instructional design, online course design, higher education, everydayness, qualitative research, ethnography, case study


This article reports research into the everydayness of instructional design (meaning designers’ daily routines, run-of-the-mill interactions with colleagues, and other, prosaic forms of social contact), and how everydayness relates to their pursuit of quality in online course design. These issues were investigated through an ethnographic case study, centered on a team of instructional designers at a university in the United States. Designers were observed spending significant amounts of time engaged in practices of course refinement, meaning mundane, workaday tasks like revising, updating, fine-tuning, or fixing the courses to which they were assigned. Refining practices were interrelated with, but also experienced as distinct from, the specialized processes of instructional design or innovation that the designers also applied. Refining played a meaningful role in designers’ pursuit of course quality, both to help them achieve quality, as well as to understand what the ideal of quality meant in specific instances. The article concludes by exploring what implications these findings have for the study and practice of instructional design in the context of online course development.

Original Publication Citation

McDonald, J. K. (2023). The everydayness of instructional design and the pursuit of quality in online courses. Online Learning, 27(2), 137-169.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Online Learning Consortium




David O. McKay School of Education


Instructional Psychology and Technology

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor