6.2 – Course Development Models

The two most common approaches to e-learning course development are the “Do It Yourself” approach or what Bates calls the Lone Ranger approach and the Project Management approach. But these are really two ends of a continuum and there are variety of other approaches in between these two poles.

Bates & Sangrà describe five models of course development although I’m not sure I would classify the open content approach as a development model since open content can be used in any of the other models.

  1. Lone Ranger
  2. Boutique
  3. Collegial
  4. Project Management
  5. Open Content

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Bates, A.W. &  Sangrà, A. (2011). Managing Technology: Strategies for Transforming Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, pp. 138-142.

We take a fairly pragmatic approach to e-learning development. In most organizations, some combination of Lone Ranger and Project Management approaches is likely needed to allow for broad innovation and strategic implementation of e-learning. The following tables summarize relative advantages and disadvantages of the Lone Ranger and Project Management approach:

Lone Ranger Approach
Advantages Disadvantages
  • Promotes innovation and broad experimentation with the use of learning technologies
  • Does not conflict with faculty member autonomy
  • Does not require a significant investment of resources by the institution
  • Grass-roots innovation highlights areas of importance for faculty members.
  • Promotes a laissez-faire approach – let the teachers determine what they want to use


  • Difficult to achieve a high quality in production (lone rangers  are more often amateur enthusiasts, rather than professional media designers
  • Less likely to result in long-term, sustainable projects
  • Difficult to use this approach as a way of initiating broad institutional  change: transformation of teaching practices rarely come out of such projects
  • Very expensive use of a faculty member’s time (particularly in a research university)
  • Projects often done on-load without any reduction in teaching load
  • Difficult to scale projects up to support enterprise-level e-learning
Project Management Approach
Advantages Disadvantages
  • Assists planning for allocation of limited resources: time, money, expertise
  • Provides a formal process from planning through development to delivery to improve overall quality of materials and services to learners
  • Identifies and secures required team members: subject matter expert, project manager, instructional designer, media designers, programmers, etc.
  • Establishes production schedule with well-defined milestones
  • Builds quality assurance into the development cycle
  • Can be scaled up both in terms of individual projects and enterprise level development of e-learning
  • Inconsistent with  the prevailing academic culture of faculty autonomy: faculty members need to work within a team
  • Can be complex and overly systematized or bureaucratic
  • Adds expense to projects in the form of additional people and processes

The key goal of a project management approach is to organize people around well-defined projects so as to produce high-quality materials as efficiently as possible. This allows e-learning to be developed and delivered in a manner that ensures that resources are used efficiently and that individual team members contribute appropriate skills and knowledge to the project.

You’ll recall the e-learning continuum that you looked at earlier in the course.  As you move from the left to the right across this  continuum, from e-learning as classroom enhancements to fully online e-learning, you also move from the realm of Lone Ranger approaches to the realm of project management approaches to development.  With the added complexity associated with fully online projects, a project management approach becomes essential in ensuring that developments are completed within agreed upon schedules and budgets.  Without such managed approaches, it becomes more and more risky for an organization to undertake large-scale e-learning.

One of the disadvantages mentioned above in relation to the Lone Ranger approach is that such projects are typically short-term and difficult to sustain over time. With a Project Management approach, a key principle is that projects take place in a cyclical and iterative process. A project is understood to have a number of phases or steps with discrete activities that need to take place, and at the end of the cycle, the process repeats, to allow for courses and projects to be refined and maintained. The graphic below provides an example of the development cycle that is used at UBC for Distance Education projects.

The UBC Distance Education & Technology (DET) department, which no longer exists, used a quasi-project management approach to course development. The Project Development Handbook is a useful resource that illustrates what a project management approach looks like in practice.

Each phase of the development cycle is described on pages 57-70 of Preparing Distance Education Courses: A Guide for Course Authors, which is in the second section of the Project Development Handbook.

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