Best Practices for Building Online College Courses

There are many books and research papers available with concepts and details for building online college courses. Rather than extracting a summary of best practices from any of those books, I queried ChatGPT. The essay below stems from its responses.

Designing Online College Courses

  1. Start with clear learning objectives: Clearly define what students should be able to do or know after completing the course.
  2. Use multimedia: Combine text, images, audio, video, and interactive elements to create engaging and dynamic content.
  3. Make it interactive: Encourage student engagement through activities, discussions, and assessments.
  4. Provide adequate structure and support: Use clear navigation, consistent formatting, and provide resources such as FAQs, discussion forums, and online tutoring.
  5. Incorporate assessments: Use formative and summative assessments to measure student learning and provide feedback.
  6. Foster a sense of community: Create opportunities for students to interact with each other and with the instructor, such as virtual group projects, discussion forums, and office hours.
  7. Provide timely and personalized feedback: Respond to student questions and provide constructive feedback on assignments and assessments in a timely manner.
  8. Ensure accessibility: Make sure course materials and assessments are accessible to all students, including those with disabilities.
  9. Continuously evaluate and improve: Regularly assess the effectiveness of the course and make adjustments based on student feedback and data.

Defining Clear Learning Objectives

Instructors building online course learning objectives should:

  1. Determine the overall goal and purpose of the course.
  2. Identify the specific knowledge and skills that the students should acquire by the end of the course.
  3. Express the learning objectives in a clear and measurable way, using action verbs.
  4. Align the learning objectives with the course content and assessments.
  5. Ensure that the learning objectives are realistic and attainable within the given time frame.
  6. Review and revise the learning objectives as necessary to ensure that they are still relevant and aligned with the course content.

By following these steps, you can create learning objectives that are clear, measurable, and aligned with the overall goals of the course.

Using Multi-media

Best practices for incorporating multimedia in online college courses include:

  1. Determine the purpose of each multimedia element.
  2. Choose multimedia that is relevant, engaging, and supports student learning.
  3. Use a variety of multimedia types, such as videos, images, audio, animations, and interactive elements.
  4. Balance multimedia with other course content to prevent overloading students.
  5. Ensure that multimedia elements are accessible and usable by all students.
  6. Test multimedia elements before using them in the course to ensure that they function properly.
  7. Provide clear instructions and context for using multimedia elements.
  8. Incorporate opportunities for students to reflect on and discuss the use of multimedia in the course.

By following these best practices, you can effectively incorporate multimedia elements into your online college course to enhance student learning and engagement.

Make It Interactive

Making an online college course interactive includes the following best practices.

  1. Encourage student participation through discussion forums, group projects, and individual assignments.
  2. Use multimedia elements, such as videos, animations, and interactive simulations, to engage students.
  3. Provide opportunities for students to apply their knowledge through hands-on activities and real-world scenarios.
  4. Incorporate quizzes, exams, and self-assessments to encourage active learning and promote retention.
  5. Use gamification elements, such as points, badges, and leaderboards, to motivate and engage students.
  6. Foster a sense of community by encouraging interaction between students, such as through peer review or collaborative projects.
  7. Provide regular feedback on student progress and performance to support their learning journey.
  8. Encourage students to reflect on their learning and share their thoughts and experiences with others.

By following these best practices, you can create an online college course that is engaging, interactive, and supports student learning and success.

Utilize discussion forums

  1. Clearly define the purpose and goals of the discussion forums.
  2. Provide clear and concise instructions for participating in the forums.
  3. Encourage students to ask questions, share their thoughts and experiences, and respond to their peers.
  4. Foster a respectful and inclusive environment by establishing clear guidelines for participation.
  5. Encourage active participation by setting regular deadlines for postings and responses.
  6. Provide prompt and meaningful feedback on student contributions to the discussion forums.
  7. Monitor the discussion forums regularly to ensure that they remain on track and on topic.
  8. Incorporate discussion forums into the overall course assessment and grading system.
  9. Provide opportunities for students to reflect on their participation in the discussion forums and how it supports their learning.

By following these best practices, you can create effective discussion forums in your online college course that promote interaction, engagement, and learning.

Provide Online Tutoring

Online tutoring assistance for students enrolled in asynchronous online college courses should include the following best practices:

  1. Provide clear and timely responses to student inquiries and questions.
  2. Offer multiple ways for students to access tutoring services, such as email, chat, or video conferencing.
  3. Use screen sharing and other interactive tools to provide demonstrations and support.
  4. Provide resources, such as video tutorials, FAQs, and study guides, to support student learning and success.
  5. Foster a positive and supportive learning environment by being approachable, patient, and respectful.
  6. Provide regular follow-up and feedback to ensure that students are making progress and understanding the material.
  7. Incorporate technology and multimedia resources, such as videos and interactive simulations, to enhance the tutoring experience.
  8. Stay organized by tracking student progress and keeping detailed records of tutoring sessions.

There are several benefits of using an outsourced tutoring company to help students enrolled in asynchronous online courses, including:

  1. Access to a wider pool of expertise: Outsourced tutoring companies typically employ a large number of tutors with diverse backgrounds and expertise, allowing students to receive help in a variety of subject areas.
  2. Flexibility and convenience: Students can receive tutoring assistance at any time and from any location, as long as they have an internet connection.
  3. Consistent quality: Outsourced tutoring companies have quality control measures in place to ensure that tutors are providing consistent, high-quality assistance to students.
  4. Cost-effectiveness: Outsourcing tutoring services can be more cost-effective than hiring and training in-house tutors, especially for online courses that have a large number of students.
  5. Improved student engagement and outcomes: With access to timely and effective tutoring assistance, students are more likely to stay engaged and succeed in their online courses.

By using an outsourced tutoring company, colleges and universities can support student learning and success in asynchronous online courses, while also improving efficiency and reducing costs.

Incorporate Assessments

Examples of formative assessments that can be used in online college courses to measure student learning and provide student feedback include:

  1. Quizzes: Short, frequent assessments that provide immediate feedback to students on their understanding of the material.
  2. Class discussions and forums: Encourage students to engage in interactive discussions and share their thoughts and ideas on course topics.
  3. Self-reflection and journals: Ask students to reflect on their learning and write about their experiences and insights.
  4. Peer review: Have students review and provide feedback on each other’s work, such as assignments or group projects.
  5. Concept maps or diagrams: Encourage students to visually organize and connect the key ideas and concepts covered in the course.

Examples of summative assessments that can be used in online college courses to measure student learning and provide student feedback include:

  1. Exams: Traditional exams, including multiple-choice, short answer, and essay questions, that assess students’ overall understanding of the course material.
  2. Final projects: Ask students to apply what they have learned in the course to a real-world problem or scenario.
  3. Portfolios: Have students create a collection of their best work from the course, demonstrating their skills and understanding of the material.
  4. Presentations: Encourage students to create and deliver presentations on specific course topics or projects.

By using a combination of formative and summative assessments, online college courses can provide students with meaningful feedback on their learning and help them measure their progress and understanding of the material.

Foster a Sense of Community

Here are some ways to foster a sense of community in an online college course:

  1. Encourage interaction and engagement: Use discussion forums, group projects, and other interactive activities to encourage students to engage with each other and build relationships.
  2. Provide opportunities for social interaction: Offer virtual social events, such as online games or movie nights, to provide students with opportunities to interact and get to know each other outside of the coursework.
  3. Personalize the learning experience: Encourage students to share their backgrounds, interests, and experiences, and incorporate this information into the course content and activities.
  4. Foster a positive and inclusive environment: Establish clear guidelines for respectful and inclusive communication, and actively monitor and address any instances of negative behavior.
  5. Encourage active participation: Regularly provide opportunities for students to contribute to the course content and activities, and provide meaningful feedback on their contributions.
  6. Connect course content to real-world issues: Encourage students to apply the course content to real-world problems and issues, and provide opportunities for them to engage with experts and professionals in the field.

By using these strategies, you can create a supportive and inclusive online community where students feel connected and engaged, fostering their sense of belonging and contributing to their success and satisfaction with the course.

Provide Timely and Personalized Feedback

Best practices for providing timely and personalized feedback in an online college course include:

  1. Use automated tools: Utilize automated grading and feedback tools, such as online quizzes or discussion boards, to provide quick and efficient feedback to students.
  2. Personalize feedback: Tailor feedback to each student’s individual needs, strengths, and weaknesses, and provide specific and actionable advice for improvement.
  3. Use multimedia: Provide audio, video, or written feedback to add depth and nuance to your comments, and make the feedback more engaging and accessible for students.
  4. Provide regular feedback: Offer frequent and timely feedback, such as after each assignment or discussion, to help students stay on track and adjust their approach as needed.
  5. Encourage two-way communication: Encourage students to ask questions and provide feedback, and make yourself available for one-on-one virtual consultations or office hours.
  6. Integrate formative assessments: Use formative assessments, such as quizzes and discussions, to provide ongoing feedback and help students track their progress.

By implementing these strategies, you can provide students with the timely and personalized feedback they need to succeed in their online course, and help them feel supported and motivated in their learning journey.

Ensure Accessibility

Best practices to ensure accessibility for students enrolled in an online college course include:

  1. Use accessible content: Use accessible materials, such as plain language, closed captioning, and descriptive audio, and provide alternative formats for any materials that are not accessible, such as audio transcripts or braille.
  2. Test for accessibility: Regularly test your course and materials for accessibility, and address any barriers identified.
  3. Provide accessible navigation: Ensure that the course design and navigation are accessible, with clear headings, well-organized content, and consistent use of colors and fonts.
  4. Ensure that all multimedia is accessible: Ensure that all multimedia, such as videos and audio, are accessible, with closed captioning, descriptive audio, or alternative formats as needed.
  5. Encourage accessibility: Educate students and instructors on the importance of accessibility and provide resources and support to ensure accessibility for all students.
  6. Use assistive technology: Encourage the use of assistive technology, such as screen readers or magnifiers, to help students with disabilities access and engage with the course content.

By implementing these strategies, you can ensure that all students, including those with disabilities, have equal access to the course content and are able to participate fully in the online learning experience.

Continuously Evaluate and Improve

Some of the best practices for continuously evaluating and improving online college courses include:

  1. Gather student feedback: Regularly collect and analyze student feedback, such as through surveys or end-of-course evaluations, to identify areas for improvement and make changes as needed.
  2. Monitor student engagement and participation: Monitor student engagement and participation, such as through discussion forums or online activities, to assess the effectiveness of course content and activities.
  3. Evaluate student learning outcomes: Regularly evaluate student learning outcomes, such as through assessments or projects, to measure the effectiveness of the course and identify areas for improvement.
  4. Utilize analytics: Use analytics tools to monitor student progress, such as course completion rates and average time spent on each module, to identify areas of difficulty and make changes as needed.
  5. Incorporate best practices: Stay up to date on the latest best practices and research in online education, and incorporate these into your course design and delivery.
  6. Involve stakeholders: Involve stakeholders, such as students, instructors, and instructional designers, in the evaluation and improvement process, to ensure a well-rounded and effective approach.

By continuously evaluating and improving your online college courses, you can ensure that students receive the best possible learning experience, and that the course remains current, relevant, and effective.

While ChatGPT doesn’t provide citations for its suggested best practices, its responses to my questions are not inaccurate. Some responses are redundant (particularly the style in which the AI opens and concludes each response), and some practices may not be relevant if an online course is conducted asynchronously instead of synchronously. Assuming I didn’t deduct points for a lack of citations, I would give these responses a grade of B-.

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence