4 Tips for Teaching a Course Online

I need you to write this sentence 500 times

There are a lot of differences teaching online vs. face-to-face.  If you are new to implementing online modules or courses into your traditional classroom or are a fairly new online teacher or maybe you haven’t had much formal training in teaching online, here are 4 quick tips to help you with teaching online:

1.  Communication:
So, do you want to try teaching without using your face, hands, or voice?  Sounds daunting doesn’t. When teaching online there aren’t any non-verbal communication devices….for the most part. Since much of online teaching is currently asynchronous, you have to consider that the student it unable to watch your facial expressions and body language when delivering content.  Also, your sense of humor may not transfer so things that are funny out-loud may sound like insults or demoralizing comments in digital text. You need to get very good at being super specific in emails (the main form of online communication), instant messaging and feedback. You want to show emotion through the use of emoticons and acronyms but be careful not to lose that teacher-student relationship by being overly friendly and informal.

2. Course Development:
Developing courses online takes 1.5 to 4 times as long as developing a face-to-face course.  A large part of this is that you have to spend so much time researching curriculum for accuracy prior to publishing the material online. However, the main issue that adds to development time is your necessity for attention to detail.  You have to be ultra specific.  Think of publishing your online lesson and assessments as the first period of the day or the first time you teach a new lesson.  In face-to-face you get to do it 4 or 5 times to perfect it that day, but online when you put something up, it needs to be almost perfect (shooting for perfection) the first time.  You are building all your scaffolding into the lesson and laying out details to help eliminate student errors and misunderstanding when they are working from home.

3. Feedback:
When working with a student face-to-face you can walk around, glance over their shoulder and make comments like “you might want to be more specific on that sentence” or “double check number 12, you still have some work to do.”  But when you are online, there are very little formative assessments. So, you might consider getting into the habit of treating all assignments as if they are formative. When a student turns in something, write all your feedback with the intention that a student is going to redo the missed questions.  Then make sure you set up your assessments so they can.

4.  Engage without Handouts:
Many teachers new to online teaching begin by trying to recreate what’s familiar.  A lot of people will try to scan in former handouts that they used, or record 20-30 minute lectures they have done for years (5 minutes tops for videos), or have straight textbook and quiz lessons.  Since you are online and all of your students have access to a computer, take advantage of the tremendous amount of resources and free Web 2.0 tools available on the Internet.  Use engaging material, stuff that you have wanted to use or heard of others doing but couldn’t quite implement before because there were so many roadblocks in a traditional class.

Check out this 2 Minute Ed Tech Talk I recorded with Simplek12 highlighting some of these points


  1. #1 by Beth Still on September 20, 2010 - 8:49 PM

    Very good points. Two things really stood out to me. First, it really does take so much time to create a course in a virtual environment. Even though I have done this for several years it still take a lot of time.

    The other thing that jumped out at me is the piece about communication. I insist that students have access to a webcam at their schools. (My online students take classes through my school, but they are still located on the campus of their own high school.) I try to talk to them once every week or two just so they can hear me and see me. Relationships are a key piece that online instructors must not overlook. We need to talk to our students ALL of the time, not just when they are failing or get behind.

    Thanks for the tips.

  2. #2 by Britt Gow on September 20, 2010 - 8:59 PM

    Thanks for this informative and useful post Cory – I am teaching my first on-line course in 2011, with VCE Environmental science students. I’m sure I will apply these tips to make it an engaging and successful experience for us all.

  3. #3 by Cory Plough on September 21, 2010 - 7:39 PM

    That’s a great point. It takes a ton of time to do synchronous activities in an online course (which explains why so many college online courses top out with 25 students) so when you get a lot of students, you usually end up dropping the “live” sessions. Its fantastic that you are still able to do that and I wish I could do more of it.

  4. #4 by Cory Plough on September 21, 2010 - 7:40 PM

    @Britt – very cool, make sure you keep in contact and let me know how it goes.

  5. #5 by Linn on September 23, 2010 - 12:16 AM

    Hi! Thanks for writing this blogpost! Good points. I would like to know more about this:

    “Developing courses online takes 1.5 to 4 times as long as..”

    Why 1.5-4? Is it from research?

  6. #6 by Cory Plough on September 24, 2010 - 7:05 AM

    @Linn – Yes, the numbers I used are from research that I had in my grad school classes about online teaching. The Science classes take nearly 4 times, where English and Social Studies closer to 2 times as long.

  7. #7 by Sarah Stewart on September 24, 2010 - 12:46 PM

    I would agree with your estimate of time it takes to develop an online course – this comes from my own experience rather than research. But there are things you can do to save time like re-use web-based resources rather than keep developing your own eg make use of a Youtube video rather than making up a long PowerPoint presentation.

  8. #8 by Dennis Swender on September 25, 2010 - 5:13 PM

    This is great-plan to share it with our curriculum team as we continue to develop online curriculum. We are planning on using the online curriculum for ‘basic’ skills and content knowledge that can later be applied in PBL, LTI and Independent projects. Any suggestions? Also, I’m leading a round table discussion at our professional development day on Monday around using Web 2.0 applications… what would be the most important points to cover?

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