Any Time, Any Location

Online courses are facilitated using online learning materials and activities with a flexible schedule. Students have regular online, asynchronous (any time) interactions with their instructor and other students. Certain asynchronous (real-time) interactions, such as office hours, may be provided.

Key Principles for Success

You will have the best results if you have the majority of your content created and uploaded to Canvas on or before the first day of the semester. Once you are in the thick of teaching, it is hard to create content, write exams, and keep up on your grading, so the more complete your course is on day one, the better off you (and your students!) will be.

We highly recommend that you work closely with your assigned instructional designer as you plan and build your online course.

Generally, a quality online course meets the following criteria:

  • Course Introduction that explains how Canvas will be used to facilitate learning.
  • Syllabus that is up to date and reflects the current semester.
  • Easy to follow navigation (See Customize the course navigation for ideas.)
  • Organized course content by topic or order of expected access and learning resources that are easy to find. (For best results, use a template.)
  • Functional content, such as working videos, no broken links, and content that is accessible to all learners.
  • Objective-Based Design, made evident by providing course-level and module level objectives.
  • Adequate content. Develop and curate content that is sufficient for students to achieve the learning objectives.
  • Regular assignments and feedback. Ensure that each week contains at least one learning activity or assessment with detailed instructions on requirements and expectations.
  • Planned interaction. Develop a plan for communicating regularly with your students, per the federal guidelines.


All new online teachers should complete CIDI's Online Teacher Training Course. This course addresses the basics of online teaching, including course design and delivery strategies and the basics of Canvas, lecture recording, and more. Those who complete the course earn a digital badge.

Backward Design

An excellent way to approach online course development is to use backward design. Backward design means beginning with specific and measurable learning objectives and deciding what kind of assessments will provide the evidence needed to show that learning has occurred. It is the desired understandings and what they look like in practice that informs effective learning activities.

The 3-step process goes like this:

  1. Identify desired results (Learning Objectives)
  2. Determine acceptable evidence (Assessment Methods)
  3. Plan learning experiences and instruction (Learning Activities)

Course Mapping

CIDI has developed a Course Mapping Worksheet to help you plan and organize your course using the backward design model.

Your course should contain a mix of both formative and summative assessments.

Check out the course assignment framework for ideas on when to use a variety of different assessment strategies.


Most academic online courses follow a typical full-semester or 7-week schedule. Students can take the course from wherever they are, but with the expectation that they will make regular progress and complete the course within the allotted semster time frame. Students can be expected to login regularly and participate in online discussions and group work.

The pace of your course is an important aspect in promoting student success. It should not feel too slow for students, resulting in boredom and decreased motivation. Likewise, it should not be too fast, leaving students feeling anxious and overwhelmed. In a traditional course, you read the expressions on students’ faces to determine when you need to speed up or slow down. You do not have that opportunity in an online course.

Content, activities, and assessments will comprise your learning modules. Set a realistic goal for how much work can be completed in a week. Remember you are an expert in this area, your students are still developing their skills and may take longer than expected to complete activities. Build up starting with low stakes assignments and aim to have students turn something in at least once a week. For discussions and big projects, remember that additional time is needed to read responses and use technology tools.

Consider using a visual tool, such as a calendar, to help pace the course. Write in due dates for activities and assessments. If there is too much overlap or too heavy of a workload, students will not be able to devote adequate time to each assignment. In addition, think about your role as the instructor. Will you be able to provide timely and specific feedback for all work?

Best practice in online course delivery is to have the entire class completed at the beginning of the semester. This way students can see a big picture view of what they will be learning and can better plan for heavy weeks during the semester.

If you're not able to have the course 100% completed, you'll need to determine when modules will open for students to view. Keep this day consistent throughout the semester. If each new module opens on a Monday, with assignments due on Sunday, make sure you are available on the weekends to answer questions. Most online courses at USU follow a Monday-Sunday schedule.

Course Design

Because students will be relying solely on the online material in Canvas, it’s import that the content is organized, easy to navigate, and complete. Check out our page on developing online course material, and the “Course Development Tips” at the bottom for more information.

Recorded Lectures

Media is an effective tool to simplify complex concepts or reinforce essential content. It’s also a great way to meet the federal Department of Education’s requirements for “direct instruction” in online courses.

You can use media in a variety of ways in the online classroom, and there are several options to consider. However you choose to use media, it is important to be aware of some practical guidelines to create a professional product. Check out our page on recording online lectures for additional tips and guidelines.

Learning Foundations

Engagement Strategies

When we think about engagement in online courses, there are three types of engagement to consider: student to instructor, student to student, and student to content. Baylor University provides some great information on maintaining engagement in online learning.


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