Understanding trust in online course design

This is the third article coming out of my ethnography project that studied online course design. It follows up from my study of everydayness, and my study of autonomy and collaboration in course design. What’s unique about this paper is we discovered how many different ways that the concept of trust is used by course designers. Sometimes, they’re telling people to back off and trust them–let them do their jobs. Sometimes, they’re referring to how much they trust others, in a sense recognizing they can’t do the job alone so need the help of qualified collaborators. There are other meanings of trust in course design, too (read the paper!). Among other findings, I think this paper complicates the way lots of other researchers talk about trust. They discuss it as if it were a self-evident good, and never really acknowledge that some of the ways that designers talk about trust are in tension with each other (I trust you vs. back off and just trust me). I wish we acknowledged that more in our discourse.


This study reports research on instructional designers’ experiences of trust in the context of online course design in a university setting. Through semi-structured interviews with designers, we explored how trust showed up as a meaningful phenomenon in their experience and how they went about increasing trust in their relationships with faculty members. Our analysis of interviews suggested two major themes related to how trust fit into designers’ working experiences. First, designers experienced at least three different forms of trust: (1) self-trust; (2) trust in faculty; and (3) organizational trust. Second, designers pursued at least two strategies to nurture trust in design work: (1) cultivating trusting relationships; and (2) building trust through buy-in. Given the various ways in which trust was experienced, and the complicated interconnec- tions between forms of trust reported by participants, we conclude by discussing the significance of trust as a key aspect of instructional design practice.

At Academia.edu

At ResearchGate

At BYU Scholar’s Archive

At the journal website


McDonald, J. K., & Yanchar, S. C. (2024). Understanding trust in online course design. TechTrends. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-024-00940-7