UW-Stout Instructional Design Program Review

Are you curious about what’s involved in completing a graduate certificate program? Let’s review some of the factors that led to my decision to enroll at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and then see if I made a good choice...

Why did I choose the UW–Stout instructional design program?

Remember that your situation may lead you to weigh factors differently and there are no “right” or “wrong” programs. It all depends on your specific situation and goals. I was working full-time and had two small children at home, so those factors weighed on my decision process. 


The certificate required that I complete four graduate classes. The classes were offered in order and there were no electives. One potential stumbling block with sequenced courses is a significant delay in finishing the program if you have to skip a class for some reason.

I liked that one course was specifically geared for computer-based training. As someone without any formal instructional design experience, the course sequence seemed appropriately progressive.

Program format

The certificate was offered 100% online. I was not interested in any on-campus visits so I did not consider programs that were “mostly” online, but required a campus visit at some point. In my situation, a campus visit would be an unnecessary expense and hassle.

The classes at UW-Stout were asynchronous, meaning I didn’t have to be online and “in class” at a certain time. Some instructional design graduate programs I found had a synchronous component where the students attend class online at the same time for an hour or two once per week.

I was not opposed to the idea of a regular class meeting time, but an asynchronous format seemed a little easier for my work and family schedule.

​Price matters

UW-Stout offered one of the least expensive instructional design certificate programs available."

ID Hunter

The tuition at the time was $415 per semester credit hour and there were no hidden technology fees, distance learning fees, etc. Each three semester hour class cost exactly $1,245 ($415 x 3). The tuition was the same for in-state and out-of-state residents. Many of the other institutions charged double or triple that amount for a semester hour.

Program length

The UW-Stout certificate was also one of the shorter programs. The certificate required the completion of 12 semester hours. This meant I could complete the program quickly (eight months) and the total cost would be among the lowest available. A number of other programs required 15 or 18 hours to earn a certificate.

Institution and accreditation

The college met my basic qualification of being a “regionally” accredited university.

I had never heard of UW-Stout before and a little research determined that it is more of a regionally known school. Although I had never heard of the Stout campus, I was familiar with the University of Wisconsin and I felt a school in their system would offer some name credibility throughout the country.

There were other “big name” universities offering certificate programs, but at a premium price. I decided UW-Stout offered sufficient name recognition (by association) for my purposes.

Application process

The application process was very easy. I did not have to apply to the graduate school, submit references, take the GRE, etc. There were no prerequisite classes and no application fees.

It could not have been easier to get started.

Transfer to a master’s degree program

Going into the certificate program, I was somewhat intrigued by the idea of getting a master’s degree after earning a certificate. Therefore, I wanted to make sure that I could maximize the amount of transfer credit from the certificate program to the master’s degree.

I found that all 12 hours of the UW-Stout instructional design certificate were transferable to the university’s Master of Science in Education degree. Some master’s programs will only allow you to transfer 9 hours or less, even if the certificate required 12-18 hours.


I did a lot of research into the University of Wisconsin-Stout program and found several online resumes and portfolio projects from former students.

I reached out to several of these former students and heard back from two of them. Both students were very complimentary of the program and recommended it to me. At this point, I was mostly looking to confirm my decision to start the UW-Stout program and this input from former students helped seal the deal.


University of Wisconsin-Stout circa 1921

University of Wisconsin-Stout circa 1921

The UW-Stout website was pretty comprehensive and answered most of my questions about the ID certificate program. I found that the descriptions for some programs at other schools seemed like an afterthought on their websites, and this did not make me feel very comfortable about their commitment to the certificate programs.

I like to know what I’m buying and I felt the Stout website offered plenty of information to make an educated decision. However, I did have a few questions so I emailed the program contacts listed on the website. They responded quickly and answered my questions. This also helped me feel comfortable about the program.

Review of the UW-Stout instructional design program

I started the program in January and finished eight months later in August. Overall, I was pleased with the experience. If I were to grade the program as a whole, I would give it a "B”. That’s pretty good considering the relatively low price of the certificate.

I worked full-time throughout the eight month program and had two small children at home. The structure and pace of the certificate program allowed me to be successful despite my everyday obligations.


I had a different instructor for each of the four required 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."

ID Hunter

Class structure

Each class was eight weeks long and was 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 my books new (not used) 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 a completely unrelated field) 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 books 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).

What did I have to do for the classes?

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. The 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.

Portfolio Projects

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 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."

ID Hunter

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...

Papers and quizzes

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 one 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.

Time spent per week

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.

Individual course reviews

The certificate program required four courses and there were no electives.

Trends and Issues in Instructional Design (EDUC 765)

I found the first class to be more of what I thought a traditional graduate school class would be like. his 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 set the foundation for the next two classes.

The portfolio project was done entirely as a paper exercise (you did not have to actually produce a functional training course). The instructor provided useful templates for each week’s portfolio assignment.

Instructional Strategies and Assessment Methods (EDUC 766)

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 was 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.

Designing Computer-Based Training (EDUC 767)

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.

Project Management for Instructional Development (EDUC 768)

The final class in the 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 new 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 instructional design.


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”. However, if project management is a field you are interested in, the program could easily be an “A” for you.

I received a printed certificate in the mail from the university within a few days of finishing the program. It 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.

Take a look at the ID Hunter’s ultimate guide to online instructional design graduate certificates to explore programs and discover valuable tips for choosing a certificate program."

ID Hunter

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.

Visit the official UW-Stout instructional design program website.

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