5 tips for designing effective online courses in 2023

immanuel vinikas headshot
Immanuel Vinikas
Updated December 26 2022
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immanuel vinikas headshot
Immanuel Vinikas
Updated December 26 2022

Online learning is reaching new heights. The sheer convenience of students being able to learn anytime from anywhere, lower costs necessary to take or conduct a class, and more possibility to interact are just a few of the reasons why online learning is taking the world by storm.  With online learning, students nowadays have fewer limitations to learn and even take their dream course.  Many of you instructors ready to get started may ask yourself if there is an online course design best practice.


What is the best way for you as an instructor to make eLearning a success for students?  There are no exact right or wrong ways concerning how to design an effective online course.  But in order to engage your audience and make the best use of their time, there are certain considerations related to online course design best practices that you must take beforehand.

1. Know Your Audience

Before you begin to design the perfect lesson plan for your audience, you must first understand who your audience members are.  Cookie-cutter courses may not feel personable enough or may not meet the needs of particular students, which may ultimately prevent them from absorbing the full breadth of information you are trying to impart.


Perhaps younger students prefer the lesson to be broken up into more bite-size pieces.  They may want more interactive tools and group activities to engage the lesson.  Adult learners may prefer vital information delivered more directly through a lecture formatted course.  They might possess certain apprehension with technology and view it more as a distraction in the learning process.


Depending on the subject of the course, certain tools might be more beneficial than others. In step-by-step courses covering things like repairing a car or how to play a musical instrument, a video might be helpful. Teaching math or science might require an interactive whiteboard and a digital writing pad or tablet to write out equations.  By evaluating the needs of each course based on who your audience is, you as the instructor can then apply the best strategy for effective learning.

2. Create Well-Organized Courses / Micro-Learning

Students who decided to take online courses do it for a myriad of reasons.  Maybe they are hoping to save on tuition costs, have more options in terms of which courses they can choose from, or maybe they did not have time in their busy schedules to handle the workload of a traditional course.  This is where the concept of micro-learning comes in.


Micro-learning is “education which deals with relatively small learning units. It involves short-term-focused strategies specially designed for skill-based understanding/learning/education.”  With course content delivered in smaller, more bite-sized quantities, students can be spared from feeling overwhelmed or bogged down by information overload, setting up a better environment for them to succeed to finish the course.  Also, workers in the corporate space who may be lacking in time can access smaller nuggets of information on the go with micro-learning.


The first module can serve as the syllabus of the course, breaking down the objectives, structure, and requirements of the entire course.  Each subsequent module of micro-learning must build to those objectives, and be handled in a manner that keeps students focused. Every module should have a well-defined objective at the beginning and a summary at the end so the student can remember the important points easily.   Of course, don’t be afraid to include dynamic activities in the middle of certain modules to help keep students engaged.  It’s an online course design best practice that students will appreciate the most.

3. Make Your Lessons Interactive

Classroom-based training has its advantages.  You can bring a large number of students or employees together in a physical space and have them learn at the same time, but the experience might have insufficient interactivity and quite frankly become a bit boring.  When deciding on online course design best practices, remember that you have a full toolbox of interactive tools at your disposal.


Instructors planning online classes can play audio clips or videos to engage their students.  Why explain something when you have the option of showing it? In addition to video adding a more dynamic element to the class, visual content helps us retain more information, as it has been proven that the brain processes images better than words.  Also, the use of video fosters storytelling, a sure-fire way to keep students engaged over the course of the lesson.


Another way to spice up a lesson and make sure students are engaged is to incorporate live quizzes.  Assessing learner understanding in real-time is key, allowing instructors to measure learner success and course effectiveness.

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4. Incorporate Synchronous and Asynchronous e-Learning Styles

Synchronous learning is the style of learning you participate in when attending a training seminar or sitting in class. It is learning in real-time with an instructor, facilitator, or tutor at the head of the room leading a discussion, encouraging participation with the subject material.  Synchronous e-learning is that same concept taught through an online virtual classroom that may include online classes, webinars, and training sessions. Some parts of your lesson will absolutely require it!


Besides the increased potential for collaboration, interactivity, and engagement, one of the other benefits of Synchronous e-learning may include reducing the costs associated with conducting an in-person training session like travel, hotel, meeting spaces, etc, yet still maintaining a personal touch.


Asynchronous learning is the type of learning you do on your own time and at your own pace.  Creating asynchronous e-learning content such as online courses is an ideal way to disseminate knowledge to a large number of learners.  People are busy nowadays, so the flexibility and convenience of getting to learn on your own time from anywhere make Asynchronous e-learning vital to your instruction. Why choose one particular style of learning when it might be beneficial and possible to incorporate both? This is one online course design best practice not to skip.

5. Make Content Accessible

When students arrive at your online campus, you must create a comfortable experience for them, otherwise, they may lack the enthusiasm to come back.  The course layout and individual pages should be clear and concise. Avoid clutter at all costs! Resources you have provided for them should be easy to find and simple to download.


It is also important that files pulled from your online campus are universally compatible so students can open them easily.  For example, a recording of the lesson may be available for students to reference later.  If the file is in the commonly used mp4 format, students will be able to download and watch from anywhere with any device.  Avoid proprietary formats where students are forced to download a certain program to be able to view the video!


Lastly, is all of your content accessible through the myriad of technological devices out there?  Are students forced to download some program in order to access material? Are they even allowed to do so if they have a company or university-issued computer?  A web-based platform will eliminate most of these concerns, and allow students to connect with ease. Is the experience seamless on both a desktop and a smartphone?  Answering these questions will ensure your students have a smooth learning experience.




Using these tips for designing effective online courses will help you greatly as an instructor. You must pay attention to the needs of your students and design a game plan covering how to most effectively reach them.  If you successfully follow some of these online course design best practices, you should find success in creating effective and engaging online courses, turning distracted viewers into more active learners.

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