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Creating a community for online and blended learning

This article applies to: Online and Blended Learning

Creating an online or blended course involves designing a student experience and building a community for learning. This process begins with developing measurable learning outcomes, understanding online pedagogy, and considering the specific tools available in an online environment.

In this initial planning phase, take the time to consider the following:

Learning Outcomes

Developing learning outcomes–determining what you want students to know, value, or do at the end of your course–is particularly important online where you face more choices about how to present content and organize learning. Good learning outcomes should be measurable and achievable.

For more specific learning outcome information and resources, visit the Setting Learning Outcomes website.

Course Outline

Typically online courses are divided into weeks or modules that last anywhere from four days to two weeks. Without prescribed class meeting times, you have more options for structuring content and interactions. Here are a few important considerations:

  • Organizing Content - Each week or module might have several subunits or topics. It is best to break content into small pieces to allow for the most effective learning.

  • Navigation - Students will often be navigating content without direct guidance; your content should be provided in a logical and clear path.

  • Layout - Structure your content for online consumption, e.g., if a piece of text is too long, you run the risk of students not scrolling to the bottom of the page to continue reading. In this case, it might be worth further dividing your content to allow for a better user experience.

A course outline should include mapping your content to specific weeks or modules. This will help inform the creation of a detailed course syllabus.

Course Syllabus

An online syllabus is similar to one for a face-to-face course, however, we have found online students need even more detailed instructions. For help in developing a syllabus, review writing a syllabus.

Assessing Student Learning

One strong benefit of online learning is the ability to provide regular, consistent, and instant feedback on assessments. Designing regular low stakes assessments, and providing students with feedback on their answers, can contribute significantly to student success. A tight connection between your learning outcomes and your assessments will help guide you as you design an assessment plan.

There are tools built into most learning management systems that allow you to create assessments that are linked directly to your course grade book. For a look at specific Blackboard tools, review the Overview of Technology Tools and Assessing Student Learning Using Rubrics.

Proctoring services provide a secure, convenient way for instructors to administer online exams to students. Please contact us at for more information on available services.

Considerations for assessing online learning:

  • Discussion Forums - Asynchronous discussions are the primary form of interaction in many online courses. Consider carefully how you will assess participation and contributions.

  • Review this for an example of discussion board guidelines and rubric .
  • Peer Assessments - There are several varieties of peer assessment, including having students provide peer feedback in the early phases of a project, using peer feedback to determine a final grade on an assignment, and granting credit corresponding to the level of effort and usefulness of comments made on peer reviews.

Delivering Your Content

Text and video have been, and remain, two of the most common content delivery methods within online courses, yet it is worth considering tools that you may not be familiar with as you explore the best ways to deliver your content.  

Within an online course, there are many ways to deliver content. Here are considerations for some common types of content:

Content Delivery




Create a personal connection, explain complex material visually, take virtual field trips, and control playback.

Time-consuming to produce, need to consider if content lends itself to visual medium, and need to consider accessibility.


Portable and easy to listen to while multitasking, and helps provide a personal connection with instructor.

No way to simultaneously show graphics or images to reinforce concepts, and must provide transcripts for accessibility.


Efficient to create, easy for users to access, and fewer accessibility concerns.

Low engagement, and limited ability to use graphics or visuals to aid learning.


Reinforce text-based content, increase learning, and supported by multimedia theories of learning.

Distracting if not aligned with content.

Synchronous Sessions

Promote instructor and learner presence, allow for immediate feedback, collaborate with other groups, invite guest speakers, and host student presentations.

Require advanced planning, dependent on high-speed Internet connection, and can inhibit some students from participating.


As you begin the process of building your course, you will want to review copyright guidelines and options for Open Educational Resources (OER). In addition to Cornell’s Copyright Services, you can review SUNY’s Copyright Information Center for more information. Please use this  PDF iconFair Use Checklist  to determine whether you may make or distribute copies of works protected by copyright.

About this Article

Last updated: 

Friday, March 9, 2018 - 12:56pm



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