Development Process for Online Programs

This step-by-step summary provides information on needs assessment, academic approval, instructional design, and other elements to consider when developing an online program.

Determine feasibility – student demand and internal capacity

Produce a preliminary program design that would modify, adapt, or build the program if there is a favorable feasibility analysis. Include learning outcomes, scope of the content to be covered, proposed delivery method, use of existing and new content. The Center for Educational Innovation offers an in-depth program feasibility assessment service (contact Bob Rubinyi, 

Conduct a needs analysis. After consulting with academic leadership (department chair, program leader, collegiate leader) about the proposed program, the first step is to assess demand and internal readiness. Key questions include:

  • Who are the primary and secondary learners for whom this online project will be developed?What is the demand for this program from potential students, and where are they located?
  • Are there other state and national institutions that offer a similar program?
  • What might make your proposed program unique?
  • Are there other U of M programs similar to yours?
  • How does this project fit within your school’s/program’s mission or strategic purpose?
  • For what reasons and benefits are learners interested in courses of this type (for example, certification, credentialing, etc.)
  • How does this program leverage your unit’s core expertise?
  • Do you have the capacity to deliver the program?
  • (For graduate/professional programs) What would tuition rates be?
  • What internal sources of funding and operational support are available?
  • See detailed information on free market studies, internal readiness, and financial forecasting

Consult with instructional support units that can help you further develop your proposal in terms of overall program/curriculum design. Central campus contacts are listed below:

Prepare proposal and submit for approval

Prepare a formal proposal per your academic unit process. Develop an outline for the curriculum of your program including educational objectives and sequencing of core courses. Identify all courses to be offered. Determine what staffing will be required (instructors, teaching assistants, tutors, etc.) and determine which individuals, departments, other University units, or outside organizations will be involved in the design, delivery, approval, and implementation of this project.

All courses designated for the program must either already exist in the course management system (ECAS) or be entered and pending approval before a program proposal can be considered. As outlined on the Provost's site, approval must be provided at the following levels: (1) departmental; (2) collegiate unit; (3) system campus vice chancellor (if originating at Crookston, Duluth, or Morris); (4) graduate studies (if graduate program); (5) Provost's Office; (6) Regents; and (7) the Higher Learning Commission (regional accrediting body) for programs originating at UMD, UMM, and UMR. UMTC and UMC programs can receive final approval at the Regents level. After the program is approved, enter program data into the PCAS electronic workflow system. For more details, see the PCAS login page.

Market, promote program, seek enrollments, ensure regulatory compliance, and evaluate program

As the program is being developed, with follow-through as you recruit and enroll students, ensure that you:

  • produce and begin to implement a marketing plan to make your targeted students aware of the program,
  • plan, staff, and implement high quality student services for potential and enrolled students,
  • produce and implement a plan to evaluate your program, and
  • communicate approved programs to the Center for Educational Innovation in order to be properly listed on the University of Minnesota Online site and to be reported for compliance with state regulation of online learning.