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Oppida raises the bar in online education

Building an online course development A-Team

Online Course Development A-Team? Once upon a time, developing educational content was a somewhat solo affair in comparison to online course development nowadays. The facilitator or academic was generally an expert in the subject matter being taught and so would prepare all the materials they needed according to their individual teaching style. Next, they would arrive at the lecture, seminar or workshop and deliver their wisdom to the sponges in the audience. Guaranteed, no two deliveries would be the same even if the facilitator used the same material. They would be working the room, adjusting, adapting and allowing questions to steer online content and narratives.

In the online course development environment, this above scenario couldn’t be farther from reality. Online learning is typically ‘fixed’ (unless adaptive learning elements have been designed in) and there are a plethora of skills needed in order to produce an excellent Student Experience (SX) and User Experience (UX) whilst delivering on the value promised.

At Oppida, we work with clients to first understand what an Online Course Development A-Team looks like. Then, we assess their internal resources and help plug any gaps within the budget set.

So, what does an ‘Online Course Development A-Team’ look like?

We like to use this adapted TPACK framework to talk about the roles.

online course development A-Team

At a very high level, here are the skills or knowledge these roles require:

  • Project Manager: Understands project management techniques, tools, and processes.
  • Learning Designer or Instructional Designer: A deep understanding of pedagogy, andragogy, how people learn, what is possible online (vision), quality assurance strategies, the learning management systems’ (LMS) capabilities, and how to work with a multidisciplinary team.
  • Educational Technologist: Experienced in LMSs and probably has some HTML coding expertise.
  • Subject Matter Expert: A deep understanding of the online content being taught and an ability to express this subject in ways that meet the learning outcomes of the course.
  • Auxiliary Team Members: These team members have a specific creative skill set like graphic design, illustration, animation, photography, videography or voice acting.

Project management and learning design

At Oppida, we like to talk about these two roles together as we advocate where possible for this to be the same person. The arguable reason for this coalition in roles being that the Learning Designer is the only one who has to work with every single member of the team. They must:

  • Collaborate with the Educational Technologist on the designs and publishing of the course.
  • Extract knowledge from the Subject Matter Expert and turn it into an engaging online experience.
  • Commission and oversee the Auxiliary Team Members to create the learning assets designed.

The Learning Designer is the one who usually has outlined a vision for what the resulting online course product will look like. They are deeply involved in the design phase and then also in the trenches for the development and delivery to ensure that the vision matches the project results. So, in our experience, this person is best placed to operate adeptly in the role of Project Manager as well. Unless, of course, this is such a large project that an additional layer is needed to allow the Learning Designer to sleep at night.

Subject matter expertise

This role is critical to the outcome and quality of the online course product as it is this person (or team of people) that are essentially responsible for delivering on the promised outcomes to the learners. They are both the intellectual backbone of the project and the chief curators! They are often heavily guided and supported by the Learning Designer. However, without rich, updated and dynamic online content, the Learning Designer can only do so much.

Although a Subject Matter Expert can play the role of Learning Designer in some circumstances, it’s not always recommended. Both roles demand a different lens on the project and different skill sets.

Educational technologists and auxiliary services

These team members are generally more ‘niche’ or ‘technical’ in their abilities. They are often not involved in the design phase (except graphic designers) and for some, only play a very small role in the development.

For example, there may be 5 custom videos needed for the course. The videographer will essentially be given a brief to shoot, edit, and deliver them, which is then the end of their part in the overall project. They need to know the overall vision, but won’t be involved in day-to-day development discussions.

The Education Technologists will often mainly collaborate with the Learning Designer to help support their vision to ensure the Student Experience (SX) in the LMS is seamless. They are the backbone of the system (especially if the Learning Designer is new to the LMS) but they don’t really need to work with the Subject Matter Expert or many of the Auxiliary team members.

Online course development


So, now what?

Firstly, don’t panic if you look at this list and realise that you are playing most or all of the roles. You are a superstar if you are!

Our advice is to use this as a guide when thinking about your team and their responsibilities when it comes to setting up and managing online course development projects. In our experience, keeping people in role really helps the overall success of the project. Being clear about who is responsible for what and open about what each person needs to fulfil their role enables each person to understand and acknowledge their part within the system.

Furthermore, because we know how critical the role of the Project Manager can be (and that it often defaults to being the Learning Designer), we are building a new online course called "Learning designers as collaborators”.


J.M. Spector et al. (eds.), Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology, 101 DOI 10.1007/978-1-4614-3185-5_9, © Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014