Helping Students Succeed in Online Courses



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Helping Students Succeed in Online Courses


This document contains a number of best practices and suggestions for helping students succeed in online courses.

Seven Principles Comprising Sound Instructional Practices


  1. Encourage student-faculty contact,

  2. Encourage cooperation among students,

  3. Encourage active learning,

  4. Give prompt feedback,

  5. Emphasize time on-task,

  6. Communicate high expectations,

  7. Respect diversity.

Teaching Presence


Teaching presence relates to the process of design, facilitation, and direction throughout the learning experience in order to realize desired learning outcomes (Garrison et al., 2000).

The three major categories under teaching presence are instructional design and management, building understanding, and direct instruction. Establishing teaching presence means creating a learning experience for students to progress through with instructor facilitation, support, and guidance.



Center for American Teaching and Learning. American Public University System. “Teaching Presence.” http://www.apus.edu/ctl/faculty/community-of-inquiry/teaching-presence/ Accessed October 30, 2015

Best Practices


Ten Best Practices for Teaching Online

1.Be Present at the Course Site: use communication tools such as announcements, discussion board postings, and forums to communicate frequently.

2.Create a supportive online community: personal introduction posting, general open student forum, groups of 3-4, problem-solving forums and discussion boards.

3.Share a set of clear expectations: how communication will occur and when; how much time students should be working on course each week.

4.Vary activities and experiences: large group, small groups, and individual work.

5.Use both synchronous (videoconferencing, chats) and asynchronous activities (email, discussion boards).

6.Solicit informal feedback weekly.

7.Prepare discussion posts: Invite questions, discussions, reflections, and responses.

8.Use content resources easily accessible from computers of students.

9.Combine core concept with customized and personalized learning.



  1. Plan a good closing and wrap activity.

Boettcher, J.V. (2006-2013)-Designing for Learning Ten Best Practices for Teaching Online Quick Guide for New Online Faculty. http://www.designingforlearning.info/services/writing/ecoach/tenbest. Accessed November 17, 2015

Best Practices in Designing Online Courses

Course Introduction

  1. Detail the general course content and student responsibilities, among other items, in the syllabus.

  1. Greet students with a welcome message, and tell them how to get started in the course.

  2. Show students how to navigate the course.

  3. Have students and teacher introduce themselves early in the course.

  4. Acquaint students with course software.

  5. Communicate what is required to succeed in the course.

Course Organization and Design

  1. Structure the course to make navigation easy.

  2. Ensure links are active and up-to-date.

  3. Create consistent and attractive web pages.

  4. Design web pages for students with disabilities.

  5. Include at least one open discussion board.

  6. Design course so that needed pages can be easily downloaded.

Instructional Design

10.Introduce learning units with an overview of topics.

11.Connect what students know to what they need to learn.

12.Post objectives for each learning unit.

13.Align learning activities to objectives and desired outcomes.

14.Structure learning activities to encourage interactivity.

15.Clearly write all lessons and content activity.

16.Post model submissions.

17.Post rubrics for grading.

18.Ensure that breadth of content covers content in course outline.

19.Chunk posted information.

20.Adapt information for different learning styles.

21.Extend content with optional web sites.

22.Design lengthy quizzes or exams so that students see only one question at a time.

23.Gather feedback from students to help improve course design.

24.Use copyrighted materials legally.



Los Positas College. Best Practices in Designing Online Courses. http://lpc1.clpccd.cc.ca.us/lpc/blackboard/best_practices/ Accessed November 17, 2015.

Technology and Learning Environment

  1. Insure a low level of technological difficulties in accessing web site and communication.

  2. Provide adequate, friendly, easy, continuous technical support.

  3. Use structured activities to provide an effective framework for online learning.

  4. Mandate smaller class sizes for online courses to give faculty appropriate time to deliver quality instruction board.

  5. Use flexible deadlines to motivate students, maintain communication, and allow for technical problems.

  6. Create social interaction through group collaboration to facilitate high achievement.

  7. Use streaming audio for reading online.

  8. Present course content in a manner that hierarchically structures the sequence of information.

  9. Organize web site to enable student to interact with the content, other students, and instructor.

  10. Create welcoming, safe, nurturing online environment.

  11. Present problem-solving situations in a realistic context.

  12. Provide opportunities for students to question instructor to insure accuracy of understanding.

  13. Create opportunities for students to communicate with each other to share understanding of course content.

  14. Provide opportunities to collaboratively construct knowledge based on multiple perspectives, discussion and reflection.

  15. Provide opportunities for students to articulate and revise their thinking to insure accuracy of knowledge construction. Ensure equitable environment exists for gender differences in learning styles, reduction of barriers to participation, and communication.

  16. Include cooperative and collaborative learning to distribute workload through group and support female students‘ preferred method of connected learning.

  17. Promote gender equality by encouraging females to post messages while asking males to subside if a pattern of male domination is noticed. Insure an equitable learning environment exists for all.

  18. Allow time for reflection at end of course. Include ―warm-up period with light-hearted exercises aimed to help student get to know one another.

  19. Start online course with all students together at the same time.

  20. Provide equal access to the shared conversation in the course. Provide opportunities for students to control online learning and structure it for themselves.

  21. Provide discussion forums encouraging open and honest dialogue.

  22. Conduct a teleconference during and at the end of the course to discuss successes and problems. Use computer conferencing to develop overall critical thinking skills.

Hanover Research Council Source: Thomas J. Tobin, ―Best Practices for Administrative Evaluation of Online Faculty. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. Volume 7, No 2. Summer 2004.

Tips to Improve Performance and Persistence in Online Courses

In designing online courses, instructors should take into account the following observations:

• Students perceive instructors as responsive when they encourage student questions through multiple venues and reply to questions promptly.

• Students make distinctions between technology tools integrated into a course with a clear and valuable purpose and those with no purpose. Instructors can establish this sense of purpose by integrating the technology into regular course activities and by explicitly telling students when and how to use a technology-based resource.

• Infusing audio and video throughout lectures provides multiple ways for students to engage with content and creates a strong instructor presence.

• Live weekly chat sessions allow for personalized instruction and give students the opportunity to get to know their instructor. However, participation in live chats tends to be low. Instructors can establish a flexible schedule of chat sessions and require students to attend at least a minimum number.

• Giving students a clear rubric and incentives for discussion board postings helps to stimulate more meaningful interaction.

• If instructors do not maintain an ongoing presence on discussion boards, students may feel that their participation is a waste of time.

• Students expect and appreciate detailed instructions for assignments and clear, actionable feedback in addition to numeric grades.

• Instructors can improve their online courses and engender a sense of caring by soliciting student feedback about the course and using that feedback to enhance the course.



Shanna Smith Jaggars, Nikki Edgecombe, and Georgia West Stacey. (April 2013). “Creating an Effective Online Instructor Presence.” Community College Research Center. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED542146.pdf
Directory: eml

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