Online Learning

Online Learning

Entirely online courses are those where the students and instructors do not meet in a physical learning space (also known as brick and mortar). The course may be fully asynchronous, where students complete course requirements at their own pace with no specified times for ‘live’ interaction via the Internet. Alternatively, an online course may include synchronous elements such as specified online office hours where the instructor can answer questions in real-time or designated live discussions via video conference technology or a text-based discussion board.

Students in a fully online course may be on campus taking face-to-face courses or live elsewhere.

Therefore, careful preparation of the course design and course materials is particularly crucial in fully online courses. You don’t have the luxury of using class time to clarify questions, and you want to maximize the time students spend in the course learning the course content and completing assessments and evaluations.

What is Different About Teaching Online?

Once you have your course designed, your role as an instructor is more about facilitating student interaction and learning.

Why is it important to know how to teach online?

Similar to teaching in person, as an instructor, you must determine how you are going to convey your unique personality, facilitate interactions, and communicate with students. Identifying these before the course begins helps create boundaries around the amount of time you plan on spending in the course and how frequently you will respond to student questions.

Considerations for teaching online

When developing your online presence, consider that every instructor defines their virtual self differently. Determine what information about yourself and your work you want to share and why you think it is essential. At the beginning of your course, you may have to be more active within the discussion forums and in responding to student questions. As the course progresses, you will find yourself moving from a more active instructor to a facilitator. It is helpful to establish guidelines at the beginning of the course for how long it will take you to respond so they will not expect an immediate response 24/7. See additional tips on the engaging students online page.

Six Tips for Preparing Your Online Course

Rob Kelly’s article Six Tips for Preparing Your Online Course (Faculty Focus) provides an excellent framework for teaching online. A summary of the six tips includes:

  • Be clear, concise, and comprehensive. Everything for the course needs to be in place and online before the class starts. Logically organize the course, and there should be instructions for students on how to navigate the course. Use the Online Course Essentials (ONCE) and the ISU Template page.
  • Provide a manageable amount of content. Consider how much work is reasonable to expect of students, considering this may not be their only course. To calculate the expected time to complete tasks, use the Workload Estimator 2.0 tool from Wake Forest University.
  • Provide a variety of learning activities. Include a variety of activities to ensure diverse learners can achieve the maximum from the course and meet the course learning objectives. There are many options available on the Learning Activities page.
  • Avoid making last-minute changes. These changes can result in inconsistent information, such as assignment details and due dates.
  • Provide resources to help students succeed in the online classroom. Don’t assume that your students have all the knowledge and expertise to succeed in an online course format. Include the Student Support Resources page in your course, and share the information on it throughout your course.
  • Preview the course in different browsers and with the Canvas app on your smart device. Sometimes what works on one machine doesn’t work on another. Consider having a colleague help with this and also ask them to check the course for ease of navigation, clear instructions, and accurate placement of content.

Promote Inclusion Online

Review and use essential resources from CELT’s promote an equitable and inclusive any environment page throughout the course along with discussing and including these statements in your syllabus:

  • “Netiquette is “Internet Etiquette” or the conventions of politeness about the way we use the Internet and interact with others online. To provide a foundation for civility in the online learning environment, we promote the following Netiquette at ISU (PDF) for general guidelines when communicating in this course.”
  • ISU Principles of Community, “Students are responsible for living the tenets established in ISU’s Principles of Community: Respect, Purpose, Cooperation, Richness of Diversity, Freedom from discrimination, and the Honest and respectful expression of ideas. Visit ISU’s Principles of Community website.

Use the Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository

If you are new to teaching in the online or blended format or are interested in new ideas to enhance an existing online or hybrid course, use the Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository at Central Florida University website. The repository has three categories Course Content, Interaction, and Assessment, each with multiple entries. Each entry describes a strategy drawn from the pedagogical practice of online/blended teaching faculty, depicts this strategy with artifacts from actual courses, and aligning with findings from research or professional practice literature.

Online Learning, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Online Learning, is a derivative of Teaching Online developed by Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Innovation (retrieved on June 7, 2020) from