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Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity

Dissertation - Boise State University Access Only

Degree Title

Doctor of Education in Educational Technology


Educational Technology

Major Advisor

Patrick Lowenthal, Ph.D.


Chareen Snelson, Ph.D.


Norm Friesen, Ph.D.


Enrollments in online courses continue to grow. With this growth has come an increased need for instructors to develop content for their courses using digital technology. To address instructors’ abilities to develop content for a virtual environment, institutions have focused on the most effective and efficient ways to design online courses and programs. However, despite increased focus on the instructional design of online courses, little attention has been given to their visual design. This is problematic because research suggests that the visual design of online courses can improve the student learning experience. Given this problem, additional research is needed to understand the visual design of online courses, including page layout design and the integration of visual media. Three different studies were conducted to address this problem (a.) Study 1 is a literature review that synthesizes the relevant topics in visual communication design to online course development. The study addressed the mechanics of visual design but also external factors that influence visual design thinking. In this chapter, the authors seek to clarify the process of using visual design to improve the online learning experience. The chapter concludes by suggesting strategies that colleges and universities can use to help faculty and instructional designers learn visual design skills through the creation of a design studio. (b.) Study 2 is an exploratory qualitative study that investigates the ways in which educators in higher education apply visual design to their online courses through the design process framework of looking, thinking, doing, and critiquing (LTD+C). Semi-structured interviews were conducted to explore instructor’s use of a visual design process, application of visual design thinking, and perceived barriers in designing online classrooms. Based on the findings of the study, it is suggested that the visual design process in online courses can fit within the LTD+C framework and activities associated with each part of the process should be further explored. (c.) Study 3 is a qualitative content analysis of images used in online courses. The study examined the current use of images in higher-education online classrooms along with the ability of instructors to create, select, and apply images to an online classroom learning management system by exploring well-known frameworks of image taxonomy in online classrooms. Based on the findings of this study it is suggested that the current framework of educational image taxonomy can be elaborated upon and that instructors need better training in appropriately handling using images in online classrooms. The general conclusion promoted in this dissertation is that visual design needs more emphasis within the field of education from both practical applications and research-based studies.