Best Practices - Course Design

The information on these Best Practices pages comes from the State of California Online Educational Initiative (OEI) Peer Online Course Review (POCR) rubric, as well as information from SRJC's Distance Education Department regarding best practices, and SRJC Board Policy.


Your course design should make it easy for a student to find the course goals and objectives and to navigate through the various course content. Your materials should be presented in manageable "chunks" of information that flow in a natural progression. You should make good use of the various course management tools to present your materials, and provide a variety of multimedia to enhance instruction.


Course Review Rubric

Tips and Best Practices

Objectives are made available in a variety of areas in the course (within the syllabus and each individual learning unit or module)

Objectives in an online course provide important guidance to students who don't have the benefit of regular in-class discussions to focus their learning. They should be made available in the syllabus and in each lesson, module, or section of the course. If you're using Moodle, consider adding them to the heading of each topic area, or to the beginning of each lecture component.

In addition, you students may find it helpful to review the objectives at the end of each lesson. For example:

Now You Know: 

  • concept 1
  • concept 2
  • concept 3

Objectives are clearly written at the appropriate level and reflect desired outcomes

Objectives should emanate from the course’s SLOs and detail the specific tasks that students will be able to complete.

Objectives are written in measurable outcomes (students know what they are expected to be able to do)

All students should be able to understand exactly what each objective will measure, and how they will meet that outcome.

Here is a great example of a video that explains to students what learning objectives are and why they should care.


Course Review Rubric

Tips and Best Practices

Content is made available or “chunked” in manageable segments (i.e., presented in distinct learning units or modules)

In an online course, instructors typically divide learning units into components as follows: Objectives (SLOs), lecture, readings and/or other content, collaborative activities (if appropriate), written assignments or tasks, assessment, etc.

Introduce learning units with an overview of the topic. This can simply be a paragraph that briefly explains the topic to be studied or a list of objectives.

Access prior knowledge by connecting what the students already know about the topic to what they are going to learn. Provide activities that allow students to measure prerequisite skills, assess that learning is taking place, and apply knowledge or skills presented. Often a discussion forum can be used to ask questions that remembrance of prior experience with the topic. Recalling prior knowledge will help provide a context for the students and get them excited about the learning tasks ahead of them.

Align your learning activities to your objectives and outcomes. Use your objectives and outcomes to determine your learning activities.

Navigation is intuitive and content flows in a logical progression

In general, it's best to structure online content chronologically. This helps students progress through the course week by week, understanding which material is relevant at any point in time.

The navigational links should be easy to find and consistent. In addition:

  • All links should be checked regularly to ensure that they are active and up-to-date.
  • Inactive links should be fixed or removed. Links with outdated information should be updated.
  • Passwords: Be mindful of how many times you require a student to enter passwords in the different levels of your course materials. It can be tiresome for students to enter passwords for every new page they view.

Content is presented using a variety of appropriate mechanisms (content modules, single pages, links to external resources, and/or multimedia, etc.)

Using a variety of course management tools and resource types can help students stay engaged and interested in the material. If you're using Moodle, consider creating Books, Pages, URLs, and Labels to present your course content. In addition, try to find appropriate multimedia resources to add interest and variety. Consider checking with Librarian Liaison Services to learn about subject-specific multimedia resources available to you and your students.

Although it can be tempting to add images, videos, etc. because they are fun or interesting, it's important to keep in mind that students appreciate not being overwhelmed with content. Choose multimedia that is specifically related to the topic being covered, and will provide students with a better understanding of the relevant concepts.

CMS tools are used to reduce the labor-intensity of learning (e.g., providing links to needed resources where they will be used in the course, integrating publisher resources that are tailored to the course materials, and providing streamlined access to supplementary materials)

Wherever possible, material should be presented within the CMS in order to reduce the number of "clicks" it takes to access it, and also to avoid requiring students to learn and navigate additional environments. When that is not possible, making sure that links to outside resources are embedded in a way that minimizes confusion and navigation is important.

Clearly labeled tutorial materials that explain how to navigate the CMS and the specific course are included

Particularly important for classes which are entirely online, students need to be shown how to navigate the course content in your course. Pointing out things like where to find your contact information, the course schedule/calendar, etc. will help students hit the ground running. Students who are new to the CMS will also need some coaching about things like where to find the gradebook, how to post assignments, how to participate in a forum, etc.


Course Review Rubric

Tips and Best Practices

It is clear how the instructional strategies will enable students to reach course objectives

It's a good idea to go back periodically to the SLOs and make sure that your course content and activities are still well-matched to those objectives.

Course design includes guidance for learners to work with content in meaningful ways

Make sure you are very clear about how students are to use the various course content. Should they simply view the video, or would it be better if they took notes? Can they use the lecture notes as a study guide for the exam? Are the labels on the diagram meant to be memorized, or are they there for better understanding of the concept? Are the forum posts meant strictly as a way for students to tell you what they have read, or are you expecting critical analysis?

Individualized instruction, remedial activities, or resources for advanced learning activities, such as integrated publisher resources, are provided

Students who need additional help should be coached with ways to review, memorize, or understand the material from a different standpoint. Students who find the material less  challenging could be directed to more advanced material or extra credit assignments.

Tools available within the course management system (CMS) are used to facilitate learning by engaging students with course content


Technologies are used creatively in ways that transcend traditional, teacher-centered instruction

  • Students should be doing more than just passively reading. They are explaining, producing, designing, integrating ("meaningful ways") with the content. (Consider checking the Bloom's Taxonomy model for ideas)
  • Opportunities for students to create and contribute to course content (constructivist theory).
  • Consider letting students go out and curate and critique the materials that are already out on the web.  Wikis? Blogs? Journal activities?
  • If you don't like the Wikipedia articles on your course topics, consider assigning your students the activity to write accurate Wikipedia articles and get them approved and published on Wikipedia.
  • Let students participate using mobile devices. Get students contributing pictures, stories, interviews, experiments, collecting samples - on the go mobile, and share with class.
  • Have students do online presentations, mini-lessons, audio podcasts,to contribute to present on related topics.  The spin that the students put on the content may help their classmates to understand the materials better than we can explain it as instructors. 
  • Have students create and post "Roving Reporter" interviews.

Learners have the opportunity to give anonymous feedback to the instructor regarding course design and course content both during course delivery and after course completion