Michael Carrier
Head of English Language Innovation
British Council, London

When I pick up a new book in my fields of language education and technology-mediated learning, I am sometimes struck by bad thoughts.

If the book is really good, I wish that I had written it, and I had thought of this new approach to teaching and learning.  Thankfully rare are the books that engender such wicked thoughts.

But this is one of those books.

The Essentials of Online Course Design explains how to design, build, and implement online learning solutions, to ensure that learners receive high quality educational engagement. The book aims to meet the needs of different groups of readers and practitioners who are anxious to learn more about the design of successful online learning courses – and what makes them successful.

As an experienced geek myself and having spent many years melding the technical and the pedagogical, I have bought many books and attended many courses that purported to explain how online learning worked, and how I should design a course.

In many cases these offered me technical solutions while ignoring the pedagogical issues. Others gave me pedagogical theory but no support in implementing it in a way that learners could enjoy. Few of them focused on the impact that visual design and user experience design would have on the learning process.

That is why this book is so important. I know of no other book that combines a focus on pedagogical learning design and all that entails, with technical background and support, with expert insights into the world of visual design and optimising the user experience.  This provides an added dimension for the online course designer--the melding of key standards of course design but seen from new angles and with added depth and breadth.

The book aims, as the authors state in the Preface, to "model simple and intelligent design and provide abundant examples of good online design." Throughout the book this is exactly what they do.

One of the beauties of this book is that it can be read and utilised practically and successfully by a wide range of education professionals, not all of whom are geeks or Blackboard experts or devotees of Moodle (or even know what that is).

It is aimed at a broader, non-technical readership and yet maintains an intellectual discipline that demands much of its readership.

The focus on the practitioner shines through from every page – the inclusion of personal statements from practitioners about how they have learned and taught, along with screenshots and real-world examples of course design in action, help the teacher internalize the skills and competences needed for successful design.

The book offers practical advice which is, in the words of the authors, “informed by theory but not about theory” – precisely what a professional practitioner needs. It also offers a supporting website where practitioners can find further guidance and resources such as templates.

The book helps teachers move, in Argyris & Schon's terms, from “espoused theory” to “theory in use” – from what we say we believe we should do, to what we actually do.

The authors are uniquely qualified to produce this book. Marjorie Vai has been an innovator in language teaching for many years, and has always been a leader in the application of technology to learning. She published innovative software solutions for language learning long before most publishers and teachers had begun to appreciate the benefits to the learner of a technology-mediated learning resource.  Marjorie has designed and implemented a ground-breaking online Masters program in TESOL for the New School in New York (full disclosure: I wrote one of the modules) and launched a new style of learning (and opened new channels of access to that learning) for TESOL professionals globally.

Kristen Sosulski has a solid grounding in online theory and practice, and oversees the online program in one of the most respected universities in the U.S.

For me a crucial focus of the book is how to engage the learner. This is the basis of constructivist learning theory – that learning must be an active process – and at the heart of every successful teacher or trainer's toolkit. Teachers must know how to engage learners, to motivate, involve and guide them to learning success.

I hope this book helps teachers and course designers worldwide achieve more for their learners and clients. I am certain it will support the raising of standards in online learning across multiple disciplines and academic fields.