Online Courses

image of computer mouseIntroduction - You are invited on a journey into learning about online learning.
 Does online learning differ from classroom learning? If you have followed these modules as though they were a course you have now experienced what is called an open entry/open exit online course. In other words, you are experiencing a course that can be taken at any time, with or with out a facilitator or interaction with other students. Ideally online courses are facilitated and extensive interaction between participants takes place, but we are getting ahead of ourselves in this discussion.

As we discussed in previous lessons most of us think we know a great deal about teaching and learning just because we have been students. If you have read several of the modules in this course and taught in the traditional classroom you have learned a good deal more about the realities of the educational process. Does your experience as a classroom teacher translate directly into the online environment? Yes and no.

Effectively teaching and learning can take place almost by accident in a classroom where a well attuned instructor seems to have an instinctual understanding of their students needs. But online, in the absence of the visual and auditory cues and with the written communication dominate in online instruction the process must be far more intentional. Teaching online is still teaching, but it is not entirely the same.

image of sample page from WebCTWe could debate for the next hour the effectiveness of online education. I believe online education can be very effective, but not necessarily for all students or for all educational needs. It cannot and should not replace all face-to-face education. But, for many students and many subjects, a well designed online course can be very effective.

What knowledge and skills do you need to design an effective online course?

  • An understanding of how people learn (Modules 9 and 10 introduce this topic)
  • An ability to translate the understanding of how people learn into an online course design
  • An ability to write clearly
  • Basic technical skills
  • Basic web design skills (online teachers quickly discover they will not be able to rely in total on technical staff)
  • A knowledge of a course management system if one is to be used (WebCT, Blackboard, etc.)

What are the typical personality traits of those who thrive in the online environment?

  • They love to write
  • They enjoy selecting imagery to enhance their site and make communication more effective
  • They have the ability to imagine the person at the other end of an e-mail conversation
  • They are tolerant of the glitches that often arise during the use of current technology
  • They are interested in learning more about how they might use technology to enhance teaching and learning

How does one build the knowledge and skills to be an effective online instructor?

Learn your college policies on offering online courses. College policies can differ significantly. Be sure to check out the resources and training available at your college.      Most faculty prefer to expand their technical skills in face-to-face workshops. If your college does not offer face-to-face workshops, you may find those offered by @one at to fulfill your need.

If your college does not offer online courses but you would like to experience online teaching you might inquire about adjunct (part-time) opportunities elsewhere. If you are an online adjunct you may not need to travel to the college where the course originates more than once or twice per semester. To find out who is offering courses check with The California Virtual Campus or explore opportunities in other states.

Review the literature of online courses (at least glance at it) so that you are familiar with the issues that may arise on your campus, and have a sense of where online courses fit into educational history and, most importantly, think about the lessons you find in the literature that you wish to apply to your course.

To help you examine the literature, this module is linked to sites outside of 4faculty.  Each discusses good practices or best practices in online education.  As you will quickly discover, many thoughtful people are considering how to best construct online courses.  If you have been following the development of online courses for some time, recall that most of the discussion in the late twentieth century revolved around the "no significant difference" phenomenon, or around a critique of the value of online courses. While many continue to argue that hybrid courses will serve students more effectively than fully online courses, or perhaps even fully face-to-face courses, most of the current discussion of online courses focuses on quality assurance.

Quality assurance is of great importance, particularly since it is also leading to a debate about quality assurance in face-to-face courses.    You will also note that the discussion about quality assurance is inexorably linked to our understanding of how students learn.  For a summary of the literature on quality assurance please see the following matrix on quality assurance created by the Kristina Kauffman and Andy Howard.

Increasing Student Success through Quality Assurance (.pdf)

Group & Their Role in Higher Education The Reading
image Academic Senate logo

Academic Senate for the California Community Colleges

The most important faculty organization in California community colleges is the Academic Senate. Through AB 1725, Academic Senates are the only organization given legal standing in the shared governance process. 

Each of the 108 community colleges have an Academic Senate to represent faculty in academic and professional matters. 

The Academic Senate of California Community Colleges (ASCCC) is the statewide organization representing local Senates. Each college is given one voting representative at the two annual conferences where position papers and resolutions are discussed. The ASCCC is also one of the organizations involved in the "consultation" process that provides input to the Board of Governors.

Guidelines for Good Practice: Technology Mediated Instruction

The Guidelines are based on The Seven Principles for Good Instruction described by Chickering and Gamson (1987).  They include:

  1. Encourages student-faculty contact.
  2. Encourages cooperation among students.
  3. Encourages active learning.
  4. Gives prompt feedback.
  5. Emphasizes time on task.
  6. Communicates high expectations.
  7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning.


Guidelines for Good Practice:  Effective Instructor-Student Contact in Distance Learning

View Sue Roig's PowerPoint for Guidelines for Good Practice: Effective Instructor-Student Contact in Distance Learning based upon the Seven Principles

image Institute of higher education policy logo
The Institute of Higher Education Policy

The Institute for Higher Education Policy is a non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to foster access and quality in postsecondary education. The Institute’s activities are designed to promote innovative solutions to the important and complex issues facing higher education. These activities include research and policy analysis, policy formulation, program evaluation, strategic planning and implementation, seminars, and colloquia.

Founded in 1993, the Institute informs the policymaking process in collaboration with U.S. state, federal, and institutional level partners, and internationally in countries such as South Africa, Mozambique, and Russia. The Institute draws on the combined expertise of its senior associates and researchers, whose ranks include some of the leading policy analysts in higher education. 

Source:  IHEP website

Quality on the Line:  Benchmarks for Success in Internet-Based Distance Education

Quality on the Line includes a study of Benchmarks for Success. Key course and learner benchmarks are:

Course Development Benchmarks

  • Guidelines regarding minimum standards are used for course development, design, and delivery, while learning outcomes—not the availability of existing technology—determine the technology being used to deliver course content.

  • Instructional materials are reviewed periodically to ensure they meet program standards.

  • Courses are designed to require students to engage themselves in analysis, synthesis, and evaluation as part of their course and program requirements.

Teaching/Learning Benchmarks

  • Student interaction with faculty and other students is an essential characteristic and is facilitated through a variety of ways, including voice-mail and/or e-mail.

  • Feedback to student assignments and questions is constructive and provided in a timely manner.

  • Students are instructed in the proper methods of effective research, including assessment of the validity of resources.

Course Structure Benchmarks

  • Before starting an online program, students are advised about the program to determine (1) if they possess the self-motivation and commitment to learn at a distance and (2) if they have access to the minimal technology required by the course design.

  • Students are provided with supplemental course information that outlines course objectives, concepts, and ideas, and learning outcomes for each course are summarized in a clearly written, straightforward statement.

  • Students have access to sufficient library resources that may include a "virtual library" accessible through the World Wide Web.

  • Faculty and students agree upon expectations regarding times for student assignment completion and faculty response. - the e-Learning Hub

WebCT is the leading provider of e-learning solutions to the global higher education market. They created the course management system used in this training course. Read about the WebCT Vision.

WebCT Exemplary Course Project Scoring Rubric
Other Resources Distance Education:  Guidelines for Good Practice  from the American Federation of Teachers, published in the US Distance Learning Association

Quality Assurance for Whom?:  Providers and Consumers in Today's Distributed Learning Environment by the Carol Twigg of the Pew Learning and Technology Program

ADEC Guiding Principles for Distance Learning from the American Distance Education Consortium


Study the components of good online design and teaching and think about what a well designed class looks like to a student. A good online course contains many features.  Key among them are:

  1. Learner-Centered Outcomes-Based Instruction
    1. Clear objectives
    2. Assessment tools
    3. Opportunities for students to construct and experience their own knowledge
    4. Opportunities for students to become increasingly responsible for their own learning
    5. Options for demonstrating learning outcomes
    6. Opportunities for reflection
    7. Effective student support services
  2. Effective Instructional Design
    1. Clear and captivating instruction design
    2. A pathway to guide student learning
    3. Appealing presentation
  3. Varied Forms of Interactivity with Material, Other Students and the Instructor
    1. Regular communication with peers and the instructor
    2. Varied interaction with the content.

    Components of Good Online Course Design

Learn tips and tricks to put together your online course as quickly and easily as possible.
    1. Shape your vision
    2. Focus on approaches that serve all types of learners
      • Ensure accessibility
    3. Think of the course from the student's perspective
    4. Use the discussion board to promote effective communication and teach critical thinking and collaboration skills
    5. Develop a clear pathway for learning
      • Build in introduction and objectives; content; opportunities for engagement; reminders to reflect; pre and post assessment
      • Design a simple path and stick to it
      • Ensure active engagement throughout
    6. Provide support structures
    7. "To thine own self be true"

Dig Deeper for examples

Have FUN learning something new and extending educational opportunities to even more students!