Online Best Practices that Work

by Florence Williams

Online education has continued to evolve, and with its evolution, so has the need to identify best practices for online delivery that are instructive for new and returning facilitators.

Consumers of online education arrive with a set of sometimes unrealistic expectations that presupposes that studying online will be easier than studying in a traditional classroom. Both the online facilitator and the student should have clear practices that create the blueprint for teaching and learning. An engagement with practitioners at the St. Leo University in Florida provided useful insight into managing the variables online and for implementing and maintaining successful practices for the teacher and the taught.

Five of the suggested practices are shared for further exploration and implementation:

  1. Student engagement
  2. Increase faculty engagement through a system of rewards
  3. Create LibGuides for all courses on the Learning Management System (LMS)
  4. Ensure the stability of content across programs and courses
  5. Required Work preparation

Student Engagement

Student engagement is an important part of learning online since teaching and learning transactions are dependent on the level and quality of engagement. In the online environment, the faculty member leads the engagement and provides feedback to learners on their progress. Timely and focused feedback allows the online learner to manage their learning experience. In a supportive environment, the facilitator is expected to respond to student inquiries within one business day. An online student should be assigned an advisor who monitors enrollment and provides administrative guidance for the student. Within student advising, there should be a professor-student relationship through which the student is provided with a boutique experience and individualized attention as they complete their program of study. Teaching should adhere to the principles of Universal Design and must have interactive engagement and student participation. This ensures that the faculty member in charge of a class or group remains purposeful in maintaining a high-quality educational experience for the student. The major goal is to ensure that students are supported within online classes that are meaningful, attractive, and substantial.

Increase Faculty Engagement Through a System of Rewards

It is important to identify no-cost, high impact initiatives, that will encourage the sustained engagement of adjunct facilitators. One option is the creation of an Advisory Council for the Professional Development Team from the existing facilitators. The council members may lend their expertise in the following areas:

  • Program creation and planning.
  • Development of program policy.
  • Assessment of best practice development.
  • Training engagement and leadership subcommittees.
  • Specific needs analysis.

The role of the proposed advisory council could include the following options:

  • Offer community feedback as the “eyes and ears” of the team
  • Help to raise awareness and buy-in for specific professional development programs or compensation review efforts
  • Review, monitor, or assess a specific professional development program and its impact
  • Engage faculty and teaching assistants who could be of influence in the community of practice to share perspectives and benefits.
  • Actively represent the voice of the facilitators in program design or delivery, service evaluation, and quality assurance efforts.
  • Serve as an unbiased and independent sounding board for the team.

Create LibGuides for All Courses on the LMS

LibGuide is used to curate a collection of resources for all units and within a course and is hosted in conjunction with the institution’s library. All courses on the Learning Management System (LMS) should have a LibGuide (or some other curated content management system) that is developed in collaboration with the faculty in charge of course design and delivery and staff members in the library. 

Ensure the Stability of Content across Programs and Courses

Using Universal Design for Learning principles, ensure that content is prepared for student success through multiple means of presentation. Chunking should include the learning objects directly in the content and should be more easily tied to the modules displayed on the LMS. In the current design, not all courses have the learning objects, resources and assignments integrated and this should be the aim of the design for easy access and use.

Required Work Preparation

In terms of Required Work Preparation, All faculty members must complete a training module in the foundations of facilitation before gaining access to delivery in the LMS. To be selected to teach in an online course, the faculty completes technology orientation that provides tips on how to navigate the LMS. Facilitators are also taught how to update their course environments and the transition from training to practice by the Learning Support team. These are practical engagements that allow the prospective facilitator to become familiar with the LMS and the expectations of the varying roles in online facilitation. 

One recommendation in mandating the process of required work preparation is the creation of a mechanism that unlocks a class only when a facilitator has been flagged as having completed training at level 1 of the foundation training process.   


I wish to recognize Dr. Heather R. Parker, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Saint Leo University, who graciously consented to share special insights about online delivery. Her frank and thoughtful conversations were instrumental for the development of this report.