Best Practices for Online Course Design

As more and more students move to online learning because of flexibility and ease of use, instructors are having to learn how to adjust traditional teaching practices to the needs of the online student. While many teaching theories overlap for traditional and online students, there are definite considerations and concessions that have to be made in the design of an online course. A truly great online course will keep students interested and engaged and will help them to be successful. When designing an online course, there are a handful of best practices to think about and incorporate for the best outcome.

1. Think about learner needs.
One of the first things you need to do is to take your audience into consideration. How old is the average student? Are they working while taking courses? What’s their socioeconomic status? They may need more flexibility, may need you to take the cost of everything into consideration, or may need more hand-holding through the process.

2. Plan for a variety of learning styles.
For the most part, students can be broken down into four types of learners: auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and reading/writing. Make sure you are presenting your content in a variety of ways that will not only reach each learner where they are, but will also be more engaging all around.

3. Show theory vs. practice.
Make sure to link the theory you’re teaching to practical situations. It’s easier for a student to retain information if they can apply it to their lives. This can include linking what your teaching to a student’s everyday life or showing them practical ways the theories can play out in their career field.

4. Embrace flexibility.
Most students are being pulled in multiple directions. While this is true for all types of students, this can be especially true for students who choose to take online courses. Most of these students fall into the nontraditional category and are participating in dual enrollment, working while in school, many have families, or they have other obligations. It’s important that the online courses remain flexible so students can work around these additional activities.

5. Encourage interactivity.
Engaged students are successful students. By providing interactive learning opportunities, you ensure your students stay engaged and are better able to complete courses with successful end results.

6. Develop a clear structure.
If the structure of your course is hard to understand or predict, or is messy, students can become frustrated, and frustrated students many times outright quit or, at the very least, have trouble completing a course. Lay out the expectations for your course so your students know what’s expected up front, and remain consistent with your course design.

7. Provide opportunities for feedback.
You can learn a lot from your students, so let them teach you. Providing opportunities for feedback from your students allows them to feel heard and helps you to continually improve your course. This can be as simple as sending a questionnaire at the end of the course to find out how your students felt about the course, where they struggled, and what parts resonated with them.

Engaged students are successful students. By implementing these best practices across your online courses, you will ensure your students remain engaged, and you will put them on the path to educational success. These students will not only walk away with a positive experience, but they will also want to come back for additional courses.

To see how TEL Library implements these ideas across our online courses, check out one of our demos.

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