The 5 C’s of Online Course Design

By July 9, 2018 No Comments
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Amidst the fast-paced technical evolution of the twenty first century, it is no surprise more and more schools and business are turning to online tools for education and training.  And with so much competition it is increasingly important to make sure your courses are not only current and relevant but also fresh and engaging. But in an effort to add more – be that more color, more technology or more interaction – we must take care to avoid creating visual clutter that can actually detract from quality education. In the matter of online course design, more is not always better.

Here we discuss some simple but effective practices to help you stay on top of course design in a very competitive online education industry.


Color is a great way to add visual appeal to an online course. Color can be added with text, backgrounds and imagery. But take care to keep it simple. Too many colors can be overwhelming and distracting.  Choose colors palates that work together not only within the course but with your institution’s site and brand colors as well. Avoid excess highlighting and colored lettering which can be confusing. Choose font emphasis carefully. Only bold and highlight sections headings and key words.


Courses and modules within each course should have a consistent look and feel with regard to layout, activities, themes etc. Consistency will help your students feel more comfortable navigating your site and feel more prepared each time they log in. While using a variety of media and activities can keep things interesting, be cautious about using too many different types of activities which may cause confusion. Using a different activity type each week means students not only have to learn course material but also must learn to navigate new tools and technology, which can be disorienting and discouraging. Instead, use only 3-5 types of activities and rotate those throughout your course or program. This will allow students to focus on their schoolwork.


Using a little HTML can be very helpful in embedding video and images, formatting tables etc., but be aware that too much coding within the Moodle™ LMS can actually cause a lack of structural integrity. In order to minimize unnecessary HTML and potential formatting pitfalls, use plain text whenever possible and then add minimal formatting using your Atto toolbar to accentuate text.  If you absolutely must copy text from a document such as Microsoft Word, use the Word conversion tool that is included as part of your Atto toolbar.


Use of competencies can help a school or business ensure that students are meeting course and program objectives. In some instances, competencies also demonstrate that accreditation requirements are being met as well.

Moodle™’s built in competencies module makes it easy to set up and track competencies. Competencies can be administered at the site, course, and student level by linking course and activity settings. Additionally, built-in learning plans allow for customized competency tracking.


It is not surprising that more and more educators and learners are turning to online learning. There is a certain convenience in the ability to study at your convenience, whether from home or on the go. But as educators design courses they need to consider the accessibility of these courses for all potential users. That said, it’s incredibly important to consider section 508 accessibility requirements when designing your courses. You can review the requirements as well as tools and tips here.

Be sure to include graphics, videos and transcripts where applicable not only to enhance your content but to supplement for those who will need it. Be sure these supplements are coded cleanly and are easy to access and use. Choose videos that are closed captioned properly as well.

For more on how you can ensure accessibility within your courses, see Tips for Accessible Course Design.

Questions about course design or eLearning best practices? Let’s chat!

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