Designing an online master's program

Conceiving – and implementing – a fully online master’s program is no easy task, but with the help of instructional designers at Michigan State University, like Dave Goodrich, the Strategic Communication online M.A. has been successfully operational for two years now.

In fact, this fall, nearly 125 students will be enrolled in the program.

Goodrich, who works for MSU IT Services in the Hub for Innovation in Learning Technology, says as an instructional designer he designs curricula the way an architect designs buildings.

I like to think of myself as an educator who helps other educators design engaging, immersive, valuable, meaningful and empowering learning experiences.

He also mentioned that the StratCom program was one of the first fully online master’s programs to be built in partnership with the Hub.

As a consultant for the StratCom program, Goodrich supports faculty members looking to get their courses off the ground and to improve upon the courses they already have launched. Everything from a new course on “Organizational Communication for Leaders and Entrepreneurs” to courses that have run a few times now like “Strategic Message Development," he is working with faculty who are designing, facilitating or iterating on past course designs.

“You could think of me as I relate to faculty as a personal trainer is to an athlete. I can help them evaluate, design, develop, implement and evaluate their learning experiences.”

Through Desire2Learn, or D2L, MSU’s learning management system, students are able to connect with professors and classmates, allowing for the online StratCom program to feel more connected and personal.


An example of what a StratCom course looks like on D2L

Students may also use many emerging technologies to connect in real time using video or text on social media platforms like Slack, Twitter, Facebook or Zoom. There are also many informal opportunities for the StratCom students to meet in person and network together.

While there are several logistics involved with launching and maintaining an online program, Goodrich says there are a lot of benefits to the experience.

“Mostly, [online classes] extend the reach and access to working professionals who can’t afford to do coursework divorced from their daily practice,” Goodrich said. “They also serve to provide new mediums for reflective and scholarly discourse which can elevate thoughts and ideas that could otherwise go unheard or unrealized.

“When done well, they are good for colleges and departments. Most importantly, well designed and facilitated online learning experiences can be transformational for learners and for learning.”

As the StratCom program evolves, Goodrich sees it growing, flourishing, maturing and continually improving to meet the adaptive learning needs of today and tomorrow’s communication professionals.