Design Matters: Development and Validation of the Online Course Design Elements (OCDE) Instrument

Keywords: online course design, design elements, instrument validation, confirmatory factor analysis, structural equation model


Course design is critical to online student engagement and retention. This study focused on the development and validation of an online course design elements (OCDE) instrument with 38 Likert-type scale items in five subscales: (a) overview, (b) content presentation, (c) interaction and communication, (d) assessment and evaluation, and (e) learner support. The validation process included implementation with 222 online instructors and instructional designers in higher education. Three models were evaluated which included a one-factor model, five-factor model, and higher-order model. The five-factor and higher-order models aligned with the development of the OCDE. The frequency of use of OCDE items was rated above the mean 4.0 except for two items on collaboration and self-assessment. The overall OCDE score was related to self-reported levels of expertise but not with years of experience. The findings have implications for the use of this instrument with online instructors and instructional designers in the design of online courses.

Author Biographies

Florence Martin, University of North Carolina Charlotte

Florence Martin is a Professor in Learning, Design and Technology at University of North Carolina Charlotte. She received her Doctorate and Master's degrees in Educational Technology from Arizona State University. She teaches 100% online in asynchronous, synchronous and Bichronous modalities. Dr. Martin engages in research to create transformative learning experiences through effective design and integration of digital teaching and learning innovations. She has conducted several studies focusing on designing and integrating online learning environments to improve learner achievement and engagement. Dr. Martin served as the President of Multimedia Production Division in 2012-2013 and as the President of the Division of Distance Learning in 2017-2018 for Association for Educational Communications and Technology. She also served as the Vice President for Marketing and Communications with ISPI Charlotte and is currently serving as a Director for the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction. For more details visit,

Doris U. Bolliger, Old Dominion University

Doris U. Bolliger is a contributing faculty member at Walden University. She received her doctorate degree from the University of West Florida. Her primary research interests are faculty and student satisfaction, communication, community, engagement, and interaction in the online environment. Her secondary research interests include the utilization of mobile technologies in informal learning environments.

Claudia Flowers, University of North Carolina Charlotte

Dr. Claudia Flowers is a professor of research, statistics, and measurement at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the Department of Educational Leadership. She has over 100 publications in the areas of assessment, measurement, and applied research methods. Her current research interests include exploring evidence of technical quality of assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities and testing accommodations.


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How to Cite
Martin, F., Bolliger, D. U., & Flowers, C. (2021). Design Matters: Development and Validation of the Online Course Design Elements (OCDE) Instrument. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 22(2), 46-71.
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