Seven Principles of Effective Online Teaching

by Scott R. Franklin, Ph.D.
Director of the Virtual Campus7

Our online instructors are passionate.  They’re passionate about our students and they’re passionate about their discipline.  One of the ultimate goals of our programs within the Virtual Campus at Wayland is to combine those passions and produce an exciting and effective online learning experience for all of our students.

The challenge that online instructors face is to overcome the distance aspect of the online learning and make their students feel connected to the content of the course, the instructor and the other students.  Couple that with the requirement of maintaining high expectations and rigorous course work, instructors face an uphill climb when trying to motivate students in their courses.

Old Dominion University provides their faculty with a self guided tutorial for developing an online course.  Their training includes a list of Seven Principles of Effective Online Teaching.  Many of their principles overlap Wayland’s Effective Design Initiative.  If instructors are looking for ways to  make their course more effective, these seven principles are an excellent place to start.  The following is adapted from these training materials at Old Dominion University:

Principle 1: Student-Faculty Contact

First and foremost, students need to know how to communicate with their instructor, their fellow students and even technical support.  Instructors should make sure each online course provides clear instructions on communication, as well as links to the VC help desk.  Additionally, instructors should provide an introduction to the class with a biography and contact information for themselves and the dean of their school.

Principle 2: Cooperation Among Students

Discussion boards and groups assignments can be designed to facilitate cooperative and active learning among students.  An initial assignment where students can introduce themselves to the rest of the class helps to promote a community with the class.  Instructors should consider ways to promote student-to-student interaction.  Discussion Boards, Blogs, Wikis are just a few of the tools that can connect students with one another.

Principle 3: Active Learning

Presentation of course projects should be an important part of the online course. Because student presentations often provide motivation for higher-level work as well as peer discussion, opportunities should be made available for student projects to be shared and discussed online.

Principle 4: Prompt Feedback

“Prompt” is the key word.  It is strongly recommended that instructors reply to any contact within 24 hours.  Keep in mind that there are two types of feedback: acknowledgment feedback and information feedback.  Acknowledgment feedback can simply confirm that an assignment or question has been received and that a response will be made soon.  Students will worry that instructors have not received their question or assignment.  A quick acknowledgment will prevent time-consuming emails later.  Information feedback is also vital in that students thrive on constructive comments to their assignments.

Principle 5: Deadlines

Online courses NEED deadlines.  Instructors should make sure the deadlines are very clear. It helps to have both a prominent location in the courses where all due dates can be found at once.  Additionally, organizing the course into modules or weekly folders makes it easier for the student to know when they’ve completed all the work for a section of the course without needing to hunt through the course.

Principle 6: High Expectations

Every online course should strive to meet the same high academic expectations of their face-to-face counterpart.  The venue of delivery will necessarily change the nature of the course, but it cannot diminish the high expectations of our programs.  Challenging tasks, sample cases, and praise for quality work communicate high expectations.

Principle 7: Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning

When appropriate, allowing students to choose project topics incorporates diverse views into online courses.  Instructors can provide guidelines for a project but allow students to choose a topic that interests them. This practice gives students a sense of control in their education and encourages more diverse points of view.

You can find all the details of Wayland Effective Design Initiative in the V.C. Toolbox.  Contact our offices if you would like any assistance or need ideas for how to make your content more enganging. You can call us at 806-291-1720 or email at


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