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Principles of Online Design
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Purpose | Objectives | Process | Online Instruction Defined

Overview and Background

Florida Gulf Coast University was chartered to offer both on-campus and distance learning programs to its student body. Teaching excellence and the effective use of instructional technology were established as cornerstones of the University's mission.

During the first two years of operation, faculty and staff at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) designed 224 courses using the Internet as a major part of the course design. Many additional courses integrated online activities and resources as an element of their course designs. Much of the course development work was done through rapid prototyping as part of the launching of Florida's newest state university.

In April 1999, the Technology Team of the Faculty Senate submitted an End-of-Year Report suggesting the need for a Faculty Guide to Technology and Distance Learning. In May 1999, as the second year of classes ended, all members of the faculty were invited to apply for positions on the Design Principles Study Group. Representatives from the colleges and departments were selected to serve on the team. The group was charged with the task of reviewing the literature and identifying a set of principles for online instruction to guide the design, development and delivery of online courses at FGCU.


The purpose of this document is to provide a resource to faculty who are designing online instructional materials. The FGCU Mission Statement, Strategic Plan for Distance Learning, and the End-of-Year Report of the Faculty Technology Team, indicate that there is a need for a set of principles for using technology as an instructional tool. This document is a response to that request.


  1. Review and analyze distance learning data from FGCU faculty and students.
  2. Complete a working draft of principles for the design based upon a rigorous review of literature.
  3. Develop a Design Checklist to assist faculty in the utilization of the Principles of Online Design.
  4. Disseminate the Design Principles institutionally and through professional networks.
  5. Field test the Design Checklist to assess the quality and usability (ease of use) of the instrument.
  6. Consult with Curriculum Councils and the Faculty Senate to solicit feedback regarding use of the Principles of Online Design and the Design Checklist as benchmark of quality in online instruction.


Members of the Design Principles Study Group included experienced online professors, instructional designers, the Director of Media Development and the Director of Course and Faculty Development. The first task of the group was to analyze data from the Student Evaluation of FGCU Distance Learning Experiences that was administered to 721 students who were enrolled in one or more distance learning courses in the Spring-99 semester.

Twenty-seven percent (27%) of the population responded to the survey and offered suggestions for improving distance learning experiences. The top two categories of response were directly related to course design principles:
• 32% suggested there was a need to improve instructional methods/procedures
• 15% asked for faster, more reliable instructor feedback.

The majority of respondents' suggestions for improving distance learning addressed factors associated with effective teaching that included:
• specific and clear statements of learning objectives and expectations;
• content and course organization;
• timely feedback; faculty's teaching strategies;
• learning activities that support objectives, and effective assessment methods.

These suggestions supported the initiative to develop principles for online learning and the ongoing need for performance accountability. The respondents offered many useful suggestions for improvement as well as words of commendation and encouragement.

The team reviewed current literature related to online instruction to create a framework for outlining principles for designing, developing and delivering online instruction. Once the team reached agreement on this framework, each member took responsibility for either drafting the content for one of the sections or maintaining a journal of the group's work. After a master draft of all sections was compiled the entire team critiqued, revised, and reached agreement on the language of each section.

Online Instruction Defined

Online instruction is any formal educational process in which the instruction occurs when the learner and the instructor are not in the same place and Internet technology is used to provide a communication link among the instructor and students.

Different forms of online instruction include:

  • Sharing information on a web site (example: course syllabus/ web site))
  • Providing practice for new concepts by using online activities such as simulations and games
  • Communicating one-to-one or one-to-many via email for instructional purposes
  • Conducting discussions by using a threaded discussion board
  • Conducting discussion by using chat
  • Holding office hours by using chat or bulletin board
  • Delivering library resources via the Internet (example: Electronic databases, electronic course reserves)
  • Giving practice tests or evaluating performance by using online assessments
  • Submitting assignments electronically

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