Support for Virtual, Hybrid, and In-Classroom Learning
Learn More

Understanding the 6 Steps of Instructional Design: A behind-the-scenes peek into the multifaceted process of creating online curriculum

December 12, 2019 Sarah Williamson By Sarah Williamson
Instructional Design

When done well, the development process of digital curriculum is rather complex and involves the work of many specialists including project managers, instructional designers, subject matter experts, art leads, and video producers, to name a few. A careful planning process is key when developing online curriculum to support secondary students, and for any given course, the typical development process may include the following stages: 

1) Project Initiation. When developing a new course, it’s important to start with an understanding of the market need. These elements drive the design and development process. Who is going to use this course? What are the course requirements? Is the product going to cover core academic content, or is it an elective course? What are the specific standards the content should be built around? The market requirements determine the course length, the scope and sequence, the mix of computer-scored and teacher-scored activities, and the standards that will be covered within the course.

2) Product Design. One of the top priorities should be ensuring the instructional design of the courses gives administrators the confidence that the course is credit-worthy and that students will have a similar learning experience to a course taken in a brick and mortar setting. In this stage, the course is designed in great detail including: the flow of instruction and course activities, how instruction will be presented on the page, where direct instruction will be augmented with supports and scaffolds, how other activities will support application and skill development, and what assessment will look like throughout instruction. Ultimately, online curriculum should be standards-based, but also engaging and relevant to students, leading to quality instruction and an appropriate learner experience.

3) Content Development. Once the course scope and sequence are determined, the new content is created. The content should be rooted in strong pedagogy and written by content experts who have teaching experience in the subject. These experts understand how to present content effectively, where students often struggle, and where additional support might help to build understanding. The content should be reviewed frequently throughout the creation process, ensuring that each activity meets the spirit and intent of the standards. This includes opportunities for students to interact with the content such as thought-provoking questions, checks for understanding, and interactivity such as polls. It’s important to design feedback to guide students through the content using examples that are relevant and meaningful to them.

Every aspect of design should be intended to support instruction, including the use of media. Most students are visual learners, and the content should thoughtfully consider the use of impactful images, informational elements such as charts and graphs, and, of course, video. For example, this could mean breaking up text on a page and using imagery to reinforce the content. The media should be deliberately incorporated into the content to ensure that it’s engaging and instructive. It‘s also important to ensure that text is written at the appropriate length, complexity, and readability and adheres to any predetermined bias and sensitivity guidelines.

4) Production. Course design clearly informs the production schedule, budget, and resourcing for a project. As each unit, lesson, and activity is authored and reviewed, the content is entered into development tools to bring them to life on-screen. Interactive elements are built, assessment questions are entered, and all content is reviewed for accuracy and completeness. Production teams should ensure that the content is entered accurately, including elements that provide access to supports and scaffolds.

5) Review, Publish, and Evaluate. Once all of the content is written and entered into the development environment, there should be several reviews to ensure the quality of the final course. The instructional design team conducts their review of the course in its entirety to ensure the instruction is complete and cohesive. The production team reviews the course from a user functionality perspective to ensure all elements of the course are functioning as expected, including testing all vocabulary, pop-up windows, web links, rubrics, and supporting information, and the copy edit team should do a final review of the content. And finally, the course will move on to be published.

6) Evaluating Effectiveness. The true test of an effective curriculum is student achievement. It’s important to continue to monitor student performance data and gather insights into how students are doing throughout a course. The aggregate data will inform opportunities for improvement in a course and will help determine if the course is effectively meeting student needs.


How Apex Learning Can Help

At Apex Learning, we take great care and thought into developing digital curriculum that provides all student with the opportunity to thrive. Developing quality curriculum requires careful attention to the instructional design and the learner experience. Our courses focus on what standards indicate students must know and do. Our development process takes time and intentionality, but the result is a course that supports the needs of students with solid pedagogy, engaging media, and strategies that support learning help facilitate student success. Learn more at

Subscribe to our Blog+

Subscribe to receive a weekly email with the latest from the Apex Learning blog.