Asynchronous Online Course Designs: Articulating Theory, Best Practices, and Techniques for Everyday Doctoral Education




online course design, asynchronous courses, doctoral education, instructional design, teaching online


Early online course materials were text-based and relied heavily on discussion forums as the de facto tool for interactions. Faculty members today, however, have many other choices for course design and course materials. There is not consensus for online course design guidelines or principles, though. Choices in course design by faculty members directly impact the quality of instruction and student learning experience. This article shares some of our theoretical and practical decisions faculty members at the University of South Carolina employ for online course design. Our experiences and decision-making may be useful for other members of the Online Ed.D. CPED Improvement Group (Online Ed.D. CIG), as well as other programs who may be experiencing emergency remote teaching as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, making an evolutionary transition to online or blended education, or considering a future transition to a fully online program. Links to the strategies and tools mentioned throughout this essay are collated in a list at the end.

Author Biography

Michael M. Grant, University of South Carolina

Department of Educational Studies

College of Education

Associate Professor


Alizadeh, M., Mehran, P., Koguchi, I., & Takemura, H. (2019). Evaluating a blended course for Japanese learners of English: Why quality matters. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 16(1), 1–21.

Alqurashi, E. (2019). Predicting student satisfaction and perceived learning within online learning environments. Distance Education, 40(1), 133–148.

Americans with Disabilities Act, Pub. L. No. 328 (1990).

Anderson, T. (2003). Modes of interaction in distance education: Recent developments and research questions. In M. G. Moore & W. G. Anderson (Eds.), Handbook of distance education (pp. 129–169). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Arslan-Ari, I., Ari, F., Grant, M. M., & Morris, W. S. (2018). Action research experiences for scholarly practitioners in an online education doctorate program: Design, reality, and lessons learned. TechTrends, 62(5), 441–449.

Arslan-Ari, I., Ari, F., Grant, M. M., Vasconcelos, L., Tang, H., & Morris, W. S. (2020). Becoming action researchers: Crafting the curriculum and learning experiences for scholarly practitioners in educational technology. In E. Romero-Hall (Ed.), Research methods in learning design and technology (pp. 78–93). Taylor & Francis.

Baldwin, S. J., & Ching, Y. (2019). Online course design: A review of the Canvas course evaluation checklist. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(3).

Baldwin, S. J., Ching, Y. H., & Hsu, Y. C. (2018). Online course design in higher education: A review of national and statewide evaluation instruments. TechTrends, 62(1), 46–57.

Bates, A. W. (2019). Teaching in a digital age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning (2nd ed.). Tony Bates Associates Ltd.

Blackboard Inc. (2020). Write accessible content.

Blackboard Inc. (2020). Accessibility best practices for transitioning to remote instruction.

Bonfiglio, K., O’Bryan, A., Palavecino, P., & Willibey, H. (2016). Increasing effectiveness on-line: Student-instructor interaction. National Social Science Proceedings: Denver Summer Seminar, 62(1), 1–16.

Clark, R. C., & Lyons, C. (2011). Graphics for learning: Proven guidelines for planning, designing, and evaluating visuals in training materials (2nd ed.). Pfeiffer.

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). E-learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (4th ed.). Wiley.

Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Holum, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator, 15(3), 6–11, 38–46.

Collins, D., Weber, J., & Zambrano, R. (2014). Teaching business ethics online: Perspectives on course design, delivery, student engagement, and assessment. Journal of Business Ethics, 125, 513–529.

Coolidge, A., Doner, S., Robertson, T., & Gray, J. (2018). Accessibility toolkit (2nd ed., Vol. 2). BCcampus.

Crews, T., & Butterfield, J. B. (2014). Data for flipped classroom design: Using student feedback to identify the best components from online and face-to-face classes. Higher Education Studies, 4(3), 38–47.

Day, S., & Erturk, E. (2017). E-Learning objects in the cloud: SCORM compliance, creation and deployment options. Knowledge Management and E-Learning, 9(4), 449–467.

DiPietro, M., Ferdig, R. E., Black, E. W., & Preston, M. (2008). Best practices in teaching K-12 online: Lessons learned from Michigan Virtual School teachers. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 7(1), 10–35.

Dron, J., & Anderson, T. (2014). Teaching crowds. Athabasca University Press.

Edutechnica. (2020). LMS data – Spring 2020 updates.

Emory, B. (2019). Cognitive load theory and instructional message design. In M. Ramlatchan (Ed.), Instructional message design: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 1–28). Kindle Direct Publishing.

Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), 50–72. 8327.1993.tb00605.x

Ertmer, P. A., & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. T. (2010). Teacher technology change: How knowledge, confidence, beliefs, and culture intersect. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42(3), 255–285.

Fleming, M. L., & Levie, W. H. (1993). Instructional message design: Principles from the behavioral and cognitive sciences (2nd ed.). Educational Technology Publications.

Garrison, R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2–3), 87–105.

Gilliham, J. C., & Williams, N. V. (2020). Taking it to the next level: Improving online courses with research-based best practices [Conference presentation]. Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate annual convening.

Glazier, R. A. (2016). Building rapport to improve retention and success in online classes. Journal of Political Science Education, 12(4), 437–456.

Gonzalez-Barbone, V., & Anido-Rifon, L. (2008). Creating the first SCORM object. Computers and Education, 51(4), 1634–1647.

Grant, M. M. (2018). Recognizing our accomplishments, saying thank you, and looking ahead for IJPBL and the field. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 12(2).

Havice, P. A., Foxx, K. W., Davis, T. T., & Havice, W. L. (2010). The impact of rich media presentations on a distributed learning environment: Engagement and satisfaction of undergraduate students. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 11(1), 53–58.

Hill, J. R., & Hannafin, M. J. (2001). Teaching and learning in digital environments: The resurgence of resource-based learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 49(3), 37–52.

Hodges, C. B., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T., & Bond, M. A. (2020). The difference between emergency remote teaching and online learning. EDUCAUSE Review.

Johansson-sköldberg, U., & Woodilla, J. (2013). Design thinking: Past, present and possible futures. Creativity and Innovation Managament, 22(2), 121–146.

Kafai, Y. B., & Resnick, M. (1996). Constructionism in practice: Designing, thnking, and learning in a digital world. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Kearns, L. R., & Mancilla, R. (2017). The impact of Quality Matters professional development on teaching across delivery formats. American Journal of Distance Education, 31(3), 185–197.

Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 87–98.

Knowles, M. S. (1975). Self-directed learning. Association Press.

Krajcik, J. S., & Blumenfeld, P. C. (2006). Project-based learning. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 317–405). Cambridge University Press.

Macy, M., Macy, R., & Shaw, M. E. (2018). Bringing the ivory tower into students’ homes: Promoting accessibility in online courses. Ubiquitous Learning, 11(1), 13–21.

Martin, F., Budhrani, K., Kumar, S., & Ritzhaupt, A. (2019). Award-winning faculty online teaching practices: Roles and competencies. Online Learning Journal, 23(1), 184–205.

Martin, F., Ritzhaupt, A., Kumar, S., & Budhrani, K. (2019). Award-winning faculty online teaching practices: Course design, assessment and evaluation, and facilitation. Internet and Higher Education, 42(November 2018), 34–43.

Mayer, R. E. (2008). Applying the science of learning: Evidence-based principles for the design of multimedia instruction. American Psychologist, 63(8), 760–769.

McAlvage, K., & Rice, M. (2018). Access and accessibility in online learning: Issues in higher education and K-12 contexts. Online Learning Consortium Research Center for Digital Learning and Leadership.

McGee, P., & Reis, A. (2012). Blended course design: A synthesis of best practices. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(4), 7–22.

McGhan, S. J., Jackson, C. M., & Premer, K. (2015). Online course quality assurance: Development of a quality checklist. InSight; A Journal of Scholarly Teaching, 10(1), 126–140.

McGinty, J. M. (2020). Accessible digital learning materials for inclusive adult education. Adult Learning, Online First, 1045159520961470.

Morrison, G. R., Ross, S. M., Kalman, H. K., & Kemp, J. E. (2013). Designing effective instruction (7th ed.). Wiley.

Paivio, A. (1991). Dual coding theory: Retrospect and current status. Canadian Journal of Psychology/Revue Canadienne de Psychologie, 45(3), 255–287.

Papert, S. (1991). Situating constructionism. In I. Harel & S. Papert (Eds.), Constructionism. Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Portland Community College. (2020). PDF document accessibility.

Ramlatchan, M. (2019). Multimedia learning theory and instructional message design. In M. Ramlatchan (Ed.), Instructional message design: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 1–29). Kindle Direct Publishing.

Reed, S. K. (2006). Cognitive architectures for multimedia learning. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 87–98.

Rummler, K., Seipold, J., Pachler, N., & Attwell, G. (2011). Supporting learning on building sites with mobile technologies. In K. Rummler, J.

Seipold, E. Lübcke, N. Pachler, & G. Attwell (Eds.), Mobile learning: Crossing boundaries in convergent environments (pp. 157–160). London Mobile Learning Group.

Sadaf, A., Martin, F., & Ahlgrim-Delzell, L. (2019). Student perceptions of the impact of quality matters–certified online courses on their learning and engagement. Online Learning Journal, 23(4), 214–233.

Saunders-Stewart, K. S., Gyles, P. D. T., & Shore, B. M. (2012). Student outcomes in inquiry instruction: A literature-derived inventory. Journal of Advanced Academics, 23(1), 5–31.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Pub. L. No. 394 (1973).

Section 508 of Rehabilitation Act, Pub. L. No. 794d (1973).

Singleton, K. J., & Neuber, K. S. (2020). Examining how students with visual impairments navigate accessible documents. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 114(5), 393–405.

Smith, K. M., & Boling, E. (2009). What do we make of design? Design as a concept in educational technology. Educational Technology, 49(4), 3–17.

Strecker, S., Baumöl, U., Karagiannis, D., Koschmider, A., Snoeck, M., & Zarnekow, R. (2019). Five inspiring course (re-)designs: Innovating teaching and learning in higher education. Business Information Systems Engineering, 61, 241–252.

Sweller, J., van Merriënboer, J. J. G., & Paas, F. (1998). Cognitive architecture and instructional design. Educational Psychology Review, 10(3), 251–296.

Tuovinen, J. E. (2000). Multimedia distance education interactions. Educational Media International, 37(1), 16–24.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Zawacki-Richter, O. (2017). Distance education. In M. Peters (Ed.), Encyclopedia of educational philosophy and theory. Springer Science + Business Media.




How to Cite

Grant, M. M. (2021). Asynchronous Online Course Designs: Articulating Theory, Best Practices, and Techniques for Everyday Doctoral Education. Impacting Education: Journal on Transforming Professional Practice, 6(3), 35–46.



Themed - Online EdD