Electronic Portfolio: Academic Writings


Alternative Recommendations for Course Development
July 2001

This analysis was prepared for OMDE 607, Instructional Design. It contains alternative recommendations for implementing a course development function within an organization much like the author's own. The recommended solution involves contracting with a third party in order to get the function implemented more quickly.


The organization with no previous experience in this area is considering moving into online training and has requested a recommendation regarding the best way to accomplish this. In the following analysis, the course development function and processes are described. Three alternative approaches to organizing the course development function are presented with supporting organizational charts. A recommendation is made in the summary concerning the best alternative approach to course management to get this project started.


Course development incorporates five functional areas with associated processes, all of which must be included in the course development organizational chart to ensure effective implementation of online training:

Planning and project management incorporates providing overall leadership to the course development process, budgeting, developing a business plan, hiring staff and consultants, and implementing a permanent monitoring system to ensure objectives are being met (Boettcher, 1999; Jegede, 2001; Logan, 1982; and O’Rourke, 1993).

Research and evaluation includes conducting need, instructional, task, and learner analyses, and developing systems for monitoring operations and outcomes based on information gathered about students, course materials, costs, efficiency, and tutoring services (O’Rourke, 1993).

Course development includes instructional design, recruiting Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), instructional designers, media specialists, production specialists, and mentoring staff, and developing the long-range course development plan (O’Rourke). The five traditional instructional design (ID) stages of Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation take place in this functional area. (Kemp, 2000; Logan, 1982; Schrieber, 1999; and Seels & Glasgow, 1998). The instructional design function is also responsible for working with technology and media specialists to select the appropriate media to be used, and provide for media production (O’Rourke, 1993).

Academic and student support services include tutoring learners, reviewing assignments, marking examinations, supporting student-instructor and student-to-student interaction, managing local student services centers where applicable, and in general supporting the social aspect of online learning (Denning, 1999; O’Rourke, 1993).

Administrative support incorporates logistical support, financial management, systems support, registration and student record-keeping, providing course materials to learners, scheduling, gathering information about student participation and examinations, purchasing, and payroll (O’Rourke, 1993).

Option #1: Internal functional department

The first option is to establish a fully staffed internal online training and course development function (see attached Option #1 organization chart). Under this option, all functions described above would be provided from within the organization by four functional managers with responsibility for the entire range of course development, research and evaluation, administrative support, and student services activities, under the leadership of an internal online training manager.

This option has the clear advantage of giving the organization complete control over the quality of course development and delivery processes (Lent). Scarce resources are dedicated to the project (Lent, 1990). The new department could be the basis for rapid growth, and would enable the organization to maintain and develop its online training function over time, thus providing support to the overall organization’s effectiveness (Lent, 1990).

The disadvantage of this option is that it involves a great deal of expense just to get the first course development project off the ground. Staff with specific expertise would need to be hired and could prove expensive (Lent, 1990). In addition, the organization’s lack of experience in online training would make it difficult to establish job descriptions, qualifications, and appropriate staff salary levels, and to estimate the long-term expenses of supporting a course development function.

Option #2: Matrix organization

The second alternative approach to establishing an online training and course development function is to build on the existing expertise of the organization by using a matrix approach to staffing this function (see attached Option #2 organization chart). Under this approach, staff from existing departments within the organization would be assigned to the online course development project. The online training manager would be drawn from the ranks of the organization’s product managers. Instructional design, curriculum services, Subject Matter Experts, and technology and media support would come from the current product development department. The current research and evaluation and administrative support functions would provide these services, and student support services would be provided by the customer service department.

The primary advantage of this approach is that it would enable the organization to get started in online training much more rapidly at potentially much less expense, since no new staff would need to be recruited or hired. This approach has proven to be very effective in project-driven environments, since it enables staff to focus on the project at hand (Lent, 1990).

The primary disadvantage of this alternative is that the addition of these new responsibilities might exceed the current staff’s capabilities. Online training could fall to the bottom of the list of priorities. Course development could take the place of some other of the organization’s activities, with unintended consequences for the long-term stability of the organization.

Option #3: External contracted function

Option #3 involves purchasing online training and course development expertise from external consultants (see attached Option #3 organization chart). An internal online training manager would work with three external consulting firms on a contractual basis to obtain course development and instructional design, student support, and research and evaluation services. Administrative support services already supplied by existing departments in the organization would continue to be provided internally.

The primary advantage of this alternative is that it would permit the organization to take on new online training and course development responsibilities rapidly, without jeopardizing existing operations and projects. Staff would not need to be diverted from other projects. External contractors would be completely focused on the required tasks (Lent, 1990). This would result in a more rapid deployment of the new online training services.

The potential negative side of this alternative is that it might be quite expensive for the organization because outside consultants would need to learn about the organization (Lent, 1990). It would also build upon outside expertise rather than encourage internal staff development. Current employees might be reluctant to support the new function, since it would be provided primarily by outside consultants. This alternative also poses a risk for the organization if the consultants selected do not prove to be adequate to the task.

Summary and Recommendation

Until this organization gains more experience with online training, Option #3 is the best alternative for getting started in course development and delivery. This alternative would give the organization the chance to become more familiar with the various functions and processes needed to build an effective online learning function. Current operations of the organization would not be jeopardized. While Option #3 might not be less expensive than Option #1, there is less risk in obtaining expertise from consulting organizations with significant relevant experience. Over time, the organization could begin to transition out of its reliance on outside consultants, and develop a plan for moving the course development and delivery function in-house. The consultants could then serve as training advisors, providing the organization with a route to self-sufficiency over a more realistic time frame. This option provides the opportunity for the organization to have experience with a successful online training implementation, and to gain from the mistakes that others have made in the past.


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Seels, B. & Glasgow, Z. (1998). Making instructional design decisions. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.