Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Suggestions for Developing Your Online Course

Whether you are a veteran online course developer or this is your first adventure into the world of online learning, the following suggestions may be helpful in developing a course that is student-friendly.

Provide Extra Detail in Your Online Syllabus

In most face-to-face classes, the first class meeting is devoted to going over the course syllabus and taking time to emphasize important information and answer questions as they come up from the students. In an online class, the syllabus must be specific enough to cover the details that may have been verbally highlighted in a face-to-face class. This is especially true for procedures and participation policies.

You can also save time answering questions by creating a discussion forum devoted to common questions about the course itself and encouraging students to use this forum for general course and syllabus related questions. This forum would need to be placed in the top block of the course so that it can be accessed throughout the duration of the course. Give the forum a descriptive name such as the "Question and Answer Room" or "General Course Questions".

For Moodle users, the Book resource is an excellent tool to use for the course syllabus in an online course. The Book tool allows you to create chapters for each section of the syllabus. Students are then able to click on the specific chapter that would address their questions about the textbook, or the late work policy, etc. without having to open and scroll through a lengthy document to find the information they need. The Moodle Book resource also allows students to print specific pages such as the course schedule.

Encourage Community Building Early On in the Course

Building a feeling of community and interaction is one of the most difficult challenges for the online course developer but it is so important for keeping students engaged and interested in the material. Discussion forums are an essential tool for building community and encouraging engagement with the course materials. However, the discussions should not feel like busy work for the students. The discussion topics should be pulled from material being taught in the course and should be related to the achievement of the course and/or unit objectives. Starting with an Introduction Forum during the first week of class is an excellent way to set the pace for forum participation throughout the course.

Use a Consistent Format for the Course

Students will look for patterns in the course to guide their actions. Design and use a template for each module/week and remain consistent with that template. For example, you might start each module with a list of module-level objectives, then list the resources available, then the activities. Create labels to identify each section of the module. It is also important for you to be consistent with due dates. For example, establish what day of the week students must post to the forum, when quizzes are due etc. so that students can establish a routine for the course. If you must make a change from the normal format, notify your students via an email or course announcement so that they do not miss new content or deadlines.

Design Content for Online Delivery

The online environment is largely visual and built on videos and Moodle-based activities such as quizzes, forums, and assignment uploads. Rather than just uploading the PowerPoint that you would have used during your face-to-face lecture, add audio and/or video to your slides. In order to encourage student use and to keep the file size small, break up your lectures into smaller sections of no longer than 15 minutes each. In order for the videos to be accessible to all students they should be captioned. For more information on captioning instructional materials, please contact the ITRC. You can also access the Step-by-step guide to Creating Narrated PowerPoint presentations.

If Someone Can Say it Better Than You, Then Let Them

Don't limit yourself and your students to content that you have created. It is not mandatory or necessary for you to develop every bit of your information from scratch - if there is an organization with a professional website that covers the information you are presenting, send your students to that site. Use the web to your advantage by curating content whenever possible. YouTube can also be an excellent source for information - just be sure that any videos you use have been properly captioned. Often the automatically generated captions are not accurate and need to be edited through a service like

Provide Content in Different Formats Whenever Possible

Take advantage of the many different tools available electronically to present information. Providing content in different formats will not only keep it interesting for your students but will also facilitate different learning styles and students with disabilities. A few examples:
  • Provide written lecture notes that accompany your PowerPoint presentation.
  • Direct students to an interactive webpage where they could participate in a self-check activity or quiz. For example: Are You Ready for Online Learning?
  • Add a link to a YouTube or Khan Academy video that explains the concept you are teaching on. It may be helpful for students to see the material from a different perspective or to have it explained in a different way.
  • Include a graph or visual representation of the material. Google Images is an excellent resource for these types of materials. Chances are - someone else has already created what you need and shared it on Google.
  • Share content through a podcast or screen capture with a free tool like Jing or Screencast-o-matic

Allow Yourself Plenty of Time for Development

All faculty members underestimate how long it will take to develop online content. Try to develop your content during the semester prior to when the course will be going live so that you have time to find the materials you need. Keep in mind that online instruction is a work in progress and you might need to try different tools before you find the one that works best to obtain the learning objective.


Orlando, J. (2014, March 3). Top 10 Rules for Developing Your First Online Course. Faculty Focus.

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