Best Practices in Online Learning

As a teacher, creating a good learning environment online is similar to what you would do to create a good learning environment in a face-to-face classroom. Most importantly, you need to know how to ready your students and your course to provide for an effective learning experience.

Here are some suggestions to help your students be successful:

  • Have the prerequisite technology skills to teach online, including troubleshooting skills.
  • Be aware of the reading and writing capabilities of your students and determine whether you have students who have English language barriers.
  • Specify course goals, outcomes, expectations, policies and student evaluation methods. These items should not only be expressed in text, but should also be discussed in an online session in a system like Elluminate, or face-to-face should there be a blended component to the course.
  • Create an environment conducive to community and network building. Ideally students will learn while developing their own personal learning network that includes those involved in the course and others whom they have found trustworthy. You can guide this process by introducing your students to what your own personal learning environment is like.
  • Learn how to deal with privacy issues should those appear.
  • Encourage cooperation and sharing among all course participants—student to student and instructor to student. Or as Gardner Campbell writes on his blog,  “Teachers open to learners and learners open to each other.”
  • Encourage and model active learning.
  • Give prompt feedback. Sometimes it is appropriate to do this in a public forum, while at other times it is more appropriately done in private.
  • Allow for students to learn and demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
  • Provide opportunities for self- and peer-assessment.
  • Model good learning practices and show your students that you are learning with them. You will be more engaged in your teaching if you are learning too.
  • Learn how to use some technology tools to enhance the learning environment. Have a high tolerance for ambiguity—don’t be afraid to take risks with new technologies, but make sure you try things out before you involve your students to make sure you’re on “the leading edge and not the bleeding edge.”
  • Hold some critical synchronous events that require students to prepare in some way for the event, such as completing a reading and writing a blog posting about the reading prior to the event.


Teaching Online for the First Time — The Quick Guide

Teaching Online for the First Time: The Quick Guide. Dr. Judith Boettcher provides 10 “best practice” tips for new online teachers.

Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning. Revisit the white paper referenced in the introduction to Week 3.

The Theory and Practice of Online Learning: Chapter 7, “The Development of Online Courses,” pages 175 to 195. Released under Creative Commons by  Athabasca University, this chapter is written by Dean Caplan and Rodger Graham.

Optional Resources

These two audio slide sets from Distance Education Services at the University of Victoria set out strategies for establishing and maintaining online presence.

Establishing Your Online Presence (approx. 5:10) | Video Transcript

Maintaining Your Online Presence (approx. 6:00) | Video Transcript

2 Responses to Best Practices in Online Learning

  1. Tashmyra says:

    I found the 10 Best Practices to be a very useful article. It had a good pragmatic approach, and seemed to draw the best out all of the readings, putting theory into a step-by-step format that was usable.

    • Jennifer says:

      I agree, Tashmyra. One item I’m curious about is the privacy issue. Has anyone ever dealt with this and if so, how? I’m not sure how I would go about ensuring privacy to an online course when I’m not fully convinced there is privacy. I particularly liked the simple, step-by-step format as well – it allowed reflection time on the readings and made it easier to understand.

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