Course Design 6 Minute Read

Recommendations for Enhancing Your Online Course

Computer and books

Course design is fundamentally a process of continual improvement. After an institution has initially developed and taught a course at least once, it should go back into development for updates, enhancements, and sometimes corrections. After all, once an institution has offered a course, it can collect a wealth of information on the instructor experience, student experience, and more. However, course enhancement can be an intimidating process. What didn’t work, and how can you correct it? What worked well but could work better? What elements have become dated, and how can you replace them? These questions can pile up, so if you’re unsure of how to approach your course enhancement, consider some of the following tips.

Add video.

Lectures are a relatively weak teaching method, so creating video lectures is not the best use of this medium. However, video introductions are a great way to build community and establish instructor presence. You can record videos easily and cheaply, using the built-in microphones and cameras that nearly all computers come with today. An extemporaneous—but polished—discussion of what students will be learning in the upcoming module offers instructors the opportunity to demonstrate the value that they bring to the course.

Different faculty members from the department could also introduce each module, thus strengthening the familial, small-community feel of the university. This approach could even serve to help the instructors become more familiar with the courses as well as the overall look and feel of their program, which in turn may help promote consistency among courses within the program.

Add interactives and/or multimedia.

Course writers can also use the enhancement period to increase engagement through the use of interactives or multimedia pieces. Each lesson could have additional multimedia (beyond the video intro) and/or an interactive element that makes it stand out. Although this type of media presence can be great in an online course, it’s important to make sure that it’s in direct service to your learning objectives, assessments, and other course elements. Just like any other course element, interactive and multimedia enhancements should be aligned with the course design triangle in mind. Also note that interactive content, while valuable, requires a significant amount of work. Be certain to plan ahead if you intend to develop this type of content during your enhancement period!

Enhance assessments.

The enhancement period can also be an opportunity to upgrade assignments to be authentic, faculty-created assignments (as opposed to textbook-based). Although assessment is a massive topic with a wealth of opportunities, consider some of the following types you can include in your next enhancement:

  • Authentic assessment: Authentic assessments are relevant, real-world assessments that require students to use skills similar to those they would use outside the classroom. This type of assessment is excellent for showing students the relevancy of your content and how to use the skills they’re learning in the “real world.”
  • Scaffolded or capstone assessment: Scaffolded assessments contain a number of graded components that comprise a whole. These components will likely be scattered across the semester or term, with the final one being either a conglomeration of them or a final component of the bigger work. They can be effective in the online classroom because they don’t put a large amount of weight on one submission, meaning students’ overall success in the course isn’t limited to a single assessment.
  • Group projects: Group projects might seem difficult to pull off online, but a number of tools are available to help support this type of assessment in the online classroom. One important benefit of these assessments is that they help build community by requiring students to work with one another. They also help speed up grading, as the instructor isn’t required to grade as many assessments.
  • Automatically scoring assessments: Automatically scoring assessments that have instant, customized feedback provide students with an opportunity to test and receive feedback on their progress toward learning objectives in a low-stakes environment. They also lighten the grading load of the instructor, as they’re scored by the learning management system.

For more recommendations on how you can enhance your assessments, we recommend reading “Creative Methods of Assessment in Online Learning.”

Consider textbook-free alternatives.

Another enhancement option might be to move away from textbooks in favor of open educational resources and faculty-created resources. Textbook-free courses have grown increasingly popular in recent years because of their ability to lower course costs for students and add flexibility to a course writer’s curriculum. The course enhancement period can be a good time to include them in an online course. Although this might not be a viable option for all courses, it’s important to consider the financial needs of your students.

Add practice activities and supplemental resources.

These types of resources are aimed at providing students with optional course elements that might help them meet the course’s learning objectives. Practice activities can be a great way of helping students prepare for an assessment or gauge their understanding of progress toward a particular objective, while supplemental resources can provide students with related information or present previously covered information in a new way. If you employ either of these in your course, however, do so carefully, and make sure that students know that they’re optional course elements (as opposed to required readings or activities).

Add instructional material options.

When enhancing an online course, you don’t necessarily have to replace instructional materials (or other course elements) unless they’re outdated or incorrect. Instead, you can add options. For example, if you’ve written an article on a topic you’re asking your students to read, consider creating a video based on that topic and adding it as an equivalent option. Doing so is one way of incorporating Universal Design for Learning principles into your course. Adding variety to your instructional materials helps students leverage their preferred type of learning, meaning you increase the chance that you’re meeting all students’ needs.

Include (more) rubrics.

There are numerous benefits to using rubrics, both for you and your students. Although rubrics are practically a must for your summative assessments, consider including them for your formative assessments as well. It may also be worth discussing your rubrics with your departmental colleagues to see if you’re expecting the same things from your students on common assignment types, such as discussion board responses. Consider leveraging your LMS’s features, such as the ability to upload rubric templates so that others can benefit from the work you put into designing your rubric. Using rubrics will also serve to create a sense of common expectations within your program.


Course enhancement is a tremendous opportunity to add value to your course. Whether you use one of the suggestions above or find advice elsewhere, remember to use the data available to you—student satisfaction data, instructors’ anecdotal data, or your own observations—to make informed decisions that will create a better learning experience for your students. The most well-intentioned enhancements can fall short if they’re not in direct service to your course’s needs, so it’s important to take time not only to incorporate the ideas above, but to do so in a way that supports your course’s unique needs.

Posted November 16, 2017
Author Adam Shaw
Categories Course Design