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Best Practices for Course Design and Development

Issue Date: 04-19-2019

Best Practices for Course Design and Development

Simply making a PowerPoint for students is not engaging enough for 21st century digital learners. Online courses should actively engage students, have clear course goals that are achievable and measurable, and should encourage critical thinking by challenging students to synthesize, analyze, problem solve, draw inferences, and evaluate the course content. Below are a few recommended practices that can improve your course.

The Course Evaluation Checklist is an effective guide to ensure your course meets Quality Matters standards. In addition to the Course Evaluation Checklist, this Tech Talk will cover some best practices for Course Design and Development.

Ease of Navigation

Keep access to content or coursework as simple as possible. Ideally a user should be able to navigate to any content in 3 clicks or less. Keep your content broken down into small, manageable units or modules. Contents should be well organized and with easy navigational guides. Content modules should include:

  • Reading Assignments
  • Lecture Materials
  • Learning Activities or Interactives
  • Links to Web Resources and Videos (*Include APA Citations and obtain permission from the source)
  • 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 the course content. The instructions, or a link to these instructions, should be available on the start page. A “Getting Started” icon is included as a menu item on the course home page.

Consistent Design

Keep the page layout or flow as similar across each of the modules in the course. Use simple naming conventions for headings, links, files or folders and 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 define grading requirements (Rubrics, Matrices, etc.). Establish course netiquette and inform students of your availability. Include a Course Tour or Course Syllabus Quiz at the end of the “Getting Started” Module.


Communication and Collaboration

Respond to students as promptly as possible. An online course loses the face-to-face value, but responding promptly gives students the feeling of being involved. Follow up with students who are not actively participating via email reminders. Monitor student’s usage through the Course Analytics tool. You can track at risk students who aren’t logging in, participating, or if their grades are below a specific threshold.

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

Always keep your students informed! In an online or blended course, Announcements and reminders can be a critical tool to keep everyone on the same page.


Due Dates

Ensure all due dates for the course content are explicitly stated. The Course Calendar and To-Do List provides students with an overview of important dates. Announcements or reminders for due dates are highly encouraged.



Students should be given clear guidelines for participation. The guidelines should specify expected start and end dates. Interactions should be pedagogically meaningful and aligned with course and module-level objectives. Below is a list of different types of interactions as well as some examples for each type.


Learner-to-Learner Interaction

Learner-to-Learner interaction refers to interaction between individual students or among students working in small groups.

Examples of learner-to-learner interaction:

  • Peer Reviews
  • Group Projects
  • Discussion Boards
Learner-to-Content Interaction

Learner-to-Content interaction refers to learner interactions with the course content to construct meaning, relate prior knowledge, or to problem solve.

Examples of learner-to-content interaction:

  • SharkMedia Video quiz
  • Simulations
  • Chapter readings
Learner-to-Instructor Interaction

Learner-to-instructor interaction refers to the instructor techniques used to stimulate and maintain the learner’s interest in the course content.

Examples of learner-to-instructor interaction:

  • Participating in Discussions
  • Holding GoToTraining Synchronous Meetings
  • Providing Feedback on Assignments

Assessments should be aligned with the Course and Module-level objectives and should assess 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, and problem-based activities or simulation activities.

For Case studies or written assignments, encourage your students to attend one of the WCC Write-In Sessions at the Alvin Sherman Library. For upcoming workshops, click here.

Tags: Instructional Design Tips

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