Every teacher aspires to create a memorable, meaningful, and engaging experience which results in high levels of student success and satisfaction, in addition to providing students with the tools they need to achieve their education and career goals. What better way to do this than a well-structured course that provides a clear path for students to progress? The course structure refers to the choice of topics and the organisation and sequencing of course content.

By providing structure and clear, welcoming instructions and information, students will be more comfortable, confident and be able to navigate the course and locate information effectively. As a teacher, it is essential for you to remember that online courses are more than texts and videos that students are expected to browse through; they are carefully drafted sequences of learning outcomes built around interactive course materials and activities. While structuring a course, it is a good practice to keep the teaching principles in mind for designing effective courses.

Teaching Principles

Teaching is a rewarding activity. Yet its complex and multifaceted nature requires us as instructors to juggle multiple tasks and goals simultaneously and flexibly. The following principles can make teaching both more effective and more efficient, by helping us create the conditions that support student learning and minimise the need for revising materials, content, and policies. While implementing these principles requires a commitment in time and effort, it often saves time and energy later on.


Applied Examples

Stay current: Ensure that the course content is updated, functional and published on time.

Post an updated syllabus, instructor information section and communication policy in the course site; due dates and times should be checked for accuracy; any external tools should be fully set up; and the course site must be made available to students on the first day of the term.

Encourage equity: State and implement course policies that are sensitive to the needs of non-traditional students.

Create consistency in recurring cycles of work; allow at least one weekend day for recurring and large assignments and exams; allow late submissions (for partial credit if needed); schedule module releases so students can work slightly ahead if needed.

Communicate clearly and quickly: State and implement a clear communication policy that supports the pace and structure of the course including:

  • A 24-hour response time on business days
  • Information about how to schedule an “office hours” appointment outside of email.

A clear communication policy sets expectations and a tone for the course, and it communicates to non-traditional, online students that you’re aware of their needs.

Provide notice: Provide timely notice to students about changes to course materials, due dates, procedures or your communication availability.

Provide advance notice whenever possible (via email, a course announcement, etc.) if something has changed. It’s especially important to notify students about any deviations from the stated communication plan, such as illness, conference travel or family emergencies.

Commit to timeliness: Provide grades and meaningful feedback before the next assignment is due, including on graded discussion board activities.

Students need timely feedback to understand their progress in the course and to apply that feedback before the next assignment. The timing for feedback should align with the pace of the course, but a good rule of thumb is to return it within 5-7 days.

Be present: Demonstrate instructor presence by using course tools effectively to engage with learners and to encourage active learning.

Instructor presence in the online class is one of the strongest predictors of student success and satisfaction.LMS such as Moodle, BigBlueButton, Blackboard and Canvas course tools, email and external tools should be used in an intentional and effective way to communicate with students and encourage them to be active participants in their learning.

Foster community: Cultivate a community among online students by facilitating regular and meaningful interaction between learners.

Play an active role in creating a sense of community by participating in and facilitating student-to-student interaction in discussion forums (including an introductions forum), checking in with project groups, etc. This is particularly important for true distance students, who want to feel a sense of belonging to the community.

Support students: Communicate in a supportive manner.

The tone and content of your communication with students should be positive and encouraging, with the intent of supporting students through challenges and encouraging a growth mindset. This communication includes course announcements, emails, discussion board posts, written feedback on assignments, etc.

Reach out and refer: Check in with students who may be struggling, and refer students to the appropriate technology, academic or student support services in response to their articulated or observed needs.

Observe student progress and check in with students who are unresponsive or not meeting course expectations. Be responsive when students reach out about any course-related, academic, personal or financial issues; refer students to appropriate resources available.

Cultivate inclusion: Make facilitation choices that support diverse students and make each student feel welcomed and valued.

Welcome students to the course; refer to each student by name and with the appropriate pronouns; highlight student successes; encourage students who may not feel like they belong in higher education; and respect and honor diverse student identities, experiences and perspectives.

Items of consideration in structuring a course

From an instructional design viewpoint, a quality online course is one that enables students to achieve learning outcomes in a flexible and effective manner. Ideally, the learning process will also be efficient, but online activities such as discussions, web searches, and collaborative assignments frequently take time, and efficiency is sacrificed for effectiveness. 

Quality is an elusive concept, as all who measure it can define it differently. Although quality is affected by the context in which the measurement is taken, the real measure of a quality course is whether it helps learners achieve the stated learning outcomes.

In order to do so, the course should comprise a number of components and attributes that will lead to learner success. Given below are six items of consideration in structuring an effective online course.

The importance of providing students with a structure for learning and setting appropriate learning activities is probably the most important of all the steps towards quality teaching and learning. Good course structuring is an amalgamation of teaching principles with the best practices for designing a course. It is important to provide sufficient instructions, additional information, and begin to calibrate student expectations of the course by modeling appropriate behaviour. Suitable and measurable learning activities, together with feedback from the instructor are also the core components of a well-designed course.