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Best practices for online and distance learning

Updated: Nov 14, 2019


Below is a summation of best practices or guidelines for developing online and distance learning courses. Findings are categorized by best practices for content development, instructional design, media and inter-activities, assessments, and delivery platform.

Content Development

When building content and developing an online class there should be a team working together of faculty, staff, administrators, IT professionals and students. Being able to work from templates and examples of finished products allows everyone to understand the model they are following. Consistency among courses and delivery seems to be the success factors in online content. Having interactivity within courses, creating course competencies and expectations that mimic the workplace, and making the content easy to access and understand reduces frustration by all (Barron, 2006).

Instructional Design

From the most basic forms, instructional models and design follow a system of needs analysis, learning outcomes, development, execution, and evaluation and assessment. It is observed that the material being delivered should be specific versus being collective and that the instructional method be malleable to virtual classroom environment. Successful characteristics in online courses utilize hypermedia as the primary form of content delivery, internet content, resource sharing and communication, asynchronous and synchronous communication and two-way knowledge exchange between the students and faculty (Wang, 2005).

Media and Inter-activities

It is universally accepted that multimedia and interactive content heightens learners’ sensory awareness and enables cross-referencing for research and scholarly work. Having interactive and multimedia material successfully approaches and addresses different learning styles by building connections to the lessons. By incorporating interactive instructional material, interactive tutorials, and outside reference work, the students build their own association to the subject matter.

Rubrics should always be used and need to be tailored for each graded assignment and or project. They should include as much detail as possible. Students want more than just a grade or score and appreciate detailed feedback. Students want to feel like they are getting a personal critique, which relates to having successful communication with their faculty. Students feel that they would like to know how they could improve (Barron, 2006).

Assessments and the information gathered should be collected regularly. The administration should look to the faculty in providing input as possible revisions for courses and action plans for improvement. Students relay feedback through evaluations and reflective discussion questions in the course. Assessment information should be collected frequently to appraise the successes and weakness of the course and exit competencies (Barron, 2006).

Delivery Platform

The delivery on distance online classes should be served so that students, faculty and administration have access to the syllabus, the lecture and lab materials, and be able to communicate with one another and everyone involved within the class. It appears that more positive experiences are reported when using a more inclusive platform that includes student data as their academic records, transcripts, and access to advising times and faculty contacts.


Barron, J. (2006). Top ten secrets of effective e-learning. Industrial  and  Commercial Training, 38(7), 360-364.

Wang, Gearhart, H. (2005). Designing and Developing Web-based Instruction (1st ed). Pearson Learning Solutions.

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