Market-related Decisions
Single vs. Multiple Modalities
Should I design my product to accommodate all possible course modalities?
Any courseware product, no matter how innovative and engaging, can only be as effective as its implementation allows.

Thanks to innovations in instruction and technology, teachers can now mix and match pedagogical approaches and modalities, from traditional face-to-face teaching to fully online environments, to flipped and blended classrooms. Students’ learning needs, rather than institutional tradition, inform the choice of teaching methods and materials. The goals of classes can differ greatly as well—from focusing on new content mastery to preparing for milestone exams to refreshing prerequisites.

Courseware has a natural place in each of these modalities. Because it requires online interaction, however, implementation is a critical factor in the success or failure of courseware as a learning tool. There is a difference, for example, between the online experience required when an instructor assigns the courseware as homework after face-to-face lectures, and when the courseware is the sole or primary means of delivering end-to-end instruction to remote students.

Comparing Courseware Use by Classroom Modalities

Courseware in class: Assessments

Courseware at home: Required reading, homework, remediation


Courseware in class: Simulations, assessments, group assignments

Courseware at home: Required reading, homework, remediation


Courseware in class: Simulations, assessments, group assignments

Courseware at home: Required reading, lecture videos, remediation

Fully online

Courseware in class: ––

Courseware at home: Discussion forums, required reading, lecture videos, instructor assistance


Consider the range of modalities your instructors are employing. How do the learning materials and tools they have access to enhance or deter their teaching in those modalities?

It’s important to understand the variety of possible implementations and the implications for developing your courseware product. You may decide to build a product with one specific implementation to produce a high impact; however, that product may be unsuitable or have only limited usefulness for instructors and students in other classroom scenarios. Optimizing your product experience for one type of learning may ultimately limit your potential for impact and market reach.

“For a long time, people equated courseware with online-only courses. The Next Generation Courseware (NGCC) program and others have helped to demonstrate that courseware can be used across course modalities, and we need to continue building awareness of the different ways courseware can be used.”

Emily Lammers Cole, Independent Education Consultant

One of the Next Generation Courseware Challenge (NGCC) grantees with a focus on two-year institutions experienced this when they implemented their product—built for fully-online modalities—into face-to-face classrooms with strong lecture components. The courseware presented a complete, structured experience that contained both lessons and a variety of simulations that students were to complete. Since the instructors were teaching lessons in a physical classroom, they chose to skip the online lesson content and assign just the simulations as coursework. But the simulations relied on the courseware’s lesson content rather than the instructors’ syllabuses. Students struggled to complete the simulations without having to double up on lessons, and the courseware failed to deliver an experience that actually helped them. In response, the courseware provider adjusted its product to be more flexible in more traditional modalities such as face-to-face classrooms.

“Creating fully online courses is not the solution. Most disadvantaged students are in community colleges studying with instructors in a physical classroom. That won’t change. So creating an offering that can be used by instructors in that setting is critical.”

Dror Ben-Naim, CEO of Smart Sparrow


To learn more about established and emerging modalities in higher education contexts, read High Tech, High Touch: Serving Student Needs at Scale, a report researched and written by Intentional Futures.

Beyond making your product more usable in different types of classrooms, building flexibility into implementation will also help the courseware scale within an institution. Instructors in the same field at the same institution often teach in different ways from course to course. Procurement administrators will likely find your courseware more attractive if it’s easy to adapt across modalities.Throughout the product development and implementation process, prioritize building flexibility into the design of the experience. Make sure that instructors have guides to reference when using courseware in an active learning or blended learning environment; give users the ability to toggle between a synchronous and asynchronous learning experience within the courseware; and allow instructors to compare course versions that inform continuous improvement.

As the science of pedagogy and learning continues to evolve, different teaching approaches will thrive or fall by the wayside. Perhaps in the future, fully online courses will be the standard rather than the exception in higher education. It’s important, therefore, to keep in mind how your point of view on courseware implementation may change. Building flexibility into your courseware for implementation in multiple teaching scenarios is a good bet.

Marcela Daltro, Professor of Business Administration at Cerritos College

Best Practices
Single vs. Multiple Modalities

Decide which modalities to prioritize. Articulate the implementation scenarios in which you would like to see your courseware product used most often. This will help you focus your design and help you communicate to instructors how best to use your product.

Design with flexibility in mind. Even instructors implementing courseware the same way will differ slightly in the features they choose to emphasize. Consider designing your product in a way that allows instructors to pick the components that add value to their particular classroom goals. See Modular vs. Structured for more about product flexibility.

Communicate use cases clearly. Make it easy for instructors and institutions to understand how to implement your product in specific types of learning modalities. The better they understand your product from the get-go, the more successful their implementations.

Case Study
Acrobatiq's Playbook

Acrobatiq created the Acrobatiq Playbook to make it easy for instructors to understand exactly how the courseware can work in classrooms environments. An instructor can click a relevant implementation model to gain insight about what the model means for both teachers and students. They can also browse suggested strategies for using Acrobatiq to advantage in a particular modality.