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Intentionally Designing, Developing, and Delivering Online Courses

Reprinted from Pedagogy Before Technology, Peer-reviewed and research-based academic blog. Washington, G. (2021, April 30). Intentionally designing, developing, and delivering online courses [Blog post].

All told, the rapid change of courses to different teaching and learning formats during COVID-19 created challenges across the education landscape. As you prepare to teach during the upcoming summer and fall, visit the Pedagogy Before Technology Blog for articles on different teaching modalities. This month’s blog article explores three pedagogical principles and frameworks for the design, development, and delivery of online courses.

When designing, developing, and delivering fully online courses, start with pedagogical principles and frameworks such as backward design, seven principles for good practices, and universal design for learning. The backward design framework encourages faculty to identify student learning outcomes from the outset (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). Faculty begin course design with the end in mind and work back toward the beginning. The three stages of backward design are (1) identify desired results, (2) determine acceptable evidence, and (3) plan learning experiences and instruction. Faculty first determine what will be learned and then decide on assessments, activities, and content. Slavych (2020) provided a tutorial for online course design with the backward design framework.  The focus was on communication sciences and disorders courses; however, the information in the tutorial is transferable to any course. Stage 1 involved consideration of what exactly the students must be able to do based on 3 domains: transfer, meaning, and acquisition. Considerations of types and methods of assessment to best capture achievement of the learning outcomes happened in stage 2.  Stage 3 involved consideration of what and how to teach to facilitate students' achievement of the learning outcomes stated in stage 1.

Although Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education were created for face-to-face learning environments, these principles also apply to graduate education and technology-enhanced learning environments. These seven principles include encouraging contact between students and faculty, developing reciprocity and cooperation among students, using active learning techniques, giving prompt feedback, emphasizing time on task, communicating high expectations, and respect for diverse talents and ways of learning. 

Tanis (2020) investigated the importance of the seven principles for teaching and learning. Participants included college faculty and alumni from the same graduate program where faculty taught. The participants completed a 45-item Likert survey and two open-ended questions. Faculty-student communication created a sense of online community that was initiated through emails, introductions, photos, and faculty and student biographies. Student-student communication and collaboration provided opportunities for students to share experiences, resources, ideas, and engage in learning as a community. High expectations were important for student engagement in class content. Respect for diverse learning preferences included various ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge such as written assignments with student-selected topics, oral presentations, and discussions. All of these principles are important to promote student engagement and learning.

Another framework recommended for online course design, development, and delivery is universal design for learning (UDL). Universal design for learning is designed to optimize learning for all students, based on scientific evidence of how learning occurs (CAST, 2021). Within the UDL framework, there are three guidelines: (1) multiple means of engagement, (2) multiple means of representation, and (3) multiple means of action and expression. Engagement, the “why” of learning, refers to how students engage with the course content, the instructor, and other students, in addition to how motivated students are to learn. Representation, the “what” of learning, refers to the ways that you present course content to your students. Action and Express, the “how” of learning, refers to how students demonstrate what they have learned in your course. Providing multiple options for engagement, representation, and action and expression is essential to the design, development, and delivery of courses.

As such, the process of course design, development, and delivery is essential for online courses. Check out these ten tips.

Design: Planning Your Online Course

  1. Consider the course learning outcomes first. (Refer to Backward Design)
  2. Provide opportunities for collaboration and active learning. (Refer to Seven Principles of Good Practice #2 & #3)
  3. Give all students equal opportunity to learn (Refer to Seven Principles of Good Practice #7 and Universal Design for Learning)

Develop: Building Your Online Course

  1. Use your university’s quality assurance standards for evaluating online courses (e.g. Quality Matters Rubric, Exemplary Course Program Rubric, Online Learning Consortium Quality Scorecard).
  2. Prepare assessments, instructional materials, activities, and interactions that align with the course learning outcomes.
  3. Let your course learning outcomes drive technology selections.
  4. Use templates to build your syllabus, schedule, and course.

Deliver: Teaching Your Online Course

  1. Make student interaction with the instructor and “your presence” part of the course. (Refer to Seven Principles of Good Practice #1, #4, #5, & #6)
  2. Create instructor participation and workload management plans.
  3. Use existing instructor support services.

In summary, good teaching is good teaching no matter the modality for teaching and learning. Teaching fully online courses requires additional considerations than face-to-face teaching.  Backward design, the seven principles of good practice, and universal design for learning are the cornerstones to designing, developing, and delivering online courses. 


CAST (2021). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 39, 3-7.

Slavych, B. K. (2020). Designing Courses in Communication Sciences and Disorders Using Backward Design. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, 5(6), 1530–1541.

Tanis, C. J. (2020). The seven principles of online learning: Feedback from faculty and alumni on its importance for teaching and learning. Research in Learning Technology, 28, 1–25.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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