5 Trends for Online Course Development

As law school instructional designers, we closely follow the online course development trends in the industry: learner first design, mobile learning, microlearning, social learning, and integrated video content are among the top five. We take the time to ensure that we are staying in tune with the trends of online course development while designing for the future. 

Learner First Design 

Learner first design focuses on the student’s perspective when designing a course. Start with the learning objectives or outcomes in the first person: “I will be able to…” 

This approach often uses a scaffolding approach to learning. The student starts at the bottom of the scaffolding and the professor, through creative content, takes the student from one step to the next. This approach means that the first lesson often assumes that the student knows nothing about the content. Students appreciate when professors take the time to provide an overview and a step-by-step explanation of where the students will start and where they will end up. 

Mobile Learning

By 2025, it’s expected that 72% of the world’s internet users will only access the web via a smartphone. For online education, this reality means that we need to design courses now to be mobile-first, not just mobile-enabled. The system needs to initially work on smartphones and tablets natively and then be made to work on computers secondly. This is often accomplished by choosing a robust learning management system like Canvas, which has a complete user application that translates the computer version of the system to a mobile device. The professor version of the app is not as robust, but remember: we are focusing on the student first.  


Microlearning is the process of taking material and breaking it down into the smallest possible learning objects, often taught in less than a few minutes. Also, microlearning allows students to learn in the margins, which has been successful in teaching technical content like computer science and programming. Although not all content can be “shrunk” into a few minutes, most concepts can be explained in less than 10 minutes—or at least the first part of a concept. Keeping the content small and consumable allows students to watch or read when they have time. 

Social Learning

Students enjoy learning from other students. Naturally, students expect the same experience when taking a course. They want to read what everyone thinks is the most important piece of content. They want to agree, disagree, and learn from their peers. Social learning is often facilitated through a discussion board in a learning management system like Canvas. Wikis, think wikipedia, are also used to bring the thoughts of students into once place. Students will also use Facebook and group texting to help each other with assignments. 


Video is still a preferred method of consuming content—especially short videos (see microlearning above). Students can watch videos on any device, in their rooms, at a coffee shop, while they are traveling, anywhere. 

Videos can also have interactive components. For instance, videos may pause in the middle and ask a question, and if the student gets the question right, the video continues. Otherwise, the student will need to re-watch the video. Students can also comment on videos, so that their comments are seen by other students and by professors. This facilitates the social learning we talked about earlier. 

These trends help guide our future instructional design. As part of our commitment to provide higher education law school consulting, we continually innovate, learn, and adapt. We do this in order to best present law school content to students.