Instructional designer perspectives on the pursuit of quality in online course design

This paper comes out of the same ethnographic project on instructional design work in higher education out of which I’ve published previously. Here, my colleague Steve Yanchar and I analyzed the formal interviews carried out with instructional designers throughout the project. We focused on values they thought were important during design work, in particular autonomy and collaboration. But what’s unique about this article–and is the major contribution I think it offers–is they also talked about how autonomy and collaboration aren’t always compatible. And so holding to both of them can create some binds they have to navigate. I think these kind of binds are important to acknowledge and understand. I’m happy we were able to do that, even a little bit, here.


In this qualitative study we investigated the experiences of instructional designers as they sought to build quality into online courses. Through semi-structured inter- views, we explored what enabled and hindered their pursuit of quality, how they experienced their efforts in this regard, what mattered to them, and complexities that accompanied this pursuit. Our analysis of participant experiences suggested four themes: (1) connections between quality and designers’ ability to act autonomously; (2) connections between quality and collaborative, team-based relationships; (3) ambivalence due to tensions between autonomy and collaboration; and (4) ways of coping with limits on autonomy and collaboration. We conclude our report with implications for instructional design practice, suggesting that the pursuit of quality often requires creative work arounds and is informed by affective judgements that lie beyond the purview of traditional instructional design processes.


At ResearchGate

At BYU Scholar’s Archive

At the journal website


McDonald, J. K., & Yanchar, S. C. (2023). Instructional designer perspectives on the pursuit of quality in online course design. Journal of Computing in Higher Education.

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