I started the instructional design (ID) program at the University of Wisconsin – Stout (UW-Stout) in January of 2013 and finished in August of 2013. Overall, I was pleased with the experience. You can read why I chose the UW-Stout Instructional Design certificate program here. If I were to grade the program as a whole, I would give it a “B”.
I had a different instructor for each of the four classes. I believe only one of them actually worked at the UW-Stout campus though. Regardless, I found all of the instructors to be competent and several I would even call outstanding. The instructors were very approachable and seemed genuinely concerned with student success.
Each class was eight weeks long and broken down into one week segments for grading and assignment due date purposes. As you might expect, the instructors posted information and assignments on the UW-Stout distance learning website. I found that it was in my best interest to log in regularly (once per day) to keep up, particularly with the discussion posts. I’m sure others logged in less often, but a daily login worked well for me.
Each class required a textbook (two for the last class). I found that prices for the texts on Amazon were very reasonable. I bought new from the cheapest source available on Amazon. The most expensive book was about $65. The cheapest was about $7. I remember having to routinely by $100+ books when I earned my Bachelor’s degree in the 1990s so this was a nice surprise. Some of my classmates bought the electronic edition of the texts, but were not totally satisfied with the e-editions due to unforeseen technical problems. For example, a reading assignment might specify certain pages to read. However, the e-texts didn’t have page numbers.
The textbook for the first class was the hardest to read. It was a traditional textbook and was fairly dry. The textbooks for the last three classes were much easier to read. They were not nearly as dense as the first book and were very practical with many examples. The amount of textbook reading decreased with each class. I hardly needed to read any of the texts for the last class.
In addition to the texts, each week the instructor provided several links to additional required and suggested readings. The required readings were usually pretty short or were actually short videos (less than ten minutes).
Each class in the UW-Stout Instructional Design program was structured in a similar manner. I participated in weekly discussions assignments and completed a portion of my portfolio project each week. The discussion posts required me to answer a question and post my answer on the discussion board. I had to respond to at least two of my classmates’ discussion posts. My responses had to be meaningful, not just “I agree” or “good point”. Most people responded to more than two discussion posts during these virtual conversations. Infrequently, we received two discussion questions for the week. A daily login worked best for me because I wanted to keep track of the conversations and not fall behind with my responses.
All of the classes required a portfolio project. Students were allowed to select a project that would be useful to them. For example, you could choose a project to use at work. The first three classes allowed me to build on the same project from one class to the next. The project for the fourth class was based on a project management scenario and was not related to the previous projects.
Keep in mind that more of your classmates will be looking at your portfolio in the second and third classes. Therefore, don’t pick a project that is sensitive in nature, such as a work project that your employer wouldn’t want outsiders to see. It is probably easier to follow one project through the first three classes rather than picking a new portfolio subject for each class.
Normally I turned in a segment of my portfolio project each week. The assignment clearly stated what should be done for the week. I enjoyed this format because my portfolio project was almost complete by the end of the class.
All four classes in the UW-Stout Instructional Design program also required a short (two to three page) reflection paper. I found these papers to be pretty easy because the rubric for each paper spelled out a number of questions to answer. Filling up a few pages by answering the rubric questions was a fairly straightforward exercise.
There were several open book quizzes, especially during the first class. They were pretty easy and only counted as a very small percentage of my grade. There were no quizzes in the third and fourth classes and no proctored exams of any kind.
I earned an “A” in each class. The weekly discussion assignments and portfolio project submissions made up the majority of my grades. There were a few miscellaneous assignments, but they did not count for very much.
This is hard to determine, but I would guess that I spent about 10 hours per week on classwork. Sometimes more and sometimes less. I probably worked and read a bit more than I had to. Although the UW-Stout Instructional Design program is primarily asynchronous, most classes had a voluntary online meeting once per week. Recordings of the meetings were posted online for students who missed the sessions. The final class required that each group of four or five students meet at a scheduled time once per week, but the groups got to pick the time and day of the week to meet.
There are four required courses in the UW-Stout Instructional Design certificate program. There are no electives.
EDUC 765 Trends and Issues in Instructional Design – The first class I found to be more of what I thought a traditional graduate school class would be like. This class had a pretty dry textbook and a lot of reading (more than the other three classes). I feel confident that I did not need to read as much of the text as I did though. The class was a good introduction and I learned a great deal about the ID process (based on the Kemp model), various other ID models, and learning theories. This class sets the foundation for the next two classes. The portfolio project was done entirely as a paper exercise (you do not have to actually produce a functional training course). The instructor provided useful templates for each week’s portfolio assignment.
EDUC 766 Instructional Strategies and Assessment Methods – This second class moved more from theory to application. The textbook was much easier to use and was very practical. It was something a non-student might buy as a useful book. I learned about “Absorb, Do, and Connect” activities. For the portfolio project, I created a website (at no cost) with an alignment chart, an Absorb activity, a Do activity, an assessment, and a personal reflection. The website is something I could actually use as part of a portfolio in a job hunt. My project included a narrated screencast that was fun to make. I enjoyed this course more than the first one as it involved more “Do” activities.
EDUC 767 Designing Computer-Based Training (CBT) – The third class was even more about “doing”. The textbook was useful and not overwhelming. Some of the topics I learned about were universal design, SCORM, reusable learning objects, and Section 508 compliance. I created an actual computer-based segment of a course for the portfolio project, but did not have to purchase any software. Instead, I simply used the 30 day free trial available through most software packages. I used Articulate Storyline and really enjoyed it. One of the goals of the portfolio project was to make the course interactive. I created a “Jeopardy” style game to use as my assessment activity. It was great to actually build a fully functioning computer-based learning object. Again, this project could be used in a personal portfolio while looking for a job. This course and the previous one were my favorites.
EDUC 768 Project Management for Instructional Development – The final class in the UW-Stout Instructional Design program focused on the field of project management. We learned about concepts such as charters, scope, communication management plans, risks, constraints, and work breakdown structures. There were two small textbooks for this class, but there was not much reading required.
The project for this class involved following the project management life cycle of a large instructional design job scenario. The class was broken down into groups of four or five people. Everyone had to choose a role in the group such as project manager, project coordinator, and technical writer. Each group had to meet at least once per week and the instructor would join the meetings to discuss the week’s assignment and answer questions. My group used Skype to meet.
Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this class. I estimate that the course was 95% project management and 5% ID. The class did not teach me anything about Instructional Design. The first three courses in the program worked together and felt related. This course seemed as though it was just tacked on at the end. Although project management could potentially be applied to many fields (including ID), I do not feel there was any advantage to requiring a project management course as part of the UW-Stout Instructional Design program. Some of my classmates seemed to enjoy the course, but I would have preferred another ID class.
It is a fair criticism of me to say that information about this course was available online and I was aware the class was about project management before enrolling. Apparently, I improperly assumed that the course would have much more to do with ID.
I was happy with the UW-Stout Instructional Design certificate program. The online format worked well and I don’t feel that I missed out on anything because there were no “in-person” classes. My classmates were motivated and fun to work with. They represented all types of professions and several were located overseas. Prior to this program I had no experience in instructional design, training, or education, but that was not a problem. In fact, many of my classmates were new to ID too. The first three classes were informative and effective. The last class simply missed the mark for me and therefore, I cannot give the program an “A”. Because of the last class, I have to give the overall program a “B”. But if project management is a field you are interested in, the program could easily be an “A” for you.
I received a certificate from the university within a few days of finishing the program that indicated I earned an “Instructional Design Certificate” consisting of 12 graduate hours. It was nice that the school automatically mailed the certificate to me at no cost. Some universities require that you formally request the certificate and then they charge you a fee.
On a side note, I decided not to pursue the Master of Science in Education degree at UW-Stout. I determined that a M.S. in Education would not particularly aid me in my current field compared to the money I would spend to earn the degree. This decision was simply a cost/benefit analysis. In fact, earning the certificate showed me that UW-Stout is capable of running an effective distance learning program.