The design of a successful online course is very dependent upon the teaching and learning strategies that a faculty member employs. The resources below provide a broad array of strategies that may help you with the development or refinement of a course.

Understanding by Design (Backwards Design)

Understanding by Design is an instructional design framework developed by Grant Wiggins and Jake McTighe that supports moving from the desired outcomes to the assessment evidence needed to verify the learning to the learning materials need to support the assessment. Jay McTighe's consulting page has a wealth of resources to support your work.

Bowen, R. S.  (2017). Understanding by Design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding

These learning theories by Lev Vygotsky are foundational to many modern learning theories. 

Cognitive Load Theory

Pedagogy, Andragogy, and Heutagogy

Pedagogy is the teaching of children, or dependent personalities. Andragogy is the facilitation learning for adults, who are self-directed learners. Heutagogy is the management of learning for self-managed learners. Learn more about Pedagogy, Andragogy, and Heutagogy.


Many online courses are often built upon the principles of constructivist theory which states that we construct new knowledge as we are actively engaged in learning and that learning is tied to past experiences.

As more formally described in the book, Constructivism in Practice (Kafai and Resnick, 1996, Introduction):

“Constructivism suggests that learners are particularly likely to make new ideas when they are actively engaged in making some type of external artifact—be it a robot, a poem, a sand castle, or a computer program—which they can reflect upon and share with others. Thus, constructivism involves two intertwined types of construction: the construction of knowledge in the context of building personally meaningful artifacts.”

According to "Constructivism and Online Education" by Doolittle, constructivism is a theory of knowledge acquisition, not a theory of pedagogy; this, the nexus of constructivism and online education is tentative, at best. Constructivism posits that knowledge acquisition occurs amid four assumptions:

  1. Knowledge involves active cognizing by the individual.
  2. Knowledge is adaptive, facilitating individual and social efficacy.
  3. Knowledge if subjective and self-organized, not objective.
  4. Knowledge acquisition involves both sociocultural and individual processes.

These four assumptions have led, indirectly, to eight primary pedagogical recommendations:

  1. Learning should take place in authentic and real-world environments.
  2. Learning should involve social negotiation and mediation.
  3. Content and skills should be made relevant to the learner.
  4. Content and skills should be understood within the framework of the learner's prior knowledge.
  5. Students should be assessed formally, serving to inform future learning experiences.
  6. Students should be encouraged to become self-regulatory, self-mediated, and self-aware.
  7. Teachers serve primarily as guides and facilitators of learning, not instructors.
  8. Teachers should provide for and encourage multiple perspectives and representations of content.

Active Learning

Active learning involves actively engaging students with the course material through discussions, problem solving, case studies, role plays and other methods. Active learning requires being cognitively engaged, not necessarily hands-on, physical engagement. For instance, reflective journaling is active learning because a learner is bringing together their experiences with the materials presented in the course. Being involved in your own learning is often referred to as Active Learning.

Community of Inquiry Framework

The Community of Inquiry framework is a constructivist model that focuses on the development of a community in online learning and there are three essential elements to a satisfying educational experience: Cognitive Presence, Social Presence and Teaching Presence.

Mode Neutral Pedagogy

Mode Neutral Pedagogy is a set of teaching and learning principles that shifts the control and responsibility for learning to the student. The model attempts to define and create one learning experience regardless of learner location: on-ground or online.


Connectivism has been called a ‘learning theory for the digital age.’ It seeks to overcome the perceived limitations of behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism. The theory embraces and accounts for the utilization of technology on our learning.

Blended Courses

Designing your blended course involves much more than "converting" the content of an existing online or face-to-face course. There are things for you to consider while you are adapting your course, but as always, please contact COLRS for assistance with any and all steps of this process.

  1. Start early.
    Begin preparing your blended course at least one semester before you plan to offer it for the first time. When the course does not have any online materials, this is especially important.
  2. Reconsider your role as an instructor.
    How will teaching in blended mode affect your role as an instructor? Zane L. Berge describes four roles for online facilitators that are helpful in blended learning models:
    • Pedagogical
    • Social
    • Managerial
    • Technological
  3. Focus on your course goals.
    What do you want your students to learn? What steps do you take to get there? How are these intermediate steps best facilitated? Or, how do you want them to learn it?
  4. Make the most of online.
    Sort through your content. What content works best online vs. face-to-face? What opportunities and projects will a blended course allow that might not be possible in online or face-to-face courses? Use each mode to its highest potential and ensure both you and your students spend your time effectively.

    Examine what is not working in the face-to-face classroom and see if it can be improved online. Consider what students can do independently. Many instructors find that online forums evoke more thoughtful dialogue from their students. You might also consider:
    • Discussion
    • Reflections
    • Readings
    • Remedial materials
    • Group work
    • Study guides
    • Podcasts
    • Case studies
    • e-Portfolios
    • Games
    • Course/module evaluation surveys
    • Self assessments
    • Lower-stakes quizzes and tests
    • Assignment submissions
    • Lecture notes
    • Lectures
  5. Make the most of face-to-face.
    Think about what is most engaging in the traditional classroom and retain that portion for the face-to-face experience. Often, this includes:
    • Labs
    • Demonstrations
    • Film clips
    • Student presentations
    • Introducing complex assignments
    • Group work
    • Role playing
    • Field trips
    • Conferencing
    • Editing and revision
    • Follow up on online discussions
    • Exams
  6. Keep them connected.
    Make sure to integrate the online and in-person portions of your class. They should feel connected and feed into one another, not feel like separate courses.
  7. Consider your students.
    Most likely, your students will not be familiar with how a blended course will function. Be sure to make expectations clear for both online and face-to-face components. Be specific and detailed about your expectations. Explain the crucial importance of time management, especially for the online portion.

    How will your introduce and acclimate your students to the technologies used in the class?

    Beware of "the course and a half syndrome." Coined by the Learning Technology Center at UW-Milwaukee, this phrase refers to the tendency for instructors to require more work in a blended course than either in face-to-face or online courses. How will you evaluate student workloads?
  8. Making the grade.
    How will you evaluate the online and in-person portions of the course? How will students receive feedback? How will students evaluate course modules and the course as a whole? How will you incorporate this feedback into the course development cycle?

Blended Learning Resources

Blended courses combine face-to-face and online course delivery modes to reduce "seat time" on campus and offer students more flexibility.

Blended course numbers are growing. According to Tony Picciano in the OLC/Sloan-C View (Volume 9, Issue 5), "It is a revolution that is going throughout higher education [...]. Blended learning has the potential to evolve into the dominant model of instructional delivery in higher education in the not-too-distant future."

Blended courses have design considerations that differ from both face-to-face and online modes. To create a successful blend, course goals and teaching and learning roles must be reconsidered.