Online Course Development Jobs

E-learning keyboard
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Online course development is the process through which a distance learning product or course is created. Many different people have a hand in the process, from designer and editor to instructors.

The Basics of Course Development

The skills required and the end products of the development process may differ significantly, depending on several factors:

  • Type of institution (public or private school or nonprofit or for-profit company)
  • Education level (K-12, college, or adult education)
  • Purpose of the course (test prep, corporate training, for-credit online college course, adult education, supplemental learning)
  • Subject matter

Online courses might utilize web-based learning management systems, like Blackboard, or more general-use software like PowerPoint or audio and video players. Along the way, those involved in course development most likely would use Microsoft Word or other word-processing systems.

Much of the work of course development can be done remotely, making jobs in this field a good fit for telecommuting.

Course Development Roles

A combination of people in the following six roles may be involved in online course development.

Course Developer

There is no single definition for this position. Organizations use this title for differing positions. In some companies, a course developer may be synonymous with an instructional designer. It is often a job more focused on the content of the course than the educational design aspects of it. Course developers may interact with subject matter experts in choosing the resource materials and writing the text of the course.

Subject Matter Expert

The subject matter expert (SME) may actually write the course material or, more likely, may consult with the course developer and/or instructional designer. The SME is expected to know a lot about the subject matter of the course.

In online course development, SMEs may be professors employed at the school that is developing the course or employed by another educational institution and working as a consultant. Typically, these are part-time, contract positions.

Instructional Designer

Instructional designers develop the appearance, organization, and functionality of learning systems using learning principles. They may write learning objectives and may determine the scope of a project, create the layout of the instructional material, and plan and create assessments.

Media Specialist

Media specialists produce the media for the course, which might include audio, video, or PowerPoint presentations that may or may not be synced with audio. 


After a course has been written and designed, many institutions will put it through an editorial process. Copy editors and line editors check the courses for grammatical errors, style, and consistency. Editors also examine citations to be sure they adhere to style and format.

These positions may be full-time at a large organization or part-time freelance jobs.

Online Instructor

Most of the time, online faculty are not part of the course development process. Online instructors are engaged to be the facilitators of courses that have gone through the course development process.

Some online colleges do pay a flat fee to online faculty members for instructor-designed courses. In that case, the faculty member would most likely fill all of the roles above, with perhaps the exception of an editor who would review the instructor's work.