Pedagogical Competencies

Pedagogical Competencies

Teaching online courses effectively requires faculty to have specific pedagogical, technical, and administrative skills. We offer this rubric for self-assessment of your pedagogical competency.

An instructor should be able to:

Additional guidelines

Examples and best practices

1. Attend to the unique challenges of distance learning where learners are separated by time, and geographic proximity and interactions are primarily asynchronous.

Online course content is typically developed in advance of the course’s start date. In effect, the “lecturing” has already been done!

As a result, your role shifts from “the sage on the stage” to “the guide on the side.” Teaching online focuses one’s efforts on facilitating, guiding, and directing learning, as well as assessing progress.

  • Create a “start here” module to teach students how to navigate your course.
  • Provide multiple ways for students to access the content and demonstrate competency.
  • Create a pattern for recurring events or significant deadlines. For example, discussions begin on Monday and end on Friday. Assignments are due on Wednesdays.
  • Set assignment deadlines during business hours so students can ask questions or seek tech support.
  • Define filename conventions.

2. Be familiar with the unique learning needs and situations of both traditional age and adult learners, providing an educational experience that is appropriate for both.

Adult learners bring a different perspective, motivation, and a set of skills to the classroom than traditional college students. Online courses are apt to attract working adult professionals who need the flexibility that online learning can afford. Faculty may find, however, that traditional college students also populate their courses, so it is essential to be aware of the learning needs of both audiences.

  • Encourage autonomous, self-directed learning.
  • Use authentic performance assessments, simulations, or problem-based learning. Link learning activities to student goals, outside events, or industry practices.
  • Respect prior knowledge and incorporate it into learning activities.
  • Create a safer space to fail or admit struggles. Celebrate and recognize students for small wins.
  • Provide regular, rapid feedback.
  • Create opportunities for students to work collaboratively or discuss the content. Teach students strategies for effective teamwork.

3. Communicate course goals and outcomes.

Students should clearly understand the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities they will develop through the work in your course.

Direct and concise language will help them see the connections between learning activities, assessments, and learning outcomes.


Before the course begins, design your course with learning objectives that use action verbs and measurable terms. Post this information in visible locations in Canvas (e.g., syllabus, pages, assignment/quiz details, announcements) along with the following framework from the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TiLT) Higher Ed website:

  • Purpose: Does your purpose statement specify a skill or skill set that students will gain? What content knowledge will students practice? How is it connected to their work?
  • Tasks: Clarify steps on what to do and how to do it. Does your description help students to focus their time efficiently on producing the highest quality work possible in the time given? Would students benefit from some practice assessment to prepare them to perform the task?
  • Criteria: How will students determine whether they are completing the assessment efficiently and effectively? Finally, provide examples and strategies for students to improve their work.



4. Review the course before every offering.

Before the course begins, review all course materials, the structure of the course content, and organization of Canvas to become comfortable with all aspects of the teaching and learning environment. Make sure the course content, structure, and organization are for functional and current.

  • Confirm that links work and external resources (e.g., videos, websites) still exist.
  • Identify new or changed features in Canvas. Seek assistance from 24/7 Canvas Support, CELT, and our campus partners locate contact information on  Where to go for help page.
  • If new to online teaching, having experience as an online student is recommended.

5. Respond to student inquiries.

Guide your student inquiries towards a positive learning outcome.

  • Communicate a reasonable response time to students. When possible, respond to student inquiries within 24 hours.
  • Create a Course Q&A thread in Discussions for general questions. (Direct personal questions to email or Canvas Inbox.)
  • Encourage students to answer each other’s queries when they can.

6. Provide detailed feedback on assignments and exams.

Facilitate student understanding and progress by providing students with timely, formative, and meaningful feedback that communicates areas of strength and areas for improvement.

  • Create holistic or analytic rubrics that define mastery, proficiency, and developing levels of performance.
  • Create “boilerplate” feedback for routine or universal comments. Focus your time during the live course on feedback about unique elements of the student’s performance.
  • Communicate expected turnaround times for assignments and exams. Help students improve on subsequent learning tasks.
  • Consider using audio feedback (view the SpeedGrader guide)  to create a social presence and personal connection in the online environment.

7. Inform students about course progress and changes.

Students studying online are typically juggling busy lives. A course schedule, regular announcements, updates on that status of your grading, and the online grade book can help students maintain progress toward personal goals and course outcomes.

  • Share the schedule for the entire term at the beginning of the course to help students plan and prioritize their time.
  • Use the calendar in Canvas to remind students of due dates.
  • Post weekly announcements, agendas, or lists of things to do to remind students of upcoming topics, discussions, or other activities.
  • If the schedule changes, give students plenty of warnings.
  • When practical, invite students to vote on changes to the course schedule.
8. Create a positive environment.

Promote and encourage a learning environment that is safe and inviting, and mutually respectful.

Students may have varying degrees of experience with online communications.

They may also have culturally-influenced expectations about how to communicate with the instructor and fellow students.

Giving clear guidelines and expectations for communication practices–and following those expectations in your messages–sets a clear standard for positive behaviors.

Promote an inclusive online environment continually throughout the course along with including these syllabus statements:

  • “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) (/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/netiquetteatISU.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 (

9. Monitor and manage student progress.

It’s easy for students to slip through the cracks when we don’t get a chance to see their faces every week.

  • By the end of the first week, contact any “no shows” to see if they are encountering log in, or technical problems. Then, encourage their participation.
  • Regularly use Canvas course “New Analytics” feature to monitor student who is accessing course materials, participating in discussion forums, etc. Contact low participation or no views students to encourage them to (re)engage in the course.

10. Create an inclusive learning environment that includes all students.

Create an inclusive environment that demonstrates sensitivity to disabilities and diversities, including cultural, cognitive, emotional and physical differences.

Courses and programs should show a commitment to accessibility so that all learners can access course content, participate in learning activities and assessments, and easily navigate the course.

Teaching Online Competencies by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University is s licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Teaching Online Competencies, is a derivative of Teaching Competencies for 100% Online Courses by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Minnesota State University, Mankato (retrieved April 22, 2020) and the original work, Faculty Competencies for Online Teaching, developed by the Penn State Online Faculty Engagement Subcommittee (November 2011).