First Steps to Designing an Online Course

Always put yourself in your students’ shoes. What do they need in order to stay interested and to keep learning?

Online classes can be extremely exciting or extremely dull, depending upon how they are designed. If you simply migrate paper to digital, it will kill your students’ love of learning quicker than Apple comes out with new versions of iPhones. But done right, it can be the most exciting way to learn that your students have ever experienced.

Think about what the Internet offers that traditional classes don’t, and build on those features:

  • Information at their fingertips
  • Learn anytime/anywhere
  • Communication/collaboration with anyone in the world (global projects, talk to experts, use their desire for social interactions to gain more in-depth learning)
  • Learn at their own pace
  • Interact and manipulate information in exciting ways
  • Innovate, create, produce, build knowledge and share it with a global audience
  • Students more empowered than ever before to direct their own learning, find information they are passionate about, follow their curiosity, and interact with new kinds of information
  • Plagiarism and cheating opportunities will encourage you to get creative with your assessments. Students will need to do more than just pass tests. You can have them solve problems, teach a concept to another student, build a learning artifact (video, podcast, game, etc.) that you can add to your content library, or collaborate with others to produce something original.


  • Interactivity – this keeps them involved and engaged, and helps them learn by manipulating information in different ways. Keep in mind the different learning styles: visual, auditory, kinesthetic (online games can be very kinesthetic!)
  •  Give them input in their learning – this platform allows for the opportunity to give students more control over their learning. They can control when and where they want to learn, but you can also give them options of what (offer a variety of resources to choose from) and how they want to demonstrate their learning (can offer a variety of assessment options, such as videos, podcasts, creating a project to teach others, etc.). Ask for their input and suggestions via frequent polls and surveys.
  • Feedback – you will continue to have personalized feedback, as you always have. It may take different forms, however, through discussion boards, emails, and audio comments. Students will also receive instant feedback through online quizzes and their personalized learning paths that will give them the support they need when they need it.

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