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Best Practices for Designing a USGS DL Course

Here are some guidelines/best practices, and lessons learned, to help you in the development of your DL or blended learning course. Remember that the DL Team is here to help you!


  • Always put the learner first when you design a course.
  • Always put pedagogy (Instructional System Design—ISD) before technology. See ISD Handbook to learn more about Instructional System Design.
  • Make sure that all graphics/photos used in your course have ALT Tags.
  • Make sure all video is closed-captioned and scripted (in the "slide notes").
  • Make sure all your unnumbered list items, within slide notes, end with a period. This is an accessibility guideline so that speech browsers will pause before going on to the next listed item.
  • Make sure all imported Flash® or Camtasia® movies/animations are fully scripted in the slide notes.
  • Always write clear objectives and goals for the course, course lessons, and topics.
  • Do not add unnecessary animations (eg., slide transition animation) to the course.
  • Write to motivate your learners!
  • Use only relevant photos, line-drawings, etc. for graphics that will truly help the learner understand a concept that is described on the slide.
  • Make sure that if you are importing copyrighted material into your course, that you have gotten permission from the author and that you have cited them in the ALT tag for that graphic/material.
  • Make sure that you build-in good interactivity with your practice sessions.
  • Use color sparingly. Make sure your colors are non-dithered and web safe.
  • Make sure your student exercises correlate with what the student will be doing on the job.
  • Learners can only consume logically organized and grouped information. "Chunking" or "sequencing" content is crucial to creating intuitive learning.
  • Think about doing some collaborative sessions with your students, using Adobe® Connect™ Meeting, such as an introduction to the course, a web lecture, question and answer session, etc.
  • List learning objectives for lessons and topics within the course at the front of each lesson. This helps learners know what they should be learning from the lesson or topic.
  • Always call quizzes "assessments"! The word, "Quiz" has a negative connotation.
  • Always give positive and complete feedback when a learner doesn't answer an assessment question correctly; for example, "A better choice would have been... because ...". Don't embarrass the student with a phrase like "INCORRECT and YOU'RE A DWEEB"!
  • Do give lots of links to excellent course-related materials.
  • Do make job-aid handouts (such as checklists, etc.) that the learner can download and use when they are back on the job.
  • Keep navigation simple.
  • Avoid using True/False questions on assessments. These types of questions have a 50% "guess" rate! If you must use True/False questions in your course, write them so that the learner has to actually think about the answer, not guess it.
  • Allow students to retake assessments.
  • Suggested point sizes for text:
    • Body text: Arial 20 pt.
    • 1st Order Heading: Bold Arial 24 pt.
    • 2nd Order Heading: Bold Arial 22 pt.
    • 3rd Order Heading: Bold Arial 20 pt.
  • See the examples page to look at some DL course examples.
  • Required: USGS Visual identity must appear on every slide in the course. The Visual ID with motto should appear on the first page of the course, along with U.S. Department of the Interior followed by U.S. Geological Survey at the bottom of the page. Vis ID without motto should appear on every other slide thereafter.

Lessons Learned

  • Redeveloping a classroom course for DL delivery takes time and thought. The DL Team is here to help.
  • Don't synchronize narration with blocks of text. for example, when you start narrating a paragraph, don't make the paragraph "fly in." Learners like to see the text on the slide, all at once.
  • When developing your course, do the narration last! Narration must follow exactly what is on the slide notes.
  • Once published, Adobe® Connect™ will drop special formatting from the slide notes. This includes subscripts, superscripts, special characters. If you are developing a course and using special characters in the slide notes, be sure to save the slide notes for the lesson/course in PDF and make them an attachment to the published DL course.
  • Please involve the DL Team early on in the process so that we may help you avoid pitfalls, instructional design flaws, etc.
  • Use the required Instructional Design Document to keep on track with milestones, etc. The IDD will be very useful to you and the DL Program in developing your course.
  • Do have plenty of student exercises. If you need help thinking of ways to deliver an exercise or practice event, let us know. We can help.
  • Serve Glossary, Additional Resources, References Cited, etc. pages as HTML files. Add buttons that link to these documents at the bottom of every page of your DL course.

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Tj Lane
Angie Kohler

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Ralph Roland

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Page Last Modified: Thursday, 25-Jun-2015 11:19:02 EDT