listen (like a child learning to cross the street). You’re trying to understand the current situation across the involved people, technology, and methods. Stop and reflect on all three dimensions — no short-cuts. If you’ve lived long enough to be building an  online course, I think you’ve mastered this one in the physical world. What can you learn if you apply the ideas online?

For me this meant stopping and looking for a great first course to take. I knew I needed background about Udemy as well as general online course design. Nev Nev’s free course How to Build Your Own Course: Create money making courses was the jewel I found as I stopped and looked.

I started the listening phase early in the design. I asked friends with online education expertise to take a look at my early attempts and I listened to their suggestions. I’m now in the listening phase with my first students and I’m looking forward to making adjustments given their comments. Always stop, look, and listen to the results as you first get started with a new project.


The second, and most important, practice is to take the knowledge gained during Stop-Look-Listen and then mix a combination of technology tools, course methods, and human dimensions that supports your goals. Mixing is where you do real customer focused online course development.

The good news is that you already have this skill. Mixing is basically a negotiation where you are helping all the parties get a good deal. We all do small negotiations every day, so we all have a start on the practice of mixing. Designing your course is a negotiation between you and your future students. The issues of the negotiation are things like:

  • People: How much time you’re going to put in, the experience you have or expect your students to have, how your particular students will be motivated to succeed (any of the people issues that might show up in a basic psychology course).
  • Technology: The way you’ll use the Udemy options and features and/or decisions you’ll make about whether and how to use live action video, screen capture, or supplemental material.
  • Methods: The organization of the course and your presence through announcements or answering questions.


The third practice is what brings the instructors to Udemy in the first place: We have something we want to share.

By sharing the what, how, and why of our course design, we help each other build on successes and learn from failures. The ecosystem of online courses gets stronger with each person who is aware of what kind of courses are available, knows how to learn from online courses, and understands good course design.

Danielle Leslie’s How to: Get Record Course Sales Your First 30 Days on Udemy is both a great post and a great example of the value of sharing. Udemy’s success is built on individual courses on the Udemy platform. The more we each succeed and can show the value of this kind of learning, the more students we will all have access to. I try talking about the value of Udemy at least as much as I talk about my own course.

Mixing It All Together

There isn’t one perfect recipe, but you do want the people, technology, and methods pieces of your course to fit together. If you did a long segment, maybe the next segment should be shorter. Suggest students take a break and go apply what they’ve just learned. Follow a long segment with a short quiz. This type of mix is respectful of human attention spans by balancing the course design with opportunities the Udemy technology gives us.

My strategy was to design the educational flow first (goals, topics, and organization of the course), then use the technology and people dimensions to go back and make sure I was supporting the educational goals – lots of Stop-Look-Listen. When I used quizzes, I made sure that they were also opportunities to highlight the key points of the lecture (blending technology with human learning). This approach is very similar to what I’d do for a face to face course, but with slight adjustments given a global audience, the Udemy platform, and the need for the students to stay engaged without other people to work with in real time.

Negotiation is how I do my mixing as it makes me keep a strong focus on the students, not just my own preferences. I think about who I’m trying to reach agreement with (my stakeholders), what issues they care about, and how I can make tradeoffs in the design to build the best course for a variety of students.

** Learn more about Negotiation. Check out this on-demand, online course. FREE preview**

I will stop, look, and listen here. Take a look at your course design. Take a look at these three practices. Is there a better mix if you leverage the people, technology, or methods of your course differently? Please think about the third practice, sharing, and share your thoughts here.

About the Author:

Terri Griffith, Ph.D. is a professor of management at Santa Clara University and the author of The Plugged-In Manager. She generally teaches organizational design and innovation management, but also covers negotiation, social media, and long, long ago, basic computer programming.