Beyond the Art of Developing eLearning – It’s Time to Professionalize

You’re an instructor and have been told that next semester you must start teaching your first-ever online course.  You know that all your colleagues have been doing this for years, but you’ve managed to avoid doing it yourself.  Where do you start?

Well, if you’re lucky, your institution provides training for faculty in your situation, but if yours is like many other resource-scarce colleges, you might be on your own.  Of course you can try to pick the brains of your colleagues, but most of them are probably already overburdened with their teaching and research and don’t have much time to help you.  You could visit your LMS-support center, usually part of your school’s IT staff, and they can show you the bells and whistles of their LMS du jour, but that doesn’t really help you with the task of adapting your traditionally taught content and instructional methodologies to the world of online learning.  Finally, you do what every Internet-connected human being does these days, – you ask Google for help, and you search for “develop eLearning courses.”  Within .46 seconds, Google returns, as it did for me, 339,000,000 results!  OMG! What to do?  Why are there so many solutions to this problem?  It seems like every expert has devised his/her own approach to this matter.

It’s too bad that this is the case because there is a well-developed set of practices common among professional software developers who have for decades been confronted with similar challenges when they develop software systems and applications.  And after all, building an eLearning course really is an instance of application software development.  So why not employ the techniques of professional software developers – techniques that are well-defined in the practices of a discipline called, software engineering – for the development of eLearning instruction?  Software engineering (SE) has been evolving since the late 1950’s when companies, realizing that computers could make their day-to-day operations more efficient, began to develop software to do that.  And as computing has evolved over the decades, so too, based on many, many lessons-learned over those decades of software development, have the practices defined by SE also evolved.

Today, traditional software engineering practices are defined in an open access document entitled, Software Engineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBOK) developed and maintained by the IEEE Computer Society.  SWEBOK is the bible for traditional software development.  And the tables of content of most SE textbooks used in Information Systems and Computer Science curricula track closely to the contents of the SWEBOK document.  Major changes in traditional SE practices began to take place about 15 years ago when business entities felt that traditional SE practices were resulting in too many budget overruns and schedule delays in the development of complex software.  A second school of SE called “agile” development emerged as an alternative to the original so-called “waterfall” practices.  While the methodologies of the two schools are quite different, adaption of either to the development of eLearning instruction could provide a pathway for instructors who are otherwise lost in their quest to develop effective online instruction for their students.

Isn’t it time, after more than 75 years of programmed learning/programmed instruction/computer assisted instruction/distance education/eLearning/etc. that we stop experimenting and start to professionalize the development of online learning?  Adoption of SE principles will go a long way to making this happen. I know with a certainty this will work. The MERLOT ( development team adopted SE methodologies about 10 years ago and because of this has been able to quickly and regularly release new and better versions of the system during that time.  Without software engineering, this would have been impossible.

I propose the development of instruction-focused methodologies and tools, based on sound and proven software engineering principles, to help instructors develop online teaching and learning environments that best suit their own teaching preferences.  By ‘instruction-focused methodologies and tools’ I mean those that are devoid of the arcana of software engineering terminology, but instead are defined and directly related to the world of online teaching and learning.  Instructors need to focus on being teachers rather than software developers.  This is how it can happen.


– Dr. Sorel Reisman

2 thoughts on “Beyond the Art of Developing eLearning – It’s Time to Professionalize

  1. The 20’s generation is not in need of a teacher…Now everything is available on the Internet. People are now able to self learn…they are able to get entertainment by few simple taps on the screen.


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