How Online Learners Learn

This component provides a high-level overview of course design that supports how online learners learn. We briefly introduce you to key principles of online learning including building alignment, simple and deep online course navigation, asynchronous and synchronous learning, and accessibility. In addition, we cover social, cognitive, and instructor elements in online courses.   

Building Alignment (5 min)

In this short video, you will learn about applying the practice of learning outcome alignment in the online environment and the importance of cognitive presence, teacher presence, and social presence.


Building alignment is an ongoing process throughout any course design or redesign. Our Online Course Planning workbook can help you work on your course alignment.

Simple and Deep Online Course Design (4 min)

In this video, we review the evidence-based principles for a course design that allows students to spend more time learning content and skills and less time learning to navigate the course site.


  1. Key Principles for Presenting Content Online 
  2. Planning Online Lessons using the BOPPPS method 

Next Steps to Consider

Instructors can use a variety of techniques to communicate course expectation to students. Using particular tools and practices can make it easier for students to find and follow course expectations in a timely manner. Here are some tips and tricks on how to employ OWL tools and pedagogical approaches to support students in meeting course expectations:

  1. The messages and Announcement tools can be linked to students’ Western email so communication happens without signing in to the course.
  2. Create a Landing Page for each Lesson/Module using the Lessons Tool.
  3. Include descriptions for Assignments, Forums, etc. in multiple places such as: where work is submitted, lesson/module landing page, and course syllabus.

Asynchronous and Synchronous Learning and Accessibility (3 min)

In this short video, we cover asynchronous (flexible in timing) and synchronous (live) online learning a well as a brief introduction to accessibility in the online learning environment.



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