How Online Courses Work

Types of Online Learning

There are three primary types of online learning used at colleges and universities. This includes web enhanced, blended or hybrid, and fully online courses.

Web Enhanced – In this format, students meet with their instructor in a traditional, face-to-face setting, and is supplemented with online materials accessed through a learning management system (LMS) or other software. Online activities may include participation in discussions, viewing lectures, videos, or notes prior to attending class. This allows class time to be used for engaging and complex topics or group activities.

Blended or Hybrid – In this type of learning environment, blended or hybrid courses have both face-to-face and between thirty to eighty percent of online content. Online content and activities replace many of the face-to-face sessions found in traditional or web enhanced courses.

Fully Online – A course is considered to be “online” if more than eighty percent of the content is delivered using an online format. Lessons may be delivered asynchronously or synchronously. Asynchronous classes allow the learner to engage with content when it is convenient for them. Generally, there are no established meeting times and students progress through the course following a schedule. Synchronous courses utilize scheduled meetings in virtual classrooms created through video conferencing or chat rooms. Content is delivered and students engage with the instructor and peers during this time.

Instruction and Activities

If you have taught in a traditional face to face setting, you may be able to use many of your existing resources for online courses. However, online courses require additional planning and design elements.

Consider the following as you build your online course:

Learning Modules:

Each chapter or unit should represent a learning module. This helps to organize the course material into manageable pieces for students. Each module should contain instructional content and learning activities. Instructional content will come from a variety of sources including readings, lectures, videos, audio clips, and websites. As you plan your lecture content, you might decide to narrate a slide show presentation, record a screen capture as you explain a process, or create a video for your students. These lectures should help students connect material learned from readings with the module objectives. You may also find existing video or audio clips that supplement your teaching.

Practice or Learning Activities:

Once students have engaged with the instructional content, practice or learning activities will allow them to demonstrate their understanding. Each learning module should contain at least one activity. These activities may include an assignment, group work, discussion prompt, or project. In addition, quizzes and exams may be created within Canvas. Students may work alone, with a partner, or small group as they complete activities. Later in this module, we will take a closer look at activities and assessments.


A critical element to online courses is good communication. The manner in which you interact with students sets the tone for the course. Since students may never meet you, your communication skills project your personality and professionalism. Over the course of a semester, you will convey a great deal of information to students in the form of announcements, directions, lectures, virtual meetings, email, and feedback. Remember, communication should be timely, clear, and concise.