Online Learning Best Practices

Best practices in online education are not necessarily different from those in face-to-face instruction. The difference is in the tools used to achieve them. There is also an even greater need for organization, time management, and clear expectations on both the part of the instructor and student. The following best practices take into consideration universal best practices in teaching as well as the logistical demands of the online environment.

A good online course begins with an instructional design process that:

  • identifies the goals and outcomes of the course
  • aligns these goals and outcomes with assignments and assessments
  • determines the best format(s) for content delivery. (Rather than simply recording video lectures, the instructional designer and instructor will develop a combination of text, short video, and interactive media objects to convey content not covered in readings)

Online courses should follow a program template that makes it easy for students to follow and keep track of what they need to do and when they need to do it across the courses they are enrolled in. The template should:

  • be the same from course to course
  • contain modules organized by week which include all readings, activities, and assignments that need to be accomplished for the specified time frame
  • provide students with weekly checklists
  • be accessible to all types of learners

A well defined syllabus which outlines student expectations is critical to a successful online course. The syllabus should include:

  • protocol for reporting issues with technology
  • when to expect instructor response
  • the level and quality of online participation that  is expected
  • how to navigate the course site
  • resources for student success
  • online office hours

Course activities and assignments should emphasize active learning, student-to-student and teacher-to-student interaction. This can be achieved through:

  • weekly online discussion topics guided by the instructor that encourage students to relate their learning to their past experience and comment on each other’s contributions
  • built-in LMS features which allow for peer review, collaborative writing, group work, and synchronous chat/web conferencing
  • virtual office hours that include live video, audio, or text-based communication

Finally, students enrolled in an online course or program need access to support resources that help them to succeed in this environment. Those resources include:

  • self-assessment that helps the student determine whether they are ready to learn online
  • an orientation to the learning management system and the online course template
  • clear instructions on how to access technology support if needed
  • clear guidelines and instruction for course participation such as netiquette and time management
  • tutorials or guidelines on plagiarism and academic integrity
  • access to college support services such as the library, writing center, and disability services