Marjorie Vai

John Maeda wrote his small book, The Laws of Simplicity (MIT Press) to address the need for simple solutions when dealing with the complexities of our technologically-oriented world. For Maeda, this became a personal mission, and was a focus of his research at MIT. 

Maeda inspires the approach we take in the design of this project. “For the foreseeable future, complicated technologies will continue to invade our homes and workplaces, thus simplicity is bound to be a growth industry.” 

Consumers may find an array of easy-to-follow books on computers and technology.  Educators have not been so lucky. Simplicity of design helps cut through the technological mire and saves time. It opens the mind and pleases the eye.
This guide aims to model simple and intelligent design and provide abundant examples of good online course design. And so, we will reference both Maeda and other designers along with academic specialists.
Most of my professional life has been spent working in publishing and academia in the field of teaching English (TESOL) as educator, publisher, author and administrator. For 20 years, I served as founding director then chair of the English language studies department at The New School in New York City. I designed and developed several programs both onsite and online including an internationally-oriented online Master of Arts in TESOL (MATESOL).  Students and teachers were involved from around the world.
When the time came to train the MATESOL faculty in online course development, what we needed was a book for each teacher that firstly explained how online worked, then modeled and walked instructors through the process of developing a well-designed online course. Such a book would, I assumed, focus on standards of good design.

There were theoretical books. There were books that seemed to be written by people in the field of educational technology for other people in educational technology. Other books outlined a process but offered no examples of good course design (as though an understanding of good online design
were intuitive). There were whole books on single aspects of course design (working collaboratively, creating activities, etc.). Some referenced some standards of good design but were not comprehensive. Creating our own comprehensive set of materials at The New School was unrealistic.

The bottom line: there was no guide that you could give an instructor that simply and intelligently walked them through the online course design process. And certainly there was no approach organized and modeled on standards or best practices for online education. This was the case, in spite of
the proliferation of online education around the world. So, I became intent on developing such a guide; a guide that has now evolved into a larger project including a supporting
website full of resources.

My own experience working with online media began about 25 years ago as a writer and contributing editor for Dowline, the magazine of Dow Jones Online Services. It was there that I developed the habit of paying careful attention to all aspects of instructional design—pedagogical, organizational, and visual.

Teachers need simple, straightforward guidance on how to use technology so that subject matter is the central focus of their efforts. Students need engaging and easy-to-use learning environments. This guide is hands-on and practical. It is informed by theory, but not about theory. It addresses the
practical task at hand—designing an online course, based on a set of accepted standards.

I was confident that I could write this guide. However, what I needed was a co-author with long-term experience working with the kinds of instructors who need books like this.

Fortunately, I met and got to know Kristen Sosulski, Academic Director at the Office of Distance Learning at New York University. Kristen shared my focus and vision for the project. She brings to this project both a strong background in theory and a first-hand understanding of the realistic needs of online instructors and learners.

Kristen Sosulski 

Throughout my career as an educator, I have collaborated with university faculty to explore the ways in which technology can be used to facilitate and enhance teaching and learning. At the New York University Office of Distance Learning, I lead a team that partners with faculty to develop high-quality online courses. I’ve found that, in addition to the support we provide, faculty members continually request a simple guide to walk them through the process of transforming their traditional classroom courses into online courses. Simply put, there is a lot for teachers to learn when embarking on the creation of their first online course. There are pedagogical, organizational, technical, and administrative considerations to keep in mind. With time and resources always at a minimum, it can be challenging to demonstrate best practices while simultaneously guiding teachers through the “how to” of teaching online.

When Marjorie asked me to co-author this book, I was delighted. I knew how important a simple guide to online course design was to our own faculty, here and abroad. I also knew from conferences and colleagues in the field that this seemed to be true across the board. Marjorie’s vision for a simple, concise, and clearly written guide to online course design encouraged me to reflect on my own work with faculty and, in the process, to develop new ways to mentor them. 

Whether you are a new or seasoned online teacher, this guide will serve your professional needs well by providing you with a streamlined set of organizational, pedagogical, and visual design standards, which can serve as the foundation for any online course. The standards checklist alone is an invaluable resource and is intended to serve as a reminder for all course developers.

This is a great guide for students in educational technology programs who are learning about instructional design principles. The book exemplifies many of the best practices in the field. The examples we provide from featured teachers show how they are applied in an authentic setting. One major challenge all teachers face is how to ensure that their students remain engaged throughout their courses.

Chapters 5–8 provide excellent examples of lessons, resources, activities, and appropriate assessments for use in online courses. I am particularly excited by the activity types that we put together, and our website, which supplements this book by providing models and examples.

In my experience, teachers need guidance in developing digitally-based materials for their online courses. Considerations such as writing style, layout, and use of media tend to be overlooked. This book highlights the importance of these design elements through concrete examples and

One of the most difficult concepts to translate to the online medium is that of time. Chapter 1 visually illustrates how to structure time in an online course and Chapter 9 helps teachers design online syllabi to reflect a timeline that is appropriate for an online course.

Together, we present this simple guide to online course design. I would like to thank Marjorie for inviting me to work with her to create this essential resource for teachers, support staff working with teachers, and trainers to guide them through the online course design process.