Online Course Best Practices

There are numerous ways to teach an engaging, effective online course. By following basic best practices, instructors can optimize the online learning experience. There are numerous resources that can provide guidance about what makes an online course excellent, but two of the most frequently cited sources are the Quality Matters Rubric (MarylandOnline, 2016) and the Rubric for Online Instruction (California State University, 2009).

How to Get Started

  1. Plan the components of your course. Check that all of your content helps your students achieve your learning objectives, and that your assessments tell you whether they achieved them. You might want to use this Course Planning Guide template as an organizational tool.
  2. Create a course space in Moodle. The Step-by-Step Online Course Creation Guide can help you get started.
  3. Communicate early and often.
    • Send a Welcome Letter about one week before class starts. Here is a Welcome Letter template you can use.
    • Let your students know how to get started and how to contact you. Be clear about expectations for your involvement (e.g., response time to emails and assignments) and student involvement (e.g., how often to log in, how to get help).
    • Provide frequent and timely feedback on assignments.
  4. Design content into small modules (e.g., by course week or unit topic).
    • Use a consistent module structure throughout the course.
    • Make requirements and due dates clear (e.g., Wednesday, April 22 at 11:59 p.m.). Pacing may differ in online and face-to-face courses; many instructors include one due date each week for semester-long online courses.
  5. Include interactivity throughout the course so students can connect with you, the materials, and their peers.
    • Use a discussion forum to introduce yourself and have students to introduce themselves.
    • Provide a help forum where students can ask questions. Instructors or other students may provide answers.
    • Incorporate active learning strategies.
  6. Be compassionate
    • Identify and support students who are struggling.
    • Consider reaching out to students who haven’t logged into Moodle for some period of time (e.g., a week in a semester-long course or a few days in a summer course), or who have missed a submission deadline; are they struggling with something?
    • Be mindful of students who need accommodations.

Best Practices


  • Ensure that learning objectives and assignments, tests, projects, and all other assessments are closely aligned (California State University, 2009; MarylandOnline, 2016).
  • Include various opportunities for students to track their learning progress, including self-assessments such as quizzes and flashcards, along with peer review (California State University, 2009; MarylandOnline, 2016).


  • Utilize current, readily obtainable course technology that promotes learner engagement and active learning (California State University, 2009; MarylandOnline, 2016).
  • Include a variety of multimedia elements to accommodate different learning styles (California State University, 2009; MarylandOnline, 2016).


  • Administer a brief survey mid-semester for students to provide feedback on the course (California State University, 2009). This could be easily created using Google Forms.
  • Make course materials easy to navigate and available in formats that meet the needs of diverse learners (California State University, 2009; MarylandOnline, 2016).

Learner Interaction

  • Create learning activities that offer opportunities for student-student, student-instructor, and student-content interaction (California State University, 2009; MarylandOnline, 2016).
  • Requirements for learner interaction are clearly stated (MarylandOnline, 2016).