Best Practices: 10 Tips for Creating Successful Online Courses

For many seasoned educators, teaching online presents its own unique set of challenges. Taking the plunge to move your teaching online might seem daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be. In today’s blog, we’ll point out ten best practices for creating online courses for the first time.

1. Use a Chart to Keep Yourself Organized

Things are constantly moving and changing in an online course, and it’s important to keep track of them. Using a chart or an outline to plot out the scope and sequence of your course will make it easier for you to see what’s missing and what else you might need to add. You could set up a new document in the cloud for each course you design so that you always know your design documents are accessible anywhere you have an internet connection.

2. Organize Your Course Materials in One Place

It’s easy to start adding files to your course, just as it’s also easy to start losing track of where they’re coming from. Take advantage of Joule’s file repository system to upload and store all of your course files so that it’s easy to link to your course content as you’re building your course. Always be sure to use the backup feature to save a copy of your hard work. Backing up will even make your life easier later when you’re rolling over your courses to future semesters.

3. Design and Use Rubrics to Make Grading Easier

Rather than wasting valuable time, you can create rubrics in Joule for all of your graded activities to keep the grading process as transparent and consistent as possible. An effective rubric should be detailed enough to cover all of the nuances and expectations of any activity but also simple enough so that there’s little to no difficulty in deciding between different areas of the grading range. Using rubrics to grade is an ultimate time saver and can be effective and efficient, especially with large groups of students.

HANDPICKED FOR YOU | ‘Best Practices: Advanced Grading With Checklists

4. Integrate a Healthy Mix of Asynchronous and Synchronous Elements in Your Course

Most online courses are considered asynchronous (not live) since each user can be logging in and out at any given time during the day. Thus the most popular medium for facilitating discussions is forums. Try including a discussion forum during each week or unit of your course, if appropriate. While Moodle™/Joule automatically includes a helpful “News forum” for your course announcements, it might also be helpful to add a “Help” forum for students needing to ask questions. When you want to add more synchronous (live) elements to your course, such as a chat room, virtual office hours, or a live class session—complete with whiteboards and screen sharing—consider purchasing a Joule Synchronous license to add another exciting level of engagement to your course.

5. Help Your Students Monitor Their Learning Progress

Take advantage of completion tracking settings in Joule to help students track their course progress. Because you might want to ensure that students complete certain activities before others, you can even set up restrictions for when activities and resources can be accessed based on grade and completion conditions. To top it all off, you can add the course completion status block to your course, which quickly helps a student stay on track and allows you to view their progress. You can even use the exciting Personalized Learning Designer (PLD) to assist in remediating or accelerating students’ learning experiences in the course.

DISCOVER MORE | ‘5 Ways Open LMS’s Personalized Learning Designer (PLD) Enhances Online Education

6. Make Your Course Mobile-Friendly

The latest version of Joule (Open LMS’s enterprise Moodle™ platform) includes a mobile theme custom-designed for smartphone browser screens. When enabled, your current course site remains unchanged but will appear with a completely different mobile-friendly layout when accessed on a mobile device. You can interact with your courses on your device (with certain limitations, of course) anytime and anywhere.

7. Add Resources and Activities to Support and Enhance the Instruction

Many educators mistakenly believe that online courses must be congested with an army of resources and activities in order for the course to “look pretty.” Unless you truly believe that your students will benefit from watching parts 1-20 of random YouTube video series and perusing through pages and pages of obscure articles, leave them out! Instead, design the flow of each unit or lesson of your course, then add an appropriate number of resources and activities to support the learning. While your course will end up with a lot of elements in the long run, the key is to chunk your content into manageable pieces that won’t overwhelm students.

8. Use Social Networking to Extend Learning Beyond the Classroom

The value of social presence is powerful and often overlooked, so consider connecting your courses to social networking platforms to keep everyone connected outside the formal learning environment. Joule includes a social networking add-on called Joule Social that can be integrated into any course, giving students and educators the opportunity to connect in an informal atmosphere. Users can create groups, post status updates, write blogs, and so much more. Simply add the Joule Social block to your course, and one click will take users directly into an intuitive and highly interactive social environment.

9. Convert Your Resources to Accessible Formats

In an effort to make your courses more accessible, consider converting all of your course documents (syllabi, handouts, PowerPoint notes, etc.) into easily accessible file formats, such as PDF. Not only will this make it easier for students to open and view your documents, but it will also ensure that your documents display exactly as you expected. When creating course materials in Microsoft Word, it’s helpful to have the original copy alongside the PDF copy. This means you can make changes at any time to the original and update the PDF version.

10. Consider Adopting a Digital Textbook for Your Course

The textbook of choice for any given course is always important to consider, especially for an online course. It’s always a good idea to see if a digital version of your chosen textbook is available to save your students money and to make learning more mobile. Chances are good that nearly all ebook versions are more inexpensive than their hardcopy counterparts and can be read on most mobile and tablet devices. Vital Source (formerly CourseSmart) is one of the largest providers of ebook versions of textbooks that can be purchased and/or rented for less than the print versions. If you want to create and/or publish your own ebook for your course, you can explore Apple’s iBook Author app that allows you to do just that.

KEEP READING | ‘Successful Blended Course Design: A Step-by-Step Guide

Jeff Geronimo is a former Open LMS trainer and instructional designer.

Open LMS makes it easy to design and deliver engaging online courses. Contact us to learn more.

Jeff Geronimo


Jeff Geronimo is a former Open LMS trainer and instructional designer.

Discover our solutions