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Course Development Best Practices

Issue Date: 01-19-2018

Whether you are developing a new course or using a trustworthy template, you can always look for ways to improve course design and course content.

The Course Readiness Checklist is a great guide if you are just getting started to ensure your course includes everything it needs. In addition to the Course Readiness Checklist, this Tech Talk will cover some best practices for Course Design and Course Content.

Course Design

Ease of Navigation

Keep access to content or coursework as simple as possible. Ideally a user should be able to get to any content in 3 clicks or less. Keep your content broken down into small, manageable units or modules. Content should be well organized and easy to navigate. Categorizing your content can help avoid clutter. Content folders could include:

  • Reading Assignments
  • Lecture Materials
  • Supporting websites or activities
  • Links to discussion board threads
  • Assessments

Clear Instructions

Provide students with clear instructions on how to navigate throughout the course. A first time user should be able to enter your course and immediately see an introduction on navigating course content. The instructions, or a link to these instructions, should be available from the start page. Ideally, a link is also included as a menu item from the course sidebar.

Consistent Design

When possible, keep the page layout or flow similar to other pages. Follow naming conventions for content: Headings, Links, Files or Folders should follow a similar naming convention and use common terminology throughout the course (i.e. “Lecture”, “Weeks”, “Modules”, “Assignments”, etc.)

Course Content


Your course should provide an orientation or Welcome Announcement. Set the climate for learning in an online environment. Clearly express grading requirements (Rubrics, Matrices, etc.). Establish course netiquette and inform students of your availability.

Communication and Collaboration

Respond to students as promptly as possible. Online courses lose the face-to-face value, so responding promptly gives students the feeling of being involved. Follow up with students who are not actively participating via email reminders. Monitor students using Retention Center to track at risk students who aren’t logging in, participating or who have grades below a specific threshold.

Encourage and acknowledge student contributions. Look for ways to encourage collaboration through discussion and group activities. Provide individualized feedback when necessary.

Always keep your students informed! In online-only courses, Announcements and reminders can be a critical tool to keep everyone on the same page.

Due Dates

Ensure all due dates for course content are explicitly stated. The Course Calendar provides students with an overview of important dates. Announcements or reminders for due dates are encouraged.


Students should be provided a clear guideline for participation in interactions. The guidelines should specify expected start and end dates. Interactions should be pedagogically meaningful and aligned with course objectives.

Interactions should include at least one discussion per week.

Asynchronous interactions might include Discussions, Journals, Blogs, Wikis or OfficeMix presentations. Synchronous interactions might include GoToTraining sessions or GoToTraining Breakout Sessions.


Assessments should be aligned with learning objectives of Module and Course level objectives, and should test for knowledge and comprehension.

Summative Assessments might include Exams or Research papers.

Formative Assessments might include a Case study discussion/writing, collaborative writing projects, reflective journaling, problem-based activities or simulation activities.

Canvas Pilot

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The Office of Innovation and Information Technology is piloting the Canvas Learning Management System. 

For more information click here to see our Canvas FAQ's.

Tags: Instructional Design Tips

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