Best Practices for Teaching Online


Principles of Effective Online Teaching


  1. Be visible and be active.
    Well-designed classes do not teach themselves. Developing presence and interacting with students in online courses increases learning and leads to greater student satisfaction. Sure, there may be aspects, or even major components of a course, that are heavily learner-driven (e.g., collaborative projects), but your presence and student presence is a key component to class success – maybe even more so than in the traditional classroom. Modeling effective and meaningful interaction helps build community and collegiality in the course.

  2. The content is the content.
    The decisions you make about how to approach, teach, and learn content are what define a course. The activities, assessments (formative and summative), and interaction are the result of those instructional decisions. Even though you are not geographically bound to your students, your courses should be learner-centered and promote active learning and engagement by you and your students.

  3. Set high expectations.
    Online courses require the same amount of rigor, effort, and level of participation as their seated counterparts. Early in your course and in your syllabus, let your students know that you have high expectations for them and for yourself.

  4. Manage the learning experience.
    Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is. Sound course design requires you to pace and scaffold students through the learning process in order to meet course goals. As you design your course, create a structure that provides learners with regular feedback and prompts early and often in order to promote student success.

  5. Set patterns.
    Be consistent and be predictable. Creating a transparent plan for navigating a course provides students with a clear course of action for success. By making all deadlines and expectations for activities, tasks, and assessments clear, you ease the burden on both you and the students. It also removes all unnecessary surprises that can inhibit the course experience.

  6. Scaffold learning.
    As you design your course, you should always help students maintain forward progress. Your aim should be to help them move towards and achieve the goals you set forth for the course. Design your lessons/units/modules so that you include a) directions for navigating the tasks and b) prompts (e.g., emails, direct messages, etc.) that let learners know how to best proceed through the course. Lastly, provide regular feedback throughout the course. Help students identify what they don’t know, misconceptions, or help them expand their understanding.

  7. Communicate with purpose.
    Communication is at a premium in online courses. The quality and amount of interactions you have with learners are critical. You should model and set the standard and expectations for course communication. If you don’t follow-up with student emails, don’t be surprised if they don’t respond to you. Keep a consistent schedule (e.g., every day between 9-10 am except weekends) so that students know when to expect replies, but don’t set an unreasonable schedule for yourself or expect the same from students. If you’re going to be unavailable (e.g., conference, traveling, etc.) let the students know well in advance.

  8. Provide timely feedback.
    As noted above, feedback is essential for any type of learning. Timely feedback informs students of their performance and progress towards the course goals. If students complete an activity or any other assessment (e.g., quiz and test), you should provide meaningful feedback as quickly as possible. A good rule of thumb to remember is that assessments should not be seen as something to tell you what the learner does not know, but should be tools that allow learners to identify areas in which they need to either develop further understanding or address a misunderstanding. They may also tell you what you either need to clarify or re-address.

  9. Flexibility
    Expect the unexpected. If we know anything about learning, it is that no classes, or even no two students, will be alike. Sometimes our design decisions and activity plans fall flat. Be prepared to modify and adjust accordingly. Technology will fail at some point. Know your support team and work with them to help develop solutions.

  10. Embrace multiple roles.
    Teaching online will require wearing multiple hats. In addition to being the course designer and teacher, you’re also the first line of defense for technical support. Being able to identify and troubleshoot issues will make your life much easier than always having to rely on others. In fact, others may not be able to help you in some cases depending on the tools being used.

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